20 May, Armenia adopted a gender equality law for equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women. This sparked a heated debate regarding the concept of gender, which in recent weeks has developed into campaigns that include outright threats agains women’s organisations and named activists.
The anti-gender campaigns have mainly used social media to spread their message. Videos have been circulating with distorted explanations of the concept of gender, among other things linking it to pedophelia and bestiality.
The campaigns also mock and ridicule the work of LGBT and women’s rights activists. One of the Facebook pages that have been put up, incourages its followers to set fire to or in other ways attack supporters of the term gender, who are called “traitors of the nation” and are said to “engage in sexual abuse of children”.
Photos of activists
“These groups publish photos on social networks of activists, politicians, and generally anyone who even dares to talk about gender equality. It has the marks of a witch hunt and it hinders our work. Girls and young women that we work with, call us in panic, and we’re trying our best to calm them down. Some of our sponsors have asked us not to advertise that they support us” says Lara Aharonian, co-leader of the women’s rights organisation Women’s Resource Center (WRC), and one of the targeted activists.
“It’s ironic that we are accused of promoting sexual abuse against children, when we have been fighting that for many years. In 2010, in the wake of a high profile case of sexual abuse against minors committed by a school teacher, we intiated and led the work of a legal team that looked at making changes in some articles of Armenia’s Criminal Code, to ensure a fair trial for the victims and to make the punishment fit the gravity of these crimes” says Gohar Shahnazaryan, the other leader of WRC.
Employees at Women’s Resource Center have reported the threats to the police, and an investigation is ongoing.
Politicians want law amendments
The campaigns of the anti-gender groups have also reached political leaders. Even though the gender equality law was passed in the National Assembly with 108 votes against one, there has now been statements from both the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Filaret Berikyan, and Naira Zohrabyan, member of parliament from the Prosperous Armenia party, calling for amendments because of the protests.
Some parliamentarians have also taken action not only against the law, but also against the women’s organisations that lobbied for it to be adopted. Ike Babukhanyan (Republican Party) have called for an investigation to check the activities of Women’s Resource Center, accusing them of promoting sexual deviation and homosexuality among under-aged girls.
Since homophobia is widespread in Armenian society – according to the 2011 Caucasus Barometer 97 percent are against homosexuality – it’s easy to score political points on the issue.
“To mobilize the masses against LGBT persons is very easy in Armenia. And it’s a way to divert attention from the endemic corruption and other economic problems” says Lara Aharonian.
To strengthen cooperation with the European Union, Armenia is currently adopting a series of laws on human rights. EU is Armenia’s biggest trade partner and the two parties are in the process of negotiating an Association Agreement.
Julia Lapitskii/Malin Ekerstedt