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Peculiarities of Female Candidates’ Campaigns and sexism

The snap elections campaign for Yerevan Municipal Council was officially launched on September 10 and lasted only twelve days till September 21. In such an unprecedented short period the political forces were compelled to conduct their campaigns in quite an intensive manner.  Apparently this tight time line determined the fact that some parties presented their pre-election programs rather late.


Female mayoral candidates announced their intention to participate in the elections one of the first: Zaruhi Postanjyan back in July, and Naira Zohrabyan and Anahit Tarkhanyan in August, thus signaling the unofficial launch of their political campaigns.  


Naira Zohrabyan immediately announced that the concept of a green and smart city would be at the basis of her program. “This is my approach as a woman candidate: we mean a green city, a clean city, a city free of air pollution,” she said. During the campaign Zohrabyan tried to add new touch to traditional meetings in the yards through direct Facebook messages. The campaign started with a visit to the garbage dump in the Silikian district, after which she was taken to hospital due to poisoning resulting from garbage burning.  


At the same time, upon her nomination, the so called jealousy and intolerance of some of her party male teammates revealed itself towards her.  This was the case despite the fact that her candidacy had been unanimously approved by the Political Council of the Prosperous Armenia Party. Naira Zohrabyan refrained from comments and announced that she saw herself in the Mayor’s position and, moreover, believes that she had real chances for success. “The capital city must finally have a female Mayor,” she stated.


Before launching the campaign, Naira Zohrabyan, appealing to the women candidates nominated for the position of Mayor, came up with a noteworthy suggestion to hold a joint rally, “I would like us, the three female candidates, to together participate in a number of campaigns in the same location on the same day.” In reality, this suggestion was the first attempt for women’s solidarity in Armenia’s political field. 


Anahit Tarkhanyan, who had been nominated by Yerevan Society Alliance, also started her campaign in quite an active way.  At the basis of the campaign was the presentation of a new program for Yerevan’s development and the slogan was “For the Benefit of the Native City.” Before the official launching of her campaign, she tried to attract the public’s attention by an action of a political nature, calling for resignation of Tigran Mukuchyan, Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission.


Zaruhi Postanjyan, who stood out by her activism during the brief activities of the preceding City Council, maintained silence till the official launch of the pre-election campaign. In contradistinction to the previous elections, she conducted quite a calm and balanced campaign presenting the provisions of her program within the context of shortcomings and omissions of the preceding authorities and stressing her former political experience. The campaign was anchored in the slogan “I Am Coming to Serve.”


Overall, during the campaign women candidates were quite active in their interactions with mass media outlets and the public. Moreover, Naira Zohrabyan was considered to be the main opponent to the front-runner force – My Step Alliance. Anahit Tarkhanyan and Zaruhi Postanjyan were not perceived in the role of outsiders either.



Nevertheless, manifestations of sexism were noted during the campaign. Thus, the known thesis “manly woman” was actively circulated. “A human being, who, being a woman, is more of a man than official men that call themselves men,” thus was introduced Naira Zohrabyan by one of her teammates. That is to say, in her teammate’s perception being a man is a higher value than being a woman. This same logic attributes to men a mission of being strong, principled, and brave. Unfortunately, this thesis went on to be voiced in one of Naira Zohrabyan’s future statements, when she, exasperated by threats and insults of personal nature aimed at her in social networks, turned to her main opponent Haik Marutyan’s supporters stating, “I am saying this: if you are a man, I invite you to a debate. Come without Nikol, come and let us see how you are going to solve Yerevan’s problems.” In response to this, Marutyan’s teammate women remembered that Zohrabyan is a woman and made often speculative comments that “it is not deserving that a woman use such words.” This scenario seems to become classics by its nature in hot political situations.


 Let us note that the campaign’s process underwent a dramatic change from the moment when the front-runner force in the elections, My Step Alliance, voiced an unaddressed accusation about “black and white” forces, which rendered useless all future efforts of any political force to present its program provisions. Such a dramatic change in the campaign was especially resisted by women candidates, who justifiably felt that that they had nothing to do in the electoral campaign with such a black and white format. And although they tried, through their public statements, to bring the campaign back to discussions of program provisions, it proved unsuccessful. 


Specifically, Anahit Tarkahnyan’s attempts to resist the transformation of the electoral campaign led to manifestations of sexism seasoned with ageism (age discrimination) towards her in social networks. Some users made improper and insulting comments about her age under her pre-election campaign clips at the time when no such comments had ever been voiced about male candidates of the same age.


Another example of an apparently differential attitude towards men and women was the series initiated by one of the websites which went under the heading “The Beauties Participating in the Yerevan Municipal Council Elections”, where the pivot around which the conversations evolved was women’s external appearance rather than their ideas and programs. It is needless to say that it is even impossible to imagine that the same can be done towards male candidates. By the way, after elections too, attempts to introduce women elected municipal councilors as “beauties” continued in journalistic circles.


Having observed more than 35 interviews with women candidates in the top ten of the electoral lists of the political forces published on WomenNet.am website during the campaign, one can argue that, irrespective of party membership, they note problems of kindergartens, green zones and comfortability of the city as their priority issues. 

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