Anyone who’s been to Armenia has seen the statue of Mother Armenia perched on a hill in Yerevan, a sword in her hands, a shield at her feet, keeping watch over the country. She is foreboding, almost manlike with massive, muscular arms and she is revered.
Armenian mothers, like the statue of Mother Armenia are also revered and seen as the heart and soul of the family and the nation.
The Armenian mother cares for the children and the elderly, she is the hearth providing warmth and light, the roof providing safety and protection and the person tasked with domestic duties – from cooking to cleaning, to laundry and ironing, to helping her children do their schoolwork. She kisses scraped knees, wipes away tears while answering emails and paying the bills and making sure the cake doesn’t burn. She is, after all, the master of multitasking. Like Mother Armenia, she is often placed on a pedestal.
And she is overworked and exhausted. Being revered isn’t easy.
Even as gender perceptions are slowly beginning to change in the country, and as Armenian women enter the labor market in larger numbers, some earning more than their husbands, the domestic gender gap stubbornly persists. These gender divisions start early, from childhood, and are difficult to discard even for the most enlightened among us.
While Armenian women try to navigate careers and manage the majority of domestic tasks, the coronavirus pandemic that forced us into lockdown, has ripped the domestic gender gap wide open, laying bare the deep inequity that exists in most families.
One frustrated mother on Facebook wrote that if the lockdown continues, either there will be no mothers left or they will come up with the coronavirus vaccine themselves. Her point should not be taken lightly. Like millions of mothers and fathers around the world, she too is working remotely from home because of the state of emergency in Armenia, while taking care of her two young children whose school has transitioned to distance learning. Forget nannies and babysitters, who are now sheltering at home themselves, working moms are now having to do their outside job inside the home without any help, at times having to deal with requests by multiple teachers, making sure there are meals three times a day while trying to figure out Zoom.
It’s no wonder that another young woman wrote that mothers are “made of a special material called resistance.”
Studies have consistently shown that prevailing gender stereotypes limit both women and men to carefully defined social, domestic and economic roles in Armenia. In UNDP’s Human Development Report, 85% of male respondents admit that their role in childcare is as a helper and that their main responsibility is as a provider (89.9%).
While fathers try to lend a “helping hand,” the full weight of domestic tasks and chores continue to be on women’s shoulders. Fathers usually aren’t expected to take on the needs of nurturing children and doing domestic work. Even now as most families are in self-isolation, clearly there is no equitable division of labor in the home.
In Armenia, similar to many other countries, the conversation about gender inequality is often focused on the number of women being elected or appointed to decision-making bodies, to the gender pay gap. More attention needs to be focused on inequalities in the division of domestic tasks within families where, as we all know, gender inequality is deeply ingrained and protected at all costs.