Several years ago, a group of girls from the Vahan Tekeyan Secondary School in the village of Karbi, Aragatsotn would have never dreamt that they would one day find themselves in Silicon Valley, receiving an award from the hands of Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. This group of young girls from a small Armenian village ended up in Silicon Valley thanks to their unique idea: a mobile app for learning Armenian sign language.
“This idea was born when the cousin of one of our friends visited our school. Naturally, we tried to introduce ourselves and talk to her,” says one of the girls from the group. “However, we soon discovered that she was hearing-impaired.” Their project is named One Step Forward. “That’s when we came up with this idea, to create an app that would help people learn sign language.”
2017 marked the first time that Armenia took part in Technovation Girls, the biggest competition in technological entrepreneurship that aims to inspire and encourage young women to become leaders and innovators by solving problems faced by their communities.
The girls returned from Silicon Valley as winners of the People’s Choice Award and $10,000 to complete their app.
The involvement of women in Armenia’s IT sector is a unique phenomenon. In other countries, the number of women in the IT sector averages from 11-24 percent. In Armenia, it is over 33 percent. The issue globally, however, is that women usually never land leadership roles and don’t take part in decision-making processes in the sector. In 2017, the number of women representatives in leadership roles in tech was an overall 11 percent.
Ani Manukyan, a representative from Women and Information Society NGO, says that ignoring women’s potential is a critical mistake.
“Women’s involvement in the IT sector is very important not only because more than half of society is women, but also because women and girls have real major potential, which today, unfortunately, is not being used,” says Manukyan. “IT is one of the main priorities of the Armenian Government and one of the pillars of our country’s economy. Hence, not using the amazing resource that is our women’s and girls’ intellect is a great mistake.”
Majority in Society, Minority in the Labor Market: Gender Inequality in Armenia
In National Geographic’s list of the best and worst countries in which to be a woman, Armenia ranks 82nd. The index considers three main categories: women’s level of participation in economic, social and political opportunities, access to justice (experience of formal and informal discrimination), and level of safety (at home, in the family, community and within society).
Armenia’s population is 53 percent women. Women’s participation level in higher education at the Masters level is 2.19 times that of men. The picture is completely different in the labor market, however. In 2018, women’s average monthly wages was 64.7 percent that of men, resulting in a gender wage gap of 35.3 percent.
Also, the number of women seeking employment is greater than the number of men seeking employment. In 2019, the State Employment Agency had 84,982 people registered as seeking employment, of which 56,294 were women. The number of women employed through state support is also greater. Thus, in 2019, 11,582 people found employment through the State Employment Agency, 7,794 of whom were women.
- The level of women’s economic activity in the Armenian labor force is 52.8 percent which significantly lower than the 70.7 percent activity of men.
- 47 percent of stay-at-home moms or homemakers are considered “economically inactive” and 98.5 percent of homemakers are women. Moreover, 42.4 percent of those women have university or vocational school degrees.
- 79.6 percent of employers and 54.4 percent of the self-employed are men, while women are twice as likely as men to work without pay.
- Women’s average salary is lower than men’s by 32.5 percent. The difference in income is even greater at 40 percent.
- Results of a 2016 survey of the living standards of households in villages showed that 27.8 percent are headed by women. The income per capita of these households is almost half that of households headed by men.
- Women rarely participate in decision-making processes in their communities (1.6 percent of mayors known as “community leaders” are women, and 10.5 percent of city council members are women).
- There has been a rift in the sex ratio of newborns in Armenia since the early 1990s. Based on data from 2018, the ratio was 111.1 boys to 100 girls. If this ratio trend continues, by 2060, nearly 93,000 girls will not be born.
- Women are mainly employed in lower-paying jobs. Men in leadership positions outnumber women by 2.4 times. Women often do not hold management positions, even in those fields where their involvement is greater.
- Women represent 25 percent of parliament.
- Out of the 500 communities, only eight have women mayors. Out of 12 cabinet ministers in the Government, only one is a woman. 3.5 percent of deputy ministers, 0 percent of regional governors (marzpets) and 10.5 percent of city council members are women.
Turning Promises into Action
In 2018, UN Women published a report titled Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report calls on the international community to focus their efforts on reaching gender equality and solving discrimination against women and girls throughout the world.
According to the report:
- Globally, there are 122 women aged 25-34 living in extreme poverty for every 100 men of the same age group.
- 15 million girls of primary school age will never get the chance to learn to read or write in primary school compared to 1 million boys.
- In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence.
- Despite the success that women have achieved in the world of politics, they hold just 23.7 percent of parliamentary seats, which is still a long way from parity.
- Globally, women make up just 13 percent of agricultural landholders.
- More than 100 countries have taken action to track budget allocations for gender equality.
- The global gender pay gap is 23 percent. Women’s labor force participation rate is 63 percent, while that of men is 94 percent.
- Women represent 28.8 percent of researchers worldwide. Only about one in five countries have achieved gender parity in this area.
Gender Policy or Why Strive for Equality
In September 2019, the Armenian Government adopted its Gender Policy Implementation Strategy. Prior to 2013, Armenia’s National Assembly adopted the Law on “Equal Rights and Equal Possibilities for Women and Men.”
“This strategy established the main fields of priority for gender policy,” says Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Zhanna Andreasyan. “The aim was to create favorable conditions for the realization of the rights and possibilities of women and men in all fields of public life, taking into consideration the international responsibilities Armenia had taken on.”
The strategy focuses on five priorities: improvement of national mechanisms for the promotion of women; equal participation of women and men in the government at the decision-making level; overcoming gender discrimination in the socio-economic sphere and expanding the economic responsibilities of women; the full and productive participation of women and men and expanding equal possibilities in the fields of education and science and health; and, preventing gender discrimination.
Andreasyan says that the development of the strategy was based on gender assessment studies, analytical and other types of reports by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, other state agencies and institutions, and the input of international and local colleagues.
Most importantly, public discussions on women’s issues took place in all the regions of Armenia, which resulted in the issues presented being heard for the first time by decision-makers. Moreover, the suggestions made during these meetings were also included in the strategy.