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Oliver McCoy: “There is light at the end of the tunnel…”

As you may know, the 57 participating States of the OSCE attach great importance to the issue of the equality between women and men, believing that this factor plays an essential role in ensuring political and economic security, stable development, and sustainable democracy in any country.  Gender equality has been a priority for the OSCE since 2004 when the Permanent Council adopted an action plan on gender equality.  In light of this commitment, the OSCE Office in Yerevan advocates for equal participation of women and men in the process of the country’s development. We spoke about the OSCE’s activities in Armenia with Oliver McCoy, the Gender Focal Point at the OSCE Office in Yerevan.  Our first question refers to the OSCE Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality,  what is it and how it is put in action in Armenia.

 

 

— This document is not the manifestation of an ideological approach, but reflects a concrete political commitment by all OSCE participating States specifically on gender equality.  The 2004 Action Plan, first of all, obliges the OSCE itself to include gender as a component of the organization’s comprehensive approach to security.  Gender mainstreaming, that is, taking into account the perspectives of both men and women in any activity implemented by the OSCE is imperative. To give you a specific example in Armenia: in the projects we implement together with the Armenian Police, we make sure to involve both men and women and to analyze the impact of our programming accounting for different perspectives and experiences.  Secondly, the Action Plan compels participating States themselves to promote gender equality. This means that all OSCE participating States should include gender-sensitive approaches in their respective legislative acts, policies, and decision-making processes.  And finally, the Action Plan encourages OSCE participating States to take up specific measures such as ensuring non-discriminatory through legal acts and policy frameworks as well as combating violence against women.

In concrete terms, I would like to note that since 2008 the OSCE Office in Yerevan has invested in expanding the economic capacities of women in Armenia.  After a comprehensive needs assessment, the Syunik province was identified as a priority area for OSCE Office in Yerevan.  As a result, the OSCE supported the establishment of three women’s resource centres in the region and has continued to promote co-operation amongst them.  In a relatively short period of time, especially in the last two years, these centres have achieved quite a bit, particularly in the area of economic empowerment.  I am pleased to see how these women’s resource centres have contributed to improving the economic situation in the entire Syunik province.  As prosperity and economic security are linked with civic participation, it is satisfying to see how political activity has developed.  A significant number of Syunik’s current local council members have benefited from the centres’ support because the initial confidence to participate in local elections was cultivated as a result of the centres’ activities.

 

— In other words, can such projects make a difference and bring about real gender equality?  In Armenia today there are many projects and strategies that seek to improve the situation; however, these initiatives remain, for the most part, on paper.

 

— You are right, there are reams of documents, project proposals, and implementation plans developed to help Armenia realize its international commitments on gender equality.  Even a quick look at the statistical data reveals an obvious inequality between women and men throughout society both in terms of political representation as well as in economic activity.  At the same time, however, change is taking place, especially at the local level.  There is no denying that at the national level representation of women in parliament is much lower than the 20 per cent envisaged by electoral legislation and that equitable representation has not been achieved within the civil service either, particularly for women in decision-making positions.  However, if you look at gender equality from the perspective of local self-government bodies, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.  After the most recent round of Council of the Elderly elections in the Syunik province, change is visible.  Surprisingly, several years ago the number of women represented on Councils of the Elderly in Syunik was amongst the lowest in Armenia.  Today, Syunik has the highest number of women Council members.  To me, this is an indication that change is possible and that despite the many challenges of participating in political processes that there are women who are willing to stand for their ideas and have the capacity to be leaders in the communities.

 

 

— Nevertheless, in your opinion what is the reason that the political field in Armenia still remains a “man’s territory”? Aren’t there any intelligent, educated, and active women who could enter politics?

 

— I suspect there are many qualified people, both men and women, who do not engage in politics in Armenia.  There is a sense of apathy toward democratic, political processes in general.  The Economist recently reported, for example, that political party affiliation is declining across the developed world and that in many European countries more than half of voters “had no trust in government”.  There are many reasons why qualified women tend to “play out” of politics in Armenia; many of the reasons are cultural, many of them are personal.  What is important is that an increase of political involvement of women is a prerequisite for the country’s development and long-term prosperity.

 

— What are the OSCE Office in Yerevan’s plans for the current year?  What kind of projects are you planning that would improve the status of women?

 

— First of all, the OSCE will continue to support the development of the women’s resource centre network in Syunik, and in particular continuing to focus on economic and political empowerment. As the OSCE is a political organization as opposed to a donor organization, we will continue to explore network sustainability by identifying other sponsors and by establishing other income streams. The volunteers and community leaders involved in the centres have many creative ideas and innovative projects and the OSCE will certainly be next to them to see how these ideas come to life.  Personally, I would like to see the positive experiences in Syunik shared with other provinces and community activists in Armenia.  I am very pleased that the Syunik Women’s Resource Centre Network was recently accredited by the European Network of Resource Centres, and the OSCE is committed to help this network take root in Armenia.

 

During the course of 2014, the OSCE has also planned to support the activities of women parliamentarians, will engage with political parties to promote women’s participation, will support gender monitoring mechanisms, such as Gender Theme Group, and continue to engage with law enforcement agencies and state agencies on issues like human trafficking, which disproportionally affect women and children.

 

 E.Makaryan

Read more OSCE documents on gender equality:

 

2004 OSCE Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality

 

Promoting gender equality in the OSCE

 

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