Connecting local and national decision-makers: women taking the lead

08 Jul 2014

imageYoung women leaders had many questions to ask

More than twenty Avagani (community council) members recently brainstormed with the Vice Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly on the importance of women’s involvement in democratic governance.  Here UNDP’s Natalya Harutyunyan captures the key points.

“For a woman a decision to enter politics doesn’t come easy: first, you struggle with yourself, next, you probably overcome resistance of your family, then face societal stereotypes - from the media, your constituency and others” – Hermine Naghdalyan, the Vice Speaker said.

Why connect women leaders at the local and national level?  We as UNDP want to encourage women to see themselves as public decision-makers and to promote dialogue on the challenges they face in governance.

Hermine Naghdalyan's other thoughts during the meeting included:

-          The importance of the involvement of women in local governance, especially as Avagani (community council) members, which is a good spring board for political career in terms of  gaining experience, knowledge and skills;  

-          That partnership with and engagement of civil society in tackling community issues makes governance processes more efficient and participatory;

-          That Avagani institute is still to be established; the role of female members of local councils is to contribute to this process by being competent, professional and people-oriented;

-          That the role of community leaders  is, among others, to cultivate the sense of ownership among their constituency;

-          That there are few women in politics and they face tough competition. To be successful, a women shall be more knowledgeable, skillful and competent vis-à-vis men. Hence the advice was: “Never stop learning”.

“Please, continue to stay courageous and strong in positioning yourselves as devoted and capable representatives in your communities.  Disregard the stereotypes, I assure you, it IS possible to succeed both in family and in politics, given the priorities are set and planned properly” - Hermine Naghdalyan, the Vice Speaker, a wife, a mother of five children and one of the few female politicians in Armenia to reach high public office.

The discussion evolved to touch upon the upcoming territorial administration reform, which will enlarge communities, as well as generate specific challenges.  To point some:

-          Absence of schools in some communities or their poor condition;

-          Lack of entrepreneurship opportunities in villages, which  limits locally-mobilized resources, and respectively increases youth outmigration;

-          In many villages nurses are the only medical staff, which results in their involvement in community healthcare issues 24/7. The compensation, however, equals to the minimal wage in the country, which raises grievances among the medical personnel.

-          Absence of cultural centers and sports facilities to ensure the fitness and recreation of children in rural areas. The Vice-Speaker confirmed that healthcare data point to certain health problems among children which are caused by limited fitness and recreation opportunities. The central authorities are alert to this trend.

-          Budget allocations from government to communities are delivered on the basis of community population. Participants mentioned the importance of other factors to be considered, namely the number and scope of public services actually delivered by the community (kindergartens, cultural centers, etc.).

Next steps

The participants agreed to continue the dialogue through quarterly meetings with involvement of other female Members of the National Assembly.

Given the fact that the upcoming territorial administration reform will lead to changes in local electoral process, women in local self-government are advised to take this process as an opportunity and strongly advocate for women’s greater representation at the local level, possibly through local quotas.

Mechanisms should be worked out to link women Avagani with national and international organizations providing support for small (start-up) community development projects.

The “Women in Local Democracy Project” is implemented with the financial support of the European Union.  It works in ten regions of Armenia to promote women’s participation in local elections and to build the capacity and knowledge of potential local female leaders, thus reducing gender-specific constraints that women face in social and political decision-making processes in Armenia.