An interview with Chairwoman of Women’s Resource Center Lara Aharonyan
On 20 May, the National Assembly adopted the Law “On ensuring equality of rights and opportunities for men and women” which has been in circulation for several years. Has your organization participated in drafting the Law?
Our organization was not directly involved in drafting of this law. I am aware that the law was submitted to the NA by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. A working group, including representatives of non-governmental organizations, was set up to work on drafting the law for many years. In addition, there were various hearings, discussions, also in the regions; all provisions were presented and only then it was submitted to the NA, where again public hearings were organized, and then it was adopted.
Though we have not participated in the drafting, but our organization took part in a series of discussions and hearings. And we supported the adoption of the law, because it is very important for ensuring the equal rights for men and women. Even if the other laws provide for women’s rights, de facto women are behind men in many fields. In many cases they do not have an opportunity to be engaged in various activities, and the law is exactly about that, how we can struggle against these phenomena in different areas. That’s why the adoption of this law is very actual for Armenia.
When and what was the reason that the term gender became a subject of hot discussions?
The reason is really clear. In two months, Armenia should sign the Associative Agreement with Europe in Vilnius, but because there is a Russian oriented group, which wanted Armenia to become a member of the Customs Union, it tried to put pressure this way.
In regards to Armenia, this method of manipulation was selected, for it was easy, fast and affordable, and by this they wanted to demonstrate that the Associative Agreement will introduce European values to Armenia, including all those negative things that exist in Europe.
They talk about it without getting any deeper on what in fact is the Associative Agreement, why it is important. They just needed to make a cause within the society to demonstrate that if we go towards Europe we should expect the worst and the most extreme things, such as is the loss of family. The notion of family was put in the center because it is very easy to gather the Armenian society around the value of the family. Thus, it was chosen as the fastest and most effective factor to influence people against Europe.
There were threats against your organization in the Internet. How real are they? Have the police undertaken any steps to identify those who made them? At what stage is investigation of your complaint?
We follow the situation with our complaint. We have submitted a letter to the police and they answered that they continue investigation against certain persons, who had clearly threatened us and whose data we provided to the police. We expect an invitation from the police soon.
I would also like to remind that all these threats and defamation started when in the Facebook a group “Pan-Armenian Parents’ Committee” was established and launched disinformation campaign. They have started hate propaganda, and some persons started threatening, for example, “the Women’s Resource Center has to be blown up as it was done with Tsomak’s D.I.Y. club”. And the responsible for that is the Pan-Armenian Parents’ Committee, because they have created a channel for spreading disinformation and no person was identify to be responsible for circulation of false information.
We have also written a letter to A1+, which filmed and edited my speech during our last press conference on 3 September, when I had described how a person become accustomed to his/her role in the society since the childhood. Whereas their journalist changed the context of my speech, presenting it in the way as if I said that people learn about their homosexuality in the childhood. But homosexuality is not something you learn: either you are born with that or you are not a homosexual.
We sent a letter demanding that they publish a disclaimer but they have not responded yet. If they do not answer for a long time, we will apply to legal measures.
The Government has suggested that the term ‘gender’ is taken out from the Law “On ensuring equality of rights and opportunities for men and women”, because the term ‘gender’ is interpreted in a wrong way, particularly that gender is a sex obtained during the life. What is your and your organization’s opinion regarding the proposed amendments?
We have a strong negative attitude to this amendment and do not accept any changes in the draft because it was widely discussed and there were opportunities for people to express their opinion. The Law is based on good research and is well elaborated and well-grounded. And now, last moment, introducing or cutting off anything from the Law just to avoid current noise, seems to be not a professional approach.
A group of extremists are against it, without any reasons, and they state that something like this should be proposed, and the Government then decides that changes should be made. What does it mean? It means that the Government is not confident in its decision. It is not acceptable.
In addition, it demonstrated that the other side’s arguments are grounded, legitimate and should be heard. While those people, who insist, they do not have any ground, any research, they just make a noise to influence political solutions.
I am personally against any changes in the Law, because, in fact, eliminating the term ‘gender’ does not change anything in the Law, and the people who started the anti-propaganda are not interested at all whether it stays in the Law or not. They are against the entire law and they are against the equality of men and women. In their websites they state that their aim is not taking the term ‘gender’ out but taking the whole Law out of circulation. For this reason I do not see any sense for changes because in any way what they want is something different.
Apart from that, the term ‘gender’ is not a wrong one. Here other things should have been done. As the state has committed to adopt this law, then it has to undertake a duty to raise awareness of those people who do not understand the Law or terms related to gender, by different means, by undertaking different steps to explain the meaning of the term. The state, not the non-governmental organizations, should have done this.
You circulated a statement demanding urgent public hearings regarding the changes in the draft. What is it aimed at?
If a segment of the society protests this or that provision of the law or its content, then the Government cannot decide on its own that this or that provision should be necessarily changed. It should undergo public discussion, where specialists, who participated in the drafting of the Law, shall participate and study the proposed changes and only then decide whether changes should be introduced or not.
The Prosperous Armenia fraction of the NA had an alternative draft of the law. Are you familiar with it and what is your opinion?
They were suggesting that the terminology in question be eliminated. It is a wrong approach, especially on the side of Ms Zohrabyan, who is one of the responsible persons in the Committee on European Integration. She made an inacceptable thing by stating that “we are against such things”. I did not understand: what does it mean to be against such things. Then she stated that at the last minute, during the third reading - they included definition of the term ‘gender’. This is not a professional approach on behalf of the Member of the National Assembly. Is she trying to say that at the last minute one can introduce something, make changes in the law, and nobody would see it? It is simply ridiculous… Then stand up and say that “we are against such values”. She, at least, being a representative of the Committee on European Integration, should not have done this.
In your opinion, would women in Armenia benefit from the law, after the changes, in its final version? Will the Law on gender Equality impact on women or it has a declarative nature?
The proposed changes refer mainly to the terminology. In any case, even if the Law is amended but remains the same in its essence, the society and the government should take responsibility and make steps to ensure that women be provided with equal opportunities with men. Also, we need an instrument in cases, when women are pressured or demonstrated in a stereotyped manner, so that we can prove that such actions are illegal.
Certainly, having only the law is not sufficient. There should be mechanisms for education and raising public awareness. And the term ‘gender’ should stay in the law to bring our society to understand and raise its awareness that there are serious problems related to gender inequality. If we take the term ‘gender’ out, how do we justify it?
They say that ‘gender’ is homosexuality, pedophilia, incest… It is ridiculous, because gender does not mean it. Gender is a social sex, when you, born as a man or a woman, learn how to become a good man or a good woman, and how to understand your role.
Interview by Mariam Sargsyan