“I realised that a woman is free to make her own decisions.” It’s not often a trip to the theatre provides such a profound moment of realisation. However, this was Karine Tovmasyan’s reaction after she attended a performance about the right of Armenian women to participate in political life.
To many this may be obvious, but in Armenia women are often excluded from the political process, do not feel free to make their own decisions or even know they have the right to participate. The reasons for this are complex, but centre on the strength of traditional values, lack of information and institutional inadequacies. As a result, women in Armenia are underrepresented in politics, making up less than nine percent of local councils and holding ten percent of seats in parliament (compared to a Europe wide average of 25 percent). Few women consider a career in politics to be a realistic option and many do not engage with the political process at all.
Armenian Human Rights NGO Logos have developed a new and creative way to address this. Spurred on by upcoming November local elections and aided with a support from the Prague Civil Society Centre, they put together a touring interactive theatre performance to educate and inspire women in the rural villages of Shirak region to engage in the political process and take part in local elections as candidates and voters. Not just targeted at women, the theatre also engages male members of the audience and invites them to reconsider their assumptions about women and politics.
It is in such rural Armenian regions that women are least likely to be informed about their rights. The travelling performance helps broach topics such as freedom of speech and involvement of women in politics in an accessible way. It also creates a conducive atmosphere for the serious discussion and debate that follows. The content of the performance is relatable to the audience and challenges commonly accepted practices such as only voting for whom your husband tells you. It also presents inspiring examples of women that have managed to become active political and civic figures.
According to project manager Ara Melikjanyan, this is the first time theatre has been used to raise awareness of women’s rights in Armenia and the initiative has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from both men and women. Importantly many of the women that participated also voted in the November local elections and male attendees described how they better appreciated the importance of women taking part in politics. With six villages visited so far, project will run until December this year and Logos are currently exploring ways the idea can be exported to other regions of Armenia and even to other countries where women face similar challenges.