Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Women in Politics

Years ago I thought of a way to open the minds of Armenians to the idea of women in power by conducting a mock campaign for myself: Arsineh for President. No one knew who I was, but the idea of a female name on a presidential bid in Armenia would have been a nice way to test the waters. Not for myself, I have no political aspirations. But I wanted to challenge the people to think about it. I never followed through for several reasons, mostly because campaigns are not cheap, and a mock campaign seems... anticlimactic.

I now see some interesting discussions taking place in the US post-Weiner sex scandal and wonder how they would unravel in Armenia. With the help of a dear friend who shares many of my views, I cam across an article in the New York Times (with these blogs you'd think I'm a regular reader, but I'm not at all).
“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”
Men behaving badly is an age-old story, but there are changes in Western society that are changing the way the public views these men. First, we are so much more exposed as social networks and media scrutiny dive further into the personal lives of public servants. Call it what you will, I'd prefer my public servants to be under a very big magnifying glass so we can see just who is representing us. That said, I really feel sorry for Weiner's family for the aftermath of this public lynching that has no business dominating worldwide headlines for as long as it has.

However, if this discussion opens us up to a better alternative, then so be it. Now the media is turning to women in power to see if they will better serve their constituents. The simple answer to that is yes, but this is not to say that any woman would be better than any man. In Armenia, we've seen our share of women who are just as bad if not worse than their male counterparts, as I'm sure has been the case in the US. It's possible that the environment is so male dominated that women have a harder time getting things done because the system is really just a power game rather than a structure that allows leaders to serve the people. According to the NYT article, women don't get into these positions to be somebody, rather to do something.

I did a little research on women in Armenian politics and came across an article by ArmeniaNow.com that exposes the unbalanced scales of gender in politics.
Armenia has one of the lowest percentages of female politicians in the world, a study has revealed. Despite having a high percentage of well-educated women who hold leadership roles in civilian life, Armenia is near the bottom in female political representation, according to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
There is a general view in Armenia that the workforce is dominated by women and that if you ever want to get things done, you hire women. It's rare to see an office with more men than women. Among my many friends who own businesses, there is also a realization that women are usually more productive than men. Some have said that men are less willing to do what the job requires because it belittles them (ego), whereas women are used to getting things done in the home or in the workplace because of society's expectations.

But the question remains, can women excel in executive and leadership positions. I'll be honest, I see very tough women with great qualities of leadership that would be fantastic in these roles. There are a few females in these positions, but the balance is so far off and there is a long way to go before women are treated equally.

So what of women in politics? Is Hranush Hakobyan setting the stage for more to come? Is this a society that feels comfortable with a government full of women?
...Voters will determine the role Armenian women will play in helping to solve these problems. Women currently comprise less than 5 percent of the country's parliamentary members, putting them among the most under-represented in the world.
As I've observed over the years, I have seen this country as a boys club where women have virtually no voice, and the concern of corruption has spread every year. Could this be the solution for much of Armenia's crippling problems, and possibly change the waves of violence against women with a sense of empowerment as well?

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