Initial report (Addendum) dated 5 December 1998 (E/1990/5/Add. 36)
Armenia was the first republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union, in September 1991. Since then, the country has been in transition to a free market economy. The process has been marked by a difficult economic situation exacerbated by internal political struggle and military conflicts in the region.
Both the presidential (1998) and parliamentary (1999) elections have been termed irregular by international observers. In March 1998, Robert Kocharyan was elected president for a term of four years. Kocharyan, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, is considered to be a hard-liner; he supports an increase in military spending and the resumption of military action against Azerbaijan to resolve a major conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Former Armenia president Levon Ter-Petrossian was forced to resign after demonstrating willingness to negotiate with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result of the most recent parliamentary elections in May 1999, economic liberals and center-right parties, who had supported IMF-dictated economic reforms since 1994, were ousted from the National Assembly. Nearly half of Armenia's state budget has been financed by IMF and World Bank loans under the condition of the implementation of privatization, budgetary restraints and trade liberalization.
Women in Political and Public Life
In the Soviet period, women's participation in the legislative and executive branches of the government reached 36.6 per cent. When the first free parliamentary elections were held in Armenia in 1990, the percentage of women in the legislative body dropped to 3.7 percent, and following the 1999 parliamentary election it decreased to 3.05 percent. The proportion of women in municipal and regional councils fell to about 10.7 percent and in the executive branch even more. At present, there is only one woman minister. Three deputy ministers and one chief executive in a local authority are women. There are no women among regional and community leaders. Out of 124 judges, only 23 are women. In the Public Prosecutor's office, women account for 20.7 percent of employees.
In the past, the government has explained that, unlike in Soviet times, "[the women in parliament] are really engaged in the legislation making process and are not only formally registered as such for the sake of making the statistics look more 'democratic' ... ." Nevertheless, especially in light of women's recent loss of parliamentary representation, women's NGOs express alarm at this situation and have called for the establishment of quotas to increase women's presence in the executive and legislative branches.
Women's Non-Governmental Organizations
Given the virtual absence of women in government structures, they attempt to participate in political life through various non-governmental organizations. Currently, there are more than 40 registered women's non-governmental organizations and several unregistered organizations which deal specifically with issues affecting women, and some, such as Women with University Education, have opened branches outside Yerevan. Women's NGOs are allowed to participate in the work of government commissions. They have been in frequent contact with the Ministry of Social Security and with commissions at the General Assembly, but activists told IWRAW that they are not allowed to take part in decision-making and their recommendations are not given serious consideration.
Freedom of Expression
The Soviet "Law on Press" adopted in 1991 remains in effect. The law provides for "freedom of the press and other mass media" (art. 2) and for "the rights to receive information" (art. 4). At the same time, the law bans the "abuse of press freedom" and makes illegal and punishable by a six-month suspension the publication of state secrets, incitement to war and violence, and hate speech.
President Kocharyan has sought to improve government's relations with the press. The powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissian and his staff, however, have continued to be hostile toward journalists requesting information, and his office habitually fails to respond to queries. Journalists exercise self-censorship, especially with regard to news of human rights violations in the conflict with Azerbaijan, because there have been reports that journalists have suffered harassment, threatening phone calls, warnings from officials, and even beatings. The most fundamental problem limiting access to the press is the overwhelming poverty. Newspaper circulation is very small as Armenians cannot afford them. News kiosks are said to rent copies of newspapers for a small fee.
Armenia is a small landlocked country with few natural resources and only a small amount of arable land. In addition to the blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the country's economic situation was exacerbated by the closure of its only nuclear power plant following the 1988 earthquake, as well as by economic crisis in Russia. Armenia experienced the largest decrease in industrial output among the former Soviet republics. Only in 1991-1993, the GDP fell by 60 percent. Yet, despite the crises, according to The Economist, Armenia "performed the sort of budget-tightening that makes officials of the IMF glow with enthusiasm." A tough reform program instituted by former president Ter-Petrossian steered the country towards a market economy, with low inflation and foreign debt, and rising industrial production, a trend which has continued into 1999.
In 1998, the inflation rate stood at 8.7 percent and the GDP increased by 7.2 percent which was the highest rate since the implementation of the reforms in 1992. This "success," however, has come at the cost of the deterioration of overall quality of life. A 1995 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report characterized the society as comprising a rich elite and "a vast army of poor and deprived." According to World Bank estimates, 90 percent of Armenians live below poverty level, and unemployment reaches 50 percent in some regions.
The harsh realities of everyday life in Armenia, high unemployment and bleak prospects for the future, have contributed to a huge outflow of its citizens in recent years. It is estimated that approximately 400,000 people, about one-sixth of the population, have emigrated since 1991. Most have gone to Russia and to the United States. According to the data provided by NGOs, men are the majority of those who have left. Consequently, women now constitute about seventy percent of the country's population.
The following assessment of women's status in Armenia is based in part on the findings of a fact-finding trip to Yerevan, Armenia in September 1998. This report is also based on reports of Armenian women's NGOs, interviews that IWRAW conducted with representatives of NGOs and other knowledgeable individuals, correspondence with several activists and background information obtained from published books and articles.
Marsha Freeman, IWRAW Director, and Jeffrey Baldwin-Bott, IWRAW Research Assistant , edited the report.
The following are some of the organizations and documents received from NGOs in Armenia that form the core of this report: document "Declaration Regarding the Status of Armenian Women and Functioning of Non-Governmental Organizations" which IWRAW received from the Women's Council of Armenia. Written for the Beijing Conference in 1995, IWRAW received the document with a 1997 update prepared in collaboration with the League of Women Voters (LWV). The Women's Council of Armenia was established in 1987 and is one of the largest women's NGOs in Armenia. The Council states that it was established in order to defend the rights of women and children of the Republic and increase women's role in the political, socio-economic and cultural life of the country. LWV was created in 1996 in an effort to promote women's participation in the electoral process. IWRAW also received information from the Center for Gender Studies in Yerevan, and the Association of Women with University Education.
I want to thank everyone I met with in Armenia for their time and effort in helping me understand the issues and problems related to women's human rights in Armenia. I am grateful to Gulnara Shahinian for her assistance with my meeting schedule. I am also thankful to Nora Hakopian, and Svetlana Aslanian for their friendship and the many ways they assisted and supported me during the visit to Yerevan.
STATUS OF WOMEN IN ARMENIA UNDER SPECIFIC ICESCR ARTICLES:
COVENANT ARTICLE 2 and 3: Non-Discrimination and Obligation of States Parties to Adopt Legislative
Measures and Equal Rights of Men and Women
Following independence in September 1991, the Armenian Parliament ratified most of the international treaties protecting human rights. Women enjoy equality with men under Armenian law. However, the government has been extremely slow to begin establishing the mechanisms designed to effectively deal with problems affecting the status of women, to protect them from discrimination, and ensure equal opportunities for them. The Women's Council of Armenia reports that after a Russian study of the various institutional mechanisms within the European Parliament was presented to the Armenian government, noting that similar structures existed in Russia and other CIS countries, a division of "family matters" was formed within the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. The Women's Council emphasizes that this mechanism does not have adequate authority or status to deal with the problems assigned to it. The Women's Council maintains that women's development will not go forward without long-term projects in all spheres of government. Also, without a national structure at the level of a women's ministry or an office for women's affairs within the president's office to promote women's equality, women's status will continue to deteriorate in all spheres of life.
According to a 1998 report evaluating Armenia's fulfillment of obligations under the Beijing Platform for Action, as of mid-1998, the government had not yet adopted a national action plan. Although the government was examining policies to improve women's status and invited several NGOs to participate in consultations, so far, gender-specific approaches have not been used in government planning. There exists no national mechanism to coordinate the implementation of the Platform, and there are no government structures to deal with women's concerns at the regional level. At the 17th session of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Armenia representatives made a commitment to set up a department to deal with women's issues in 1998. It is unknown if this has been done. Women's organizations, such as Women with University Education, have demonstrated willingness to work with the government on the improvement of women's status, and they have put forward project proposals. For instance, the National Program of the Republic of Armenia on Improvement of Condition of Women was presented to the National Assembly, the President and the Prime Minister of Armenia. No response, either negative or positive, has been received so far. Appeals by women's groups to pass a Consumer Rights Law, and others related to shortcomings of the health care reforms and mechanisms for its coordination have also been left without a reply from the government.
Stereotypes and Societal Roles
Women constitute the majority of higher education graduates (51.8 percent) , but this has not translated into meaningful employment opportunities following graduation. Few women can be found in executive positions both in private companies and in state structures. For instance, a government report to CESCR acknowledges that although the number of women in the government and its agencies is large, few occupy leadership positions (5.2 percent).
The prevalent attitude in the society, echoed for instance in the government's initial report to CEDAW which was presented in 1997, is the belief that women's foremost role is in the private sphere and family. The report repeatedly refers to women's traditional roles as mothers and wives. According to the Association of Women with University Education, the government has done nothing to overcome the stereotypical understanding of women's role and place in the society. In fact, government officials continue to refer to the "natural" roles of women. Sources say that this is consistent with the fact that no substantial initiatives have been taken to promote the advancement of women in the public sphere. The National Commission on Women was formed only after pressure from the UN. Several other Armenian women whom IWRAW interviewed felt that government's emphasis on the maternal role of women is meant to distract from problems that women face in the social environment, including their minimal role in political decision-making and lack of professional opportunities.
According to the Association of Women with University Education, since 1990 the government has adopted no laws aimed at the improvement of women's status in the society. Moreover, especially in the last six years, laws have been passed that have reduced social guarantees and eliminated several important social benefits and services directly impacting women. The government lowered salaries and at the same time canceled subsidies for children over five years old, which put women in an even more precarious position than before.
Armenia's prisons are still run according to the rules of the Soviet prison system. The government has proposed prison system reforms which are to include the establishment of general and high-security prisons for women, but no information is available on the progress of these projects.
In 1998, out of 6,000 prisoners serving time, 233 were women. They were all incarcerated in a prison center located in the town of Abovian (seven miles north of Yerevan). According to the Center for Gender Studies, the conditions for women in prisons mirror discrimination against women found in the general society. According to a study conducted by the Center for Gender Studies at Abovian, the prison lacks basic sanitary necessities and medical assistance. Women are not provided separate rooms which would allow for a conjugal visit with their husbands, while male prisoners are allowed to stay with their wives for several days. The Center for Gender Studies reports that women incarcerated for simple crimes, such as petty theft, were kept in the same cells with criminals sentenced for more serious crimes. They claim that such a situation demoralizes the prisoners instead of contributing to their rehabilitation.
COVENANT ARTICLES 6 and 7: Right to Work and to Just and Favorable Conditions of Work
Activists consider women's economic dependence to be the main obstacle to their advancement. In the context of women's economic dependence, according to Jemma Hasratian of the Association of Women with University Education, it is useless to talk about their political, civic and other equalities. The Center for Gender Studies reports that men are routinely the preferred candidates in hiring, a process conducted by predominantly male bosses. Despite their higher academic achievement, an overwhelming number of women in Armenia occupy low-skilled positions. According to Barbara Merguerian of the Armenian International Women's Association, almost as a rule, even the most educated women are left out of the highest-paid and executive positions. Women predominate in non-managerial positions in manufacturing, primary and secondary education, and in health centers - jobs which typically pay the lowest salaries. Women with higher education are often forced to work as restaurant cooks, provide cleaning services or do handicrafts. Moreover, there are no mechanisms to enforce the anti-discrimination labor laws - labor rights violations are commonly not reported and no measures are being taken to improve the situation.
Women's NGOs report that the increasing social inequality and poverty in the country has affected women more than men. For example, women are the first victims of growing unemployment. The initial government report to CEDAW explains higher unemployment among women by the fact that "traditionally women are more oriented towards family and children." The NGOs, however, estimate that 80 percent of women who would like to work cannot find employment. In April 1997, the director of an employment center in Yerevan reported that 78 percent of the unemployed registered with his office are women, most of whom have higher education. Despite the statement in the government report to CESCR that "women and men receive equal pay for equal work (article 83 of Labor Code) , NGOs reports that women who find jobs earn about 75 percent of men's salary.
Health care is one of the fields where women are in the majority. According to the Center for Gender Studies, women comprise seventy percent of the doctors in Armenia. However, among doctors occupying senior positions, only about 20 percent are women.
According to the Center for Gender Studies report, women who do not fit into the official labor market have been forced to seek other ways to generate income. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of women engaging in unofficial trade. These women travel to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, and bring merchandise for sale back to Armenia. Sources say that the government is well aware of the extent of this phenomenon, but has done nothing to regulate or upgrade the growing industry. As a result, these businesses have no legal protection, and cannot obtain insurance, and its owners are not entitled to health protection or social benefits. These women are often exposed to sexual violence and crime.
Women's organizations have called for the establishment of special programs to stimulate women's involvement in the privatization process. According to the Women's Council, women have been generally left out of this privatization process. Sources say that during the process of land privatization, for example, land was only registered in women's names if the man in the family was absent. The Association of Women with University Education claims that the government has violated women's economic rights by their exclusion from the process.
The difficult economic situation of the country has particularly affected rural women. The overwhelming majority of rural women work as agricultural laborers. The countryside is plagued by constant shortages of water and cultivation equipment. Women's NGOs emphasize the deteriorating physical and psychological condition of women living in the countryside and urge that it merits special attention from the government. Several NGOs felt that the government needs to take more committed action to improve the availability of health care services in rural areas.
COVENANT ARTICLE 12: Right to Physical and Mental Health
Since 1990, the health of the general population in Armenia has deteriorated markedly. For instance, the incidence of tuberculosis (TB) increased from 16.6 in 1990 to 21.6 and 24.0 in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The incidence in children under 14 and women has increased twofold, and for adolescents (15-17), it grew threefold during the period 1995-1996.
Abortion and Family Planning
Armenia has a high abortion rate - an average of 2.7 abortions per woman. Dr. Mary Khachikian, president of the NGO Armenian Family Health, considers the steady rate of abortion to be the most serious problem related to women's reproductive health. It is accompanied by low fertility rates and high maternal mortality rates (50 per 100,000, compared to 22 in neighboring Azerbaijan, and 33 in Georgia). Abortion remains the primary means of fertility control in Armenia due to the lack of contraceptives and effective family planning services.
According to a 1998 study among abortion seekers, most of the 200 women who were surveyed had undergone prior abortion and had insignificant experience with contraception. Another survey conducted in 1997, found that 75 percent of women surveyed (aged 15-25) had used abortion for fertility regulation. Ninety percent of them were married: 93.8 percent of the pregnancies were unplanned, and 94.6 percent were unwanted. 86.6 percent of the women had not used contraception during the month when conception occurred. The average number of abortions was 2.3 among women aged 15-20 and 2.4 among women aged 21-25. Thirty-seven percent of abortions were sought because of a lack of financial means to support a child, while 38 percent of women did not want to child due to the generally difficult socioeconomic situation. Nearly half of the women reported using abortion as a means of fertility regulation because of lack of knowledge of another method of contraception.
Most of the women who undergo abortion report receiving inadequate counseling, either related to the abortion procedure or to post-abortion contraception (approximately 96 and 93 percent, respectively). Despite this alarming situation, according to several NGO sources, the government does not promote and support any programs which would aim at improving the quality of family planning services and implement family planning education. Several NGO representatives told IWRAW that NGOs are interested in providing information and raising funds for sex education for adolescents, but they need cooperation from the Ministry of Health and government agencies, as well as assistance in providing training space and equipment.
NGOs also report that prenatal services are extremely poor. As a result, there has been a considerable increase in the incidence of anemia in pregnant women in recent years, as well as health deficiencies in women who are breast-feeding, and other related health problems. As women's health deteriorates, the children are born weaker. Also, our sources report that, contrary to the government's official claims, malnutrition affects increasing numbers of children under the age of five years old.
According to Dr. Khachikian, laws pertaining to reproductive health cannot be put into practice because of lack of funds and training. For instance, although there is a law allowing for sterilization after the second child, doctors are not adequately trained and do not know how to perform this kind of operation.
Violence Against Women
The old Soviet legal code is still in use in Armenia. The Criminal Code cites specific punishments for rape, forced abortion and forbidding a woman from marrying. There is, however, no provision stipulating punishment for domestic violence. According to the Women's Rights Center (WRC) in Yerevan, women are generally ignorant of the full meaning of violence and have difficulty assessing violence that they suffer or have suffered. They are largely unaware of the right to live free from physical and emotional abuse. An attitude that violence is a private matter and that "if one beats, then he loves" is still common. A recent sociological study survey entitled "Do you really know your rights?" conducted by WRC in Yerevan, attempted to assess women's awareness about violence. A sample of 100 women (all city-dwellers from various educational, professional, socioeconomic backgrounds and a range of age groups) were surveyed. Only one woman was familiar with UN human rights treaties, and 74 women had never heard of them. Most of them did not know whether Armenia has ratified international human rights instruments. The study also demonstrated extremely low knowledge of domestic laws pertaining to women - 14 were aware of their existence. On the other hand, 86 stated that there exists violence against women in Armenia, and more than half had personal knowledge of such cases.
In 1996, the Interior Ministry registered 32 cases of rape and attempted rape. The government report to CEDAW acknowledges that the "amount of such cases may be higher and those who have suffered assault do not turn to the help of law-enforcement bodies, because they would prefer to talk about their case with female personnel." At the same time, the government does not explain whether there has been any effort to hire female staff.
COVENANT ARTICLES 13 and 14: Right to Education
Women's right to education was incorporated into Armenia's constitution 70 years ago. Education is highly prized in the society, and Armenia has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Both boys and girls receive equal educational opportunities, and at present more women receive university and postgraduate education than men. Unfortunately, this has not led to meaningful professional opportunities for women (see under Covenant Article 6 and 7).
REVIEWS BY OTHER UN HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS
Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee : Armenia. 19 November 1998.
Principal subjects of concern and recommendations:
· Address the persistent de facto discrimination against women in the light of Armenia's obligations under the Covenant.
· The Committee is concerned about discrimination against women in employment and their under-representation in the conduct of public affairs. Furthermore, the Committee regrets the disproportionate level of unemployment among women, which has been explained by the delegation as being due to economic hardship.
· Take specific protection and punitive measures with respect to all forms of violence against women, including rape.
· Urgently address the phenomenon of street children in Armenia.
Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Armenia. 19 March 1998.
No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.
Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women : Armenia. 14 July 1997.
Suggestions and recommendations:
· Establish a national machinery for the advancement of women, fully staffed and resourced, to integrate the perspective of women's human rights and gender analysis into all ongoing policy-making and strategic development planning activities.
· Take temporary special measures to create employment opportunities for women, including special credit and loan programs for women entrepreneurs. Adopt temporary special measures to remedy the severe decrease in the political representation of women in all areas of public life, including political representation, since independence.
· Give attention to the subject of violence against women, by encouraging a public discussion of its various forms, initiating appropriate legislation, training law enforcement officers, judges and health professionals, including adequate numbers of female personnel, to identify, manage and eliminate the manifestations of violence against women, and by guaranteeing that the necessary psycho-social and health services are available to victims of violence, with particular attention to internally displaced and refugee women.
· Use the education system and the electronic media to combat the traditional stereotype of women "in the noble role of mother" and to raise awareness of the role of men in caring and their responsibility for parenting.
· Collect information and sex disaggregated data in all areas, in particular as regards violence against women, prostitution and health.
· Ensure the fulfillment of social responsibilities and obligations under international human rights law in the planning and implementation of privatization policies and programs in order not to deprive women and other vulnerable groups of enjoyment of their human rights, especially in the area of health.
Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture : Armenia. 9 July 1996.
No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.
COPYRIGHT© 2009 All materials on this web site copyright of International Women's Rights Action Watch, University of Minnesota, USA