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Ruzanna Torozyan: “It is very important to increase the role of women in the economic field”

In 2008 women resource centres were opened in the three cities of Syunik province – Goris, Kapan and Meghri with the support of the OSCE, it was hard to imagine that they would become as successful as they are now.  The goal was ambitious – to enhance the role of women in political, economic, and social life.  “It was very difficult for us to awaken hope in women locally and to instil a belief in their own abilities.  As a relatively isolated region of Armenia, the Syunik province is full of traditional stereotypes.  In the beginning, we had a problem realizing our own potential.  Today, however, I can say that we did it,” says Ruzanna Torozyan, the only female member of the Council of Elderly of the city of Goris and the Executive Director of Women’s Development “Resource Centre” Foundation.

 

 

The turning point for the establishment of “Resource Centre” was our visit to Sweden, which took place in 2009 with the support of the OSCE Office in Yerevan.  During our visit, we gained a lot of experience and confidence that we could realize many of these activities in our province.  We saw from the activities of women centres in Sweden that it was very important first to try to improve the position of women in the economic sphere so that afterwards there was a sustainable basis for further community engagement.

For us, as an organization starting from scratch, it was difficult to convince women that entrepreneurship was the key to local economic development.  After a lot of analysis, we decided to focus on traditional handmade crafts, which are unique to our area.  We organized small exhibitions and bazars for women not only to create and share their work, but also to earn money.  Over the course of a few years, Syunik’s handmade works attracted the attention of Tim Straight, Norwegian Consul in Armenia.  He supported us in finding relevant markets for our products.  After finding a market for our handicrafts, we were able to engage more women not only form Goris but from the whole province, and today I am happy to say that the development of local handicrafts is one of the most successful projects that we have.  Currently, 82 socially vulnerable women are involved in our activities, with whom we have been working for a long time.

Much like the rest of Armenia, women’s employment is a serious problem in our province.  67 % of the unemployed are women and our initiative today allows for many women to support their families.  I have heard so many success stories where women who have never worked in their lives, have no education, and no other opportunities start participating in our handcrafts activities and as a result improve their lives; for example, for the first time ever they buy their children’s schoolbooks.  Naturally, providing an income for their families increased their self-esteem.

 

In other words, we can say that the “Resource Center” tries to ensure the economic independence of women?

 

Yes, but not only.  For example, in Halidzor we created a handicrafts group.  This handicrafts group involved the most active women from the community.  After we worked with this group and involved them in political empowerment activities, four women from this group decided to run as candidates for the local Council of Elderly.

 

Although the Resource Centre cannot take all the credit, we have seen positive developments in Syunik concerning women’s involvement in politics.  It is a testament to our success that Syunik, is seen to be a conservative province full of stereotypes, but from the point of view of women participation in local self-governing bodies, the province is exemplary compared to other parts of Armenia.

 

It seems like just yesterday that we had no reason to be proud of Syunik as it had the lowest number of women active in politics.  And this is where I want to stress the importance of the role of women’s resource centres.  We have worked not only in towns but also in rural areas, organizing leadership courses, encouraging the use of new mechanisms, and many other activities.  I have seen with my own eyes how women have gained self-confidence through our activities and then become more active in their communities as leaders and as politicians.

 

One of our biggest successes happened during the 2012 local elections when we focused increasing the participation of women in political processes with the support of the OSCE and the Embassy of the Netherlands.  Personally, I knew from previous experience how difficult it is for women to enter politics at the local level.  In 2003, I put forward my candidacy to become a member of the Council of the Elderly, (at that time, I was the only woman in the province) and I had no support and especially from other women in the community.  Even some of my friends were a bit skeptical and doubted that I could change anything in the community.  I don’t really know how I received enough votes!  But in 2012, the situation is different.  Now people are familiar with the work of the resource centres and understand that women have a lot of potential.  Today, 28 women out of the 36 who participated were elected in the province.

 

Nevertheless, women’s representation in the Council of the Elderly in Syunik towns is limited to one member – you are the only one in Goris.  It seems that women in rural areas are more active or is there another problem?  

 

The problem is the higher we get; the higher is the competition and the greater the stakes in the elections become.  The campaign becomes that much more difficult for women.

 

 

Do you mean the financial possibilities?

 

Financial resources is only one part, but it is important to realize that much of the electoral processes and many important political discussions are monopolized by men in Armenia, particularly at the national level.  This may explain the fact that only a few women participate in parliamentary elections.

 

The general opinion in Armenia is that increasing women’s participation in political processes is artificial and that in reality women do not solve anything, the real decisions are made by men.
I disagree with that opinion and our experience proves the opposite.  In 2003, when I was elected as a member of the Council of the Elderly in Goris, I realized that the issues that are important to women are not important to men and not in their priorities.  Women pay more attention to social issues and as mothers and caregivers they have a different approach to many questions.  During my first three years at the Council of Elderly I have raised issues that were welcomed by both women and men, such as problems with kindergartens and lobbied for the building playgrounds instead of garages.  The biggest problem in that context is that the work done by women remains in the shadow.

 

 

Recently we learnt that you may put forward your candidacy for the position of Goris Mayor . . . ?

 

Goris Mayor’s elections will take place in June, and I may put forward my candidacy.  Though, we will see.  Though, there is still much to do at the Resource Centre.

 

E. Makaryan

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