Women in Armenia
Նոր Ջուղայի տարազ.jpg
An Armenian woman from New Julfa in national costume. From The Costumes of Armenian Women by Gregory Lima (Tehran, 1974)
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)30 (2010)
Women in parliament10.7% (2012)
Women over 25 with secondary education94.1% (2010)
Women in labour force59% (2014)[1]
Gender Inequality Index[2]
Value0.216 (2021)
Rank53th out of 191
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value0.673 (2021)
Rank114th out of 156

Women in Armenia have had equal rights, including the right to vote, since the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia. On June 21 and 23, 1919, the first direct parliamentary elections were held in Armenia under universal suffrage - every person over the age of 20 had the right to vote regardless of gender, ethnicity or religious beliefs. The 80-seat legislature, charged with setting the foundation for an Armenian state, contained three women deputies: Katarine Zalyan-Manukyan, Perchuhi Partizpanyan-Barseghyan and Varvara Sahakyan.[4][5]

The constitution of the current Republic of Armenia was adopted in 1991 and officially guarantees gender equality.[6] This has enabled women to actively participate in all spheres of Armenian life. Armenian women have attained prominence in entertainment, politics and other fields.

Work and business

Painting of an Armenian woman (circa 1682)
Painting of an Armenian woman (circa 1682)

According to the 2011 Grant Thornton International business survey, 29% of top-level managerial positions in Armenia were occupied by women in 2010. However, this figure declined to 23% in 2011. Based on a report by the United Nations, there were 24 female mayors and community leaders in Armenia in 2011; a further 50 women held lower-level administrative positions.[7]

Traditional status

The view of ancient Armenian society and law as woman-friendly, presented by some Armenian intellectuals from the early 20th century to the present times, has been contested.[8] The law code of Mkhitar Gosh, dating to the 12th century, sought to raise women's status from its former level, however the code explicitly enshrined male domination and forbade divorce, even in the case of domestic violence or marital rape.[9] Its most progressive elements seem to have never been applied in society at large, and in the 18th and 19th centuries both outsider and insider reports overwhelmingly commented on the low status of women in traditional Armenian society. Married women lived as virtual slaves of their husbands' families, although the situation improved gradually with age.[10] During the first year of marriage, they were not permitted to speak to anyone except their husbands, and were forbidden from leaving the house. Young Armenian brides created a sign language called Harnseren, which translates to "Language of the Bride." It is a gesture based sign language that developed against the rule of silence imposed on married Armenian women.[11] In some villages, these restrictions continued even after the birth of the first child, and may have lasted more than ten years. Female suicide was more common than male suicide, in striking contrast to the situation in the West.[12]

In spite of the inferior position of women in Armenian society, the Armenian Apostolic Church allowed women greater opportunities for assuming clerical roles than most other Christian traditions. Unlike the Eastern Orthodox, however, they were strongly opposed to divorce, and as a result the divorce rate in traditional Armenia has always been among the lowest in the Christian world.

Violence against women

According to the World Health Organization, between 10% and 60% of Armenian women suffered domestic abuse and violence in 2002; the uncertainty of the data was due to the underreporting of domestic violence in Armenia. Underreporting is said to occur because of the treatment of domestic violence as a private family matter.[13] There are no well-established laws against domestic aggression and gender-based prejudice in Armenia. Furthermore, divorcing a husband – even an abusive one – causes "social disgrace", with the families of women who file for divorce or report domestic violence being considered to be shamed. Other contributing factors include Armenian women's lack of, or lower level of, education regarding their rights and how to protect themselves from abuse.[13]

Political status

In May 2007, through the legislative decree known as "the gender quota law", more Armenian women were encouraged to get involved in politics. That year, only seven women occupied parliamentary positions. Among these female politicians was Hranush Hakobyan, the longest-serving woman in the National Assembly of Armenia.[14] The relative lack of women in Armenia's government has led to Armenian women being considered "among the most underrepresented" and "among the lowest in the world" by foreign observers.[14] In addition, Armenian women's place in politics is often located in the private sphere. Often their entry in the public sphere is only valued when they reflect the image of the feminine ideal based on social expectations, which continue to put a barrier on the political, social, and economic accessibility for women.[15] In 2015, Arpine Hovhannisyan became the first Armenian Woman to hold the position of Justice Minister in Armenia, a role she held until 2017.[16][17] Hovhannisyan is also a politician and lawyer.[18]

Health and welfare

In 2010 and 2011, during Women's Month and as part of the "For You, Women" charitable program, the Surb Astvatcamayr Medical Center in the Armenian capital of Yerevan offered free gynecological and surgical services to the women of Armenia for a full month. Women from across the country arrived seeking treatment.[19]

Sex selective abortion

Further information: Abortion in Armenia

Sex selective abortion is reported as being a problem in the country, due to patriarchal social norms which consider having a son preferable to having a daughter.[20][21][22][23][24] Nevertheless, due to strong emigration under the form of "brain drain", where young Armenian men go abroad in search of work, there are more young women than men in the country, especially among those in their 20s: women make up 55.8% of the population aged 15–29.[25]


Main article: Armenian literature

The oldest literary expression by Armenian women available to us today in writing is the poetry of two 8th-century CE women, Khosrovidukht of Goghtn and Sahakdukht of Syunik.[26] Following the Armenian literary renaissance of the 19th century, and the spread of educational opportunities for women, a number of other writers emerged, among them the 19th-century feminist writer Srpouhi Dussap, considered the first female Armenian novelist.[27] She, like her contemporary, Zabel Sibil Asadour, is generally associated with Constantinople and the Western Armenian literary tradition. Zabel Yesayan, also born in Constantinople, bridged the gap with Eastern Armenian literature by settling in Soviet Armenia in 1933. The literary renaissance and its accompanying voice of protest also had its representatives in the East with poet Shushanik Kurghinian(1876–1927) of Aleksandrapol (today, Gyumri). Sylvia Kaputikyan and Maro Markarian are probably the best-known women poets from the Republic of Armenia of the 20th century, and continued the tradition of political speech through poetry.

Soviet Armenia

Upon the formation of the Soviet Union, the new government wished to radically reconstruct society by tackling economic, social, and political questions. In this attempt, Party leaders brought up the “woman question.” Many argued that the emergence of the woman from the private sphere of the home into the economic and political world was an essential change necessary for building towards a communist future.

Thus, Soviet legislation was adopted during the early 1920s that established civil marriage, easy divorce, abortion services, maternity pay, and childcare facilities. Women were given equal rights to hold land, act as heads of households, be members in rural communes, and perform paid labor.[28]


Although there were equal pay laws set in place, this did not translate into true labor equality for women. Women were laboring under the “double burden” — the responsibility to perform paid labor was simply added on top of their existing responsibility to perform unpaid domestic labor.[28]

Gender-based segregation in labor also proved to become a persistent issue. Men dominated positions in heavy industry — metallurgy, mining, high-level positions in government, the army, and the police. Women, on the other hand, populated spheres like textiles, electronics, food-processing, service, health, education, and culture industries. Even in those spheres, women were rarely given managerial positions.[29] By the 1980s women comprised 50.9% of all workers in the Soviet Union.[28] But even so, in the late 1980s in Armenia, this gendered division of labor caused a pay difference of 500-700 rubles a month for most men and 120-130 rubles a month for most women.[29]


The Soviet Union introduced free universal primary education in the 1930s, universal eight-year education in the 1950s, and universal secondary education in the 1970s.

Furthermore, throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Soviet government established women’s clubs, workers’ clubs, tea-houses, workshops, and “illiteracy liquidation centers,” which were all intended to “integrate” women into public life.[28]

As a result of these changes, women quickly became universally literate and were oftentimes slightly “better” educated than men — in the 1980s, 61% of specialists with higher or secondary specialized education and 54% of students in higher education were women.[28]

In Armenia specifically, by the 1980s, 51% of women received high education, 28% were awarded the “candidate degree,” and 35% of the people working at the Academy of Sciences were women.[29]


However, despite their accomplishments in higher education, not many Armenian women challenged gendered divisions of labor or the assumptions that constructed them. Most Soviet Armenian women continued to give precedence to their families. Some left their paid jobs to raise young children and then went back to work. Others chose less demanding jobs with fewer hours and lower pay in order to be able to have time to do both. This then contributed further to the gendered division of labor.[29]

While the “double burden” was still ever-persistent, the Soviet government made a number of different attempts to regulate the traditional Armenian structure of a family — these attempts were of course aimed at women.

The Party leaders considered the traditional Armenian family structure to be “backwards.” In 1920s Armenia, Kinbazhin (the Armenian chapter of the Zhenotdel) representatives would visit homes with an intention of giving women “scientific” advice on raising children. During their visits, they would also attempt to build a relationship with the children and encourage them to report cases of child beating, wife beating, and forced marriages. Additionally, one of the many responsibilities of the Commission for the Improvement of the Way of Life of Women in Armenia, which was created in 1923, was to “see that Soviet legislation regarding the family and traditional offenses was put into effect.”[28]

Even though Party leaders placed tremendous importance on dismantling the traditional family institution in Armenia, Armenian — and all Soviet — women were highly encouraged to have children. In the 1940s and 1950s (during and after WWII), couples were encouraged to have four or more children and those who did were rewarded with things like free milk, living stipends, and better homes.  Women who had 10 or more children were also awarded a medal of honor, alongside the title of Heroine Mother of the Soviet Union.[28]


Alongside their attempts to weaken the traditional Armenian family institution, Soviet Party leaders developed many different methods through which they tried to get women educated in their rights and their responsibilities to the Party and to the state.

The above-mentioned Commission for the Improvement of the Way of Life of Women in Armenia was also tasked with advising government organs, conducting propaganda campaigns, and offering legal advice to women.

In 1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khruschev spoke of the absence of women in prominent positions in government. During his time as Secretary of the Communist Party, he created the Zhensovety (women’s councils) which were intended to serve the needs and interests of women by developing the “New Communist Women” educated in the “high moral principles needed for building communism.”[28]

A quota system was introduced by the state to maintain a representation of women at all levels of government. Despite this, women rarely ever held leadership positions at higher levels of government. Almost immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, women completely withdrew from political positions in Armenia and most other formerly Soviet Republics, the quota systems not having done much to actively change pre-conceived notions about women being involved in politics.[28] Armenian women have expressed their contempt for the Soviet quota system, stating that it was harmful to the women’s movement, as it appointed “compliant rather than capable women.”[29]

Armenian women’s involvement in the Karabakh Movement of 1988 cannot be overlooked. During this time of national distress, women marched out onto the streets alongside men to demonstrate in support of political change, in a display of a “genderless festival of goodwill and optimism.”[29]

See also


  1. ^ "Labor force participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15-64) (modeled ILO estimate) | Data". data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  2. ^ "Human Development Report 2021/2022" (PDF). HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORTS. Retrieved 9 December 2022.
  3. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2021" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  4. ^ Badalyan, Lena (5 December 2018). "Women's Suffrage: The Armenian Formula". Chai Khana. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  5. ^ Harutyunyan, Anahit (8 March 2018). Առաջին խորհրդարանի (1919-1920) երեք կին պատգամավորները. ANI Armenian Research Center (in Armenian). Yerevan, Armenia: Armenian Research Center for Anteriology. Archived from the original on 4 May 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2019. Three female deputies of the first parliament (1919-1920)
  6. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Armenia - Library - The President of the Republic of Armenia". www.president.am. Retrieved 2020-06-01.
  7. ^ Survey: Women In Armenia Forced Out From The Positions Of Top-Managers Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine. Economy: Arka News Agency.
  8. ^ Rowe, V. (2003). A History of Armenian Women's Writing, 1880-1922. Cambridge Scholars. p. 86. ISBN 9781904303237. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  9. ^ Payaslian, S. (2011). The Political Economy of Human Rights in Armenia: Authoritarianism and Democracy in a Former Soviet Republic. I.B.Tauris. p. 55. ISBN 9780857731692. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  10. ^ "Marriage and family - Armenians". everyculture.com. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  11. ^ Kekejian, Carla (2017-03-14). "Harsneren: Language of the Armenian Bride". Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved 2019-11-23.
  12. ^ Reclus, J.J.É.; Ravenstein, E.G.; Keane, A.H. (1878). The earth and its inhabitants. The universal geography, ed. by E.G. Ravenstein (A.H. Keane). J.S. Virtue. p. 151. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  13. ^ a b Domestic Violence Against Women in Armenia. United Human Rights Council (UHRC). 26 May 2010.
  14. ^ a b Itano, Nicole. Quota Law Puts More Women in Armenia's Election. WeNews. 10 May 2007.
  15. ^ Beukian, Sevan, 2014, Motherhood as Armenianness: Expressions of Femininity in the Making of Armenian National Identity, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 14 (2):247-269
  16. ^ "Arpine Hovhannisyan Appointed Justice Minister of Armenia". Asbarez. 4 September 2015. Archived from the original on 29 January 2021. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  17. ^ "Armenia's justice minister sacked". Tert.am. 17 May 2015. Archived from the original on 25 April 2019. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  18. ^ "Arpine Hovhannisyan". National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  19. ^ Women in Armenia to Receive Free Medical Treatment for One Month. Epress.am. March 11, 2011.
  20. ^ "Fears grow over Caucasus selective abortions of girls - BBC News". bbc.com. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  21. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-30.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ Gendercide in the Caucasus The Economist (September 13, 2013)
  23. ^ Michael, M; King, L; Guo, L; McKee, M; Richardson, E; Stuckler, D (2013), The mystery of missing female children in the Caucasus: an analysis of sex ratios by birth order, International perspectives on sexual and reproductive health, 39 (2), pp. 97-102, ISSN 1944-0391
  24. ^ John Bongaarts (2013), The Implementation of Preferences for Male Offspring, Population and Development Review, Volume 39, Issue 2, pages 185–208, June 2013
  25. ^ http://www.un.am/up/library/Labor%20Market_Armenia_eng.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  26. ^ Der-Hovanessian, Diana (2005). The Other Voice: Armenian Women's Poetry Through the Ages. Boston: AIWA Press, Armenian International Women's Association. ISBN 0964878747.
  27. ^ Արդի հայ գրականութիւն (Modern Armenian Literature). Beirut. pp. 134-138.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ishkanian, Armine (2003). "VI. Gendered Transitions: The Impact of the Post-Soviet Transition on Women in Central Asia and the Caucasus". Perspectives on Global Development and Technology. 2 (3): 475–496. doi:10.1163/156915003322986361. ISSN 1569-1500.
  29. ^ a b c d e f A.), Buckley, Mary (Mary E. (1997). Post-Soviet women from the Baltic to Central Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-00352-8. OCLC 1127425909.

Further reading