Armenia: What it takes to be a woman in local governance
“When you are the sole woman representative in a community, and you need your voice to be heard and considered, you had better be knowledgeable and very prepared”, says Narine.
Narine Geghamyan was elected as a local council (Avagani) member in the Kamaris community of Armenia just over two years ago. A young woman, a teacher-to-be, and a world champion of Karate-do, Narine was motivated to run for election by her community, who then helped her win a majority of votes. Though excited by her new role, initially Narine faced challenges with the level of responsibility that her new status brought.
The fact that Narine is the only woman in the Avagani council upset her; she felt that the whole village would benefit if more women were engaged with decision-making on community issues.
- Out of the 124 candidates who participated in the training events, 81 were elected to local self-government bodies.
- Out of 6164 Avagani local council representatives, only 534 are women (8.6%).
- Total number of women supported since 2012 through capacity development activities is 1180.
A joint EU-UNDP Women in Local Democracy project, which commenced in April 2012, works to do just that: help women in all ten regions of Armenia to better participate in the governance processes of their communities.
The project supports women candidates to prepare for local elections. Out of the 124 candidates that participated in the project pre-election training events, 81 were elected to local self-government bodies.
In advance of local elections the project works at the regional level to identify and support women who have the interest and potential to engage in community governance processes. These women are then supported ‘en route’ through training, consultations and networking events.
After elections, cooperation and collaboration with the elected women continue. Female heads of the communities and local council members build their knowledge and skills in the areas of local governance, gender equality, gender-sensitive planning and budgeting, participatory governance and more.
Through the project’s support, women serving in the local government are better able to contribute to policy-making processes through regular dialogues with the representatives of the central government, parliament and regional authorities. Finally, peer support allows female leaders to interact and exchange their experiences at inter-community and inter-regional levels.
“Immediately after being elected I felt unprepared and lacking relevant knowledge”, says Narine, “but participation in the Leadership School and thematic trainings helped me to quickly build up the competencies I required.”
Narine brought a number of concerns to the local government body, including issues of street lights, garbage disposal, renovation of the village church and road maintenance. Through her efforts, many of these issues received timely attention, and in some cases, sensible and agreeable solutions. She is proud of having been able to serve her community.
She faced some frustrations along the way. Two years after her election, due to certain internal disagreements within the political party she belonged to, Narine became so discouraged that she considered resigning her post as council member. Shortly after this experience, she got a chance to meet UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. Listening to Clark's experiences and challenges she had faced in her own long political career, Narine was inspired not to give up.
Narine believes that efficient service to the benefit of a community is based first and foremost on devotion to the community. Beyond this, though, women candidates must have access to opportunities for constant learning if they are to be successful.
Today, Narine is very optimistic for the future to come. “I am quite lucky to have the support of my community, and the additional support in knowledge and development” she says. “In five years' time I see myself as a knowledgeable and competent local politician, and, why not, the head of our community.”