Natalya Harutyunyan via web
Women’s empowerment, participatory local governance and non-stereotyped approaches to wo/men’s roles are at the heart of the “Women in Local Democracy” project, which is currently being implemented by UNDP Armenia and funded by the European Union. The first few fast-paced months of the project have set a base for all three pillars through a series of rigorous capacity development and networking initiatives. Our work supporting women interested in running for local political office was tested in the autumn. Local elections were held in all ten marzes (regions) of Armenia on September 9 and 23.
“We are challenged by the gap between the expectations of people who laid trust on us and elected us, and the limited resources we have in local government. How can we maintain the trust of people, when we cannot tackle their problems and provide adequate solutions? Our transparency and accountability as avagani members is of ultimate importance from the day one of our tenure, especially in terms of community budget planning and expenditures,” says Lyuba Abrahamyan, avagani (local self-government body) member from Darpas village of Lori marz.
UNDP’s partner for the work with women is the Association of Women with University Education (AWUE). We worked together across two phases: (i) pre-election – targeting our support at women interested in running for elections, and (ii) post-election – for women elected to local public office.
Our on-going aim is to equip the existing human force in local politics, as well as inspire a new generation of women leaders. We continuously offer our stakeholders an array of training workshops, support a network of women in local politics and continue to develop a pool of trainers for cascade workshops in communities. Finally, within the project and under its guidance, AWUE is developing a teaching manual on women’s effective participation in local governance.
“I got inspired during the training workshops and decided to run for elections to support my community to the best of my abilities, and now, the more I get involved in the work, the more I learn, the more anxious I am on the level of responsibility I have,” says Javahir Yeghiazaryan, a young avagani member from Armavir marz.
Out of 623 female candidates for the September 2012 local elections 123 are beneficiaries of “Women in Local Democracy” project. Eighty (65%) of our beneficiaries were elected as avagani members and heads of communities.
So what did the workshops involve? During the pre-election phase we equipped our beneficiaries with knowledge on: The structure of local democracy (national and international legislation) Election campaigning (legislation, women’s participation in elections, logistical aspects) Balanced participation of wo/men in development processes as a prerequisite for parity democracy (national gender policy, implementation of international commitments on gender equality, specifics of public administration and women’s engagement, improved participation of women in decision making and women leadership in local self-governance).
In the post-election period the focus was shifted to: Local government’s four-year planning and budgeting Avagani (municipal councils) participation in general operations European Charter on Local Self-Government.
In developing a pool of trainers for cascade workshops in communities we went into much greater depth by focusing on variety of aspects in:
The structure of local democracy
Participation of women in local government elections Raising the efficiency of local government bodies through women’s engagement Conception and implementation of four-year development plans and budgets in urban and rural communities.
Networking and peer support
One of the most eminent events - a forum of women elected to local government bodies in the autumn - took place in November 2012 and was linked to the Day of Self-Governance in Armenia. The purpose of the event was to assemble the elected women and facilitate discussion between them on opportunities and challenges faced during the campaign and on ways to increase the effectiveness of local government. The 78 women participating in the event met representatives from the Parliament (Vice-Speaker, Deputy Chair of Committee on Territorial Administration and Local Self-Governance, and other members), the Ministry of Territorial Administration, one Deputy Marzpet (regional governor) and UNDP. The event was important for networking and peer support. Members of Parliament were inspiring and encouraging in their remarks and emphasized their openness and readiness to offer advice and collaborate. The forum participants shared their experiences and highlighted the challenges they face. Opinions were voiced with regard to increasing broader political will to engage women as avagani members. Suggestions were abound, such as using social media for community mobilization and advocacy purposes, better using civil society power and resources, and using their own political office to advocate for change. One of the challenges voiced by several women avagani was the fact that they get training on very important aspects of self-governance, whereas their male colleagues at avagani do not, hence the avagani members are unequal in their knowledge and awareness, and this creates problems in their work. One of the suggestions was to engage men too in the training workshops and seminars.
UNDP continues to reach out to elected women and engage them in public dialogue on gender equality. We also continue to deliver our capacity development events for women in local government, as well as engage them in leadership schools and encourage their networking and mutual support. News on this and more will follow soon.