This article is a part of the campaign #12 Women on the Barricades, developed by The Norwegian Helsinki Committee in collaboration with illustrator Jenny Jordahl. We present 12 portraits of women standing on the barricades of other women, focusing on the greatest human rights challenges facing women in Europe today – and what needs to be done to overcome them. Read about the 11 other women on www.nhc.no/en/12womenonthebarricades
In a small beautiful country with a long and powerful history, the Armenian people made history in 2018. The 2018 Velvet revolution in Armenia, a revolution known as one of “love and solidarity”, people proved to the world that democracy lies in the hands of the people.
But people in this context, does still not mean all people, or every person. Post-revolutionary Armenia has demonstrated little will to tackle problems of women, LGBTI and other vulnerable groups, regardless of the important role they played during the revolution itself.
As simple as that
“Women are entitled to the same human rights and they should get to know about this”. This was Gohar Shahnazaryan’s driving force when, in 2003, she established the Women Resource Centre (WRC) in Armenia. Since then, the WRC has become the first resource center in Armenia for young women, covering everything from women’s social and political empowerment and reproductive and sexual rights, to sexual violence and women’s role in conflict resolution and peace building.
It was a simple doctrine, but it was about to meet massive resistance in a conservative and patriarchal Armenia. First, by a regime estranged to democratic developments in general. Secondly, by a political elite, claiming commitment to a new and democratic agenda.
No gender revolution
In 2018, women and women’s rights activists played a key role in the Velvet revolution. Looking at the political and social agenda of post-revolutionary Armenia, this may seem hard to believe.
Processes that would initiate real and significant change – and that would actually change the traditional order of things, were lacking. Feminism and gender issues remain quite challenging topics in Armenia’s everyday reality. A lot of misperceptions and negative attitudes surround notions of gender, women’s rights and women’s movement. Rather than being associated with equal access to human rights, democratic development and progress, it raises notions of perversion, pedophilia and bestiality.
“Being a women human rights defender in such an atmosphere means that we have to fight for other women’s basic freedoms, and at the same time, combat violence against ourselves. This has not changed with the revolution”, Gohar explains.
“Traitors of the Nation”
Gohar and her colleagues have been labeled as “traitors of the nation”, as “threats to Armenian values” and “destroyers of families” only because they do their utmost to enhance women’s knowledge about protecting their own rights. Support from state institutions, including the police, is also insufficient.
“Because we are women, we are perceived as easy targets. Because we are outspoken about violence against women sexually, and about reproductive rights and LGBT rights, things have become quite difficult for us. People call for violence against us, death threats and hate flourish. But we will not give up”, says Gohar.
Being a women human rights defender in such an atmosphere means that we have to fight for other women’s basic freedoms, and at the same time, combat violence against ourselves.
WRC initiated the development of Young Women’s Network, that consists mainly of young women from the regions of Armenia. The idea of the Network is to develop and promote social activism among young women and empower them to make feminist interventions in their respective communities. The WRC believes that only active engagement can bring actual changes in Armenia.
These are the main values Gohar tries to teach to her young students at the Yerevan State University, hoping they will contribute to a better future for women in Armenia.