In 2012, the United Nations Development Program, the European Union (EU) and the Republic of Armenia invested in a project, Women in Local Democracy, to “advance gender equality, strengthen local democracy and enhance social cohesion within the Republic of Armenia”(Source). This project was spearheaded by the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Territorial Administration. There was an extremely low representation of women in local and national government which, in addition to limiting democracy, also hindered sustainable development and social justice. The socio-economic conditions of women and youth, which are ultimately linked to the Gross National Product and overall economic health of the country, could only improve if there is a focus on policies for education, health, social welfare and child care.22 These policy decisions, in turn, need the participation of women in the decision-making process.
The goal of the engagement, funded by the EU in partnership with the local government body, was the advancement of gender equality, strengthening local democracy and enhancing social cohesion within the Republic. As part of a larger workshop series, the problem definition tool was used in the first segment of a three-part session. Key stakeholder representatives comprising women in local government, regional authorities, village mayors, NGOs and journalists were tasked to first identify existing problems in five previously identified thematic challenges in local democracy. The group was then asked to vote for one priority issue in each thematic challenge and the problem definition tool was used to further explore each of the identified challenges. As a result, in 2012, Armenia’s local government elections saw an increase in female representation from 7% to 9% and an even further improvement in 2016 from 9% to 12%. The “Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Women and Men” law was passed in part due to these efforts in 2013.
What did we learn from Armenia?
By enabling diverse stakeholders to find consensus with shared experiences, the project could dig deeper into the identified challenges.
The repeated workshops across the nation resulted in papers, policies, programs and procedures supporting participatory decision-making and created opportunities for involving women in local government.