Will new quotas ensure better female representation in Armenia's municipal governments?
Female representation in Armenian politics
In October-December 2021, elections to local self-government bodies will be held in 45 communities of Armenia according to a proportional electoral system, that is, according to the party lists of political forces. Women will now be more represented in party lists and, consequently, in local government bodies.
The electoral lists of all political forces participating in the campaign must now include at least 30`% of women.
On June 18, 2020, amendments were made to the electoral code on the holding of elections to local self-government bodies according to the proportional system. They have already entered into force, and now the enlarged communities and settlements, where more than 4,000 people live, are subject to the new law requirements.
Since 2016, these amendments have affected three largest cities of Armenia – Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor. There elections have already been held under this regulation. In all other communities, until October 2021, elections were held under the majoritarian system and without quotas for women.
What does this change imply, what will it bring to women and society? Opinions of members of political parties, experts, men and women.
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Proportional system advantages
“The proportional system dramatically increases the chances of women in elections, since the victory of a candidate no longer depends on voting in favor of a particular person. Under the majoritarian system, the voter, even if they treated women and men candidates equally, still thought about whether to vote for a man or a woman. Under the proportional system, people vote for the political team”, says Vahan Movsisyan, an expert on elections to local self-government bodies.
The proportional system will contribute to an increase in the number of women in electoral lists and in self-government bodies, Lusine Sanoyan, member of the Council of Elders of Gyumri city of the last two convocations, believes:
“Under the majoritarian system, men had more chances to gain votes, women remained in the shadows during the pre-election period. Under a proportional system, political forces are already obliged to ensure the representation of women”.
Hasmik Yeghiazaryan, who has experience of participating in elections to local self-government bodies of the city of Gyumri, both under proportional and majoritarian system, recalls:
“Earlier, when I took part in the elections under the majoritarian system, I was more than once faced with court authorities and ‘money bags’ obstructing the work of women candidates. Women were not allowed to speak or invite voters to meetings. The men exerted such pressure that the fight became meaningless”.
Results of the last elections
On 17 October, in local government elections held in six different communities, Dilijan had the highest representation of women on the electoral lists.
The Citizen’s Decision party accounted for 61.5% of women participation, while the Country for Life party accounted for 43.5%.
“We do not treat women’s involvement from a legislative point of view, but from a substantive point of view. I believe that women are capable of much, they can make sound decisions, they can take care of their communities as they take care of their families and children”, says Armine Hovhannisyan, elected to the Dilijan Council of Elders.
Mikael Nahapetyan, a member of the executive body of the Citizen’s Decision party, welcomes the change in the law, which allows women to be involved in community governance. At the same time, he fears a negative reaction to the introduction of quotas:
“I believe that this creates a situation where women who could be elected without quotas will be perceived by society and their own team as people who ended up in self-government bodies only at the request of the law.
Even in the most civilized, most tolerant teams, men may have a latent opinion that they themselves were elected due to their merits, and women – only at the request of the law. This can have a negative impact on healthy partnerships”.
According to Mikael Nahapetyan, political forces very often turn the process of including women on electoral lists into primitive bargaining:
“Political organizers are mostly men, and they are tasked with finding women. As a result, we, of course, get the required proportional composition, but in this case, the involvement of women is only a semblance”.
The politician believes that the issue should be discussed in the context of the elections to the National Assembly. In his opinion, in order to stimulate the participation of women in the work of parliament and local government, steps should be taken to overcome the obstacles that prevent women from participating in political life:
“In order to involve women in politics, we must, if possible, clear the obstacles preventing them from meaningful participation in political discourse. We must find sources of funding their election campaigns, create conditions that will ease their family’s concerns, help develop their personal qualities and improve their skills. That is, to do everything possible so that a woman who wants to, could participate in the election race”.
Political forces often face the problem of replenishing their teams with trained women who are interested in politics, said Vahan Movsisyan, an expert on elections to self-government bodies:
“The pre-election struggle of each party should begin with drawing up a party list. I have no doubt that it will be easy to find men, but it will be difficult to find trained women who want to enter the electoral lists. Even when opportunities for participation are created, women do not always agree to enter the race and hold high positions.
Until recently, local self-government bodies were a system with high corruption risks, and women tried not to enter this field. Trends in decreasing corruption risks can lead to greater interest in political discourse among women. Now the situation may change”.
In this case, according to Vahan Movsisyan, the work of local self-government bodies will significantly improve, since “women are more conscientious, prudent and tolerant”.
Mikael Nahapetyan is confident that women can be good managers:
“Men can never have that special life experience and approaches to problems that women have. Consequently, male executives will never be able to come to the decisions that women will make.
It so happened that in Armenia over the past 20 years, women have studied better than men. On average, women have more knowledge than men. Women are more responsible. I think it is very useful to include women with such skills in the management system”.