„Towards Change“ is the slogan of Srbuhy Grigoryan, a 42 year-old woman from Sisian, a town of about 16.000 population in the south of Armenia, where she has just started her pre-election campaign for the mayor‘s post. Armenia is expecting elections for local self-government bodies during September - October 2016. Women make up 52% of the population. According to the results of the last elections in 2012, however, only 9.3% of the local authority representatives are women, while at the national level this number stands at 10.7%.
„Politics are immoral“
„Stereotypes are the main obstacle for women to occupy decision-making posts in the government“- consistently state many women who registered as candidates for the local councils, called Avagani in Armenian.
Katya Babayan (25) from Sisian, a young lady running for the post of Avagani member, reaffirms that she had to convince her brother to allow her to run for office. She has been active in different local NGOs and she knows the local problems and sees solutions to them. One of her priority plans is not only to get garbage collection organized in her community but also to invite people to separate the waste and recycle. Another of her priorities is to stop youth emigration by involving young people in decision-making processes.
„There is a famous saying, perhaps not only in Armenia, that ’politics are immoral’ and a woman shall always be moral and decent in our society”, regretfully states Srbuhy Grigoryan. “People think that women are born to take care of the family. The majority of Armenian men do not share household and family responsibilities. As soon as the woman is out of the house, people believe that the family suffers. This belief already stops many women from thinking about politics“, says the mayor’s candidate.
Time to break the ice
„It is time to break the ice“ proudly stresses Nune Lalazaryan, 46, from Sisian. „It is high time to show our society that women can also take intelligent decisions.“ – she adds modestly but firmly. „Many think that people want to become a member of Avagani when they need something from the mayor. I have a house, I have a car. I help my sisters and brothers to sustain their families. I have a job. I only want to contribute to prosperity in my home town, that‘s all.“ - states Nune.
Nune manages the first hotel in Sisian since twenty three years. It is a very simple building from the 1930ies, where spacious bathrooms serve as an isolation of the bed-rooms from heat in Summer and harsh cold in Winter. The garden is full of apricot and apple trees, the building itself is surrounded with flowers. Nune does everything for her hotel: if the administrator falls ill, she replaces him, if the cleaning lady‘s child gets sick, she cleans, she makes jam out of apricots for her guests, serves breakfast personally, distributes apples from the hotel garden for free. „ I think, I should invest my energy into bigger positive changes in my town. I should help the town administration to clean-up and attract more guests. This way, more people will benefit“, she underlines.
We need role-models!
The Avagani of Sisian, counts fifteen members and only one woman, for the first time since 2012. This woman is Srbuhy Grigoryan, who is running for the mayor‘s office this year. Srbuhy is a journalist by education. Besides she lectures philosophy and cultural studies at the local university and runs the Women‘s Resource Center in Sisian.
„The new generation needs role-models! Today, young women in our society have no role-models in politics: the majority of local council members are men, mayors are men, not speaking about higher levels of the administration.“ Srbuhy says with a deep sigh.
To be the first woman council member among fourteen men requires lots of courage. Srbuhy takes it as a chance to learn how to collaborate with men, how to make them discuss burning issues. As a council member, she managed to solve quite a number of urgent issues - lobbying the repair of the only sports hall in town is one of them. At the Women‘s Resource Center she employs dozens of women who create handicrafts out of wool, wood, and fabric. In addition to her journalistic background, her four years of experience in the council gives her full confidence to run for the mayor‘s office in October 2016. She is not afraid to lose. Even if she fails, she will be remembered as the first and only woman candidate running for the mayor‘s post in her town.
According to the electoral legislation of Armenia, every candidate running for the mayor‘s post shall submit a registration fee of 500’000 Armenian Drams (AMD), about USD 1’000. This amount is quite a luxury in a country where the official minimal wage is as low as AMD 55.000 (about USD 110) and the unemployment rate is high.
Srbuhy found a smart solution to this problem. The Women in Local Democracy 2 (WILD 2) project implemented by UNDP and financed by SDC helped her to create a crowd funding account coupled with a professional video presentation of her election programme, where people from all over the world can contribute. Collecting the registration fee was not a problem. Srbuhy gathered even more funds than she needed for registration. According to the legislation, all candidates that achieve 5% or more votes will get their registration fee reimbursed. In her two-minute video campaign Srbuhy promises to invest the returned money to empowering women in politics because she is convinced that women can be good change-makers in her country, they just need to unite. She invites all residents of Sisian to work with her towards change.
From 2012-2016, the UNDP Armenia Women in Local Democracy project, funded by EU and Switzerland, supported about 3,000 women as active community representatives and local leaders. Between 2012 and 2016, out of 831 females running for local office 146 were supported by UNDP. 97 of them were elected as mayors or local council members.
*funded by UNDP