What would the world look like without women? That’s the question posed by a recent campaign raising awareness about the unfortunate prevalence of gender-biased sex-selective abortion in Armenia.
The “Where is Eve?” campaign rolled out in May by a local NGO called Astghatsolk combined artistry and levity to engage people on a highly emotional issue. An estimated 1,400 girls are not born each year due to sex-selective abortions in Armenia. In a country of just three million, the practice has led to a worrying demographic shift, whereby some regions have 120 boys born for every 100 girls, one of the highest ratios in the world. Sex-selective abortions were outlawed in Armenia in 2016, but in a deeply patriarchal society, families desperate to have a boy for the economic security and social status they hope he’ll bring find ways to circumvent the rules. Where legislation has reached its limits, education is now interceding.
“We wanted to find a way to talk to men and women of reproductive age, from about 18-35, about the consequences of sex-selective abortion, and try to change their thinking and behaviour,” said Irina Hovhannisyan, director at Astghatsolk.
Irina developed the concept for “Where is Eve?” at a session of Vsyo Yasno (Russian for “Everything is Clear”), a workshop hosted by the Prague Civil Society Centre that brings together social activists with artists and illustrators who help them design visually attractive, memorable and effective campaigns. For Irina’s campaign, the collaboration resulted in a set of brightly coloured illustrated posters depicting Adam at the Tree of Knowledge with no Eve, and da Vinci without Mona Lisa, along with other iconic scenes in which the women are conspicuously missing.
“We created visual products that were completely different from any tools that had ever been used before in the fight against sex-selective abortions,” said Irina. “The Vsyo Yasno workshop taught us to communicate more productively with our target audience.”
More than 30 volunteers canvased their cities and towns, pasting the “Where is Eve?” posters on bus station shelters and other public spaces and stopping to talk with curious passersby. A parallel Facebook campaign using the same imagery and the hashtag #letAgirltobeborn created quite a buzz, sparking a discussion about sex-selective abortions Irina says has never been seen before on Armenian language social media. Several female MPs and other influential Armenian women added the campaign’s stickers to their profile pictures, and as a result of the campaign, Irina was invited to discuss the problem on national public radio and with foreign journalists.
With the help of the German Embassy in Armenia, who reached out following the campaign, Astghatsolk has purchased a screen-printing device they’ll use to print the campaign designs on tote-bags, t-shirts and postcards.
The campaign also caught the attention of Armenia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, which has since signed an agreement with Astghatsolk to support them in larger-scale sex-selective abortion education campaigns and to involve them at a high level of policy making on the issue in the future.
The methodology behind PCSC’s Vsyo Yasno workshops is available for free, and activists are encouraged to host their own Vsyo Yasno style events bringing together designers, artists and campaigners.