In honor of International Women’s Day, which is tomorrow, March 8, with the hope for equality between sexes, starting by raising awareness.
The following is a blog entry I posted during my Peace Corps service and was asked to remove, because it was deemed offensive. I apologize, as I never intended to offend anyone. I just wanted to lay out the details as I’ve heard them described to me by many different people during my time in Armenia. If people don’t realize there is a problem, how can it be solved? I understand that the way I describe things seems harsh, and that’s because I didn’t want to sugar-coat the facts, the way I understand them.
Please note before reading that this does not describe all women in Armenia or all peoples’ viewpoints. Also note that when I wrote this, it was in the middle of my Peace Corps service; I have since learned a lot more about Armenian gender roles—some for the better and some for the worse. (I will talk about the new things I’ve learned in a future blog entry.) Finally, the main point of this blog entry was to point out that women around the world face similar challenges, and we took part in “an opportunity for women to share their voices with the world, and connect with and bring hope to other women, through making postcards.” It was intended to end on a positive note that things are being done to bring awareness and change for the better.
March 8-April 7 is Women’s Month in Armenia. But the running joke is that the other 11 months are for the men. You only need to look at the gender roles and cultural norms between the sexes to see that this is, to a large extent, fairly accurate.
It starts from birth. Everyone wants to have a son. If the first and/or second children are girls, the third will almost always be a boy. This is because selective abortions are incredibly high here. If a family is not blessed with a boy naturally, they will often do whatever they have to, to make sure they have a son, even though the health risk to the mother is extremely high and the result is aborted female fetuses.
While growing up, females have to stick to very specific gender roles and are subject to much stricter parental and societal control than males. Women are expected to keep the house, cook for the family, tend the garden, and take care of the children, while the men are waited on, hand and foot.
As I mentioned in my last post (Diabetes in Armenia is a Disability), it is shameful for girls to walk around town, while boys can pretty much do what they want.
Males in this society smoke and drink excessively. Girls are more or less forbidden to smoke, and when they drink, it’s usually a very tiny glass of wine, which they sip during toasts. Females are expected to be virgins when they get married, and to stay faithful to their husbands. Males are commonly known to take up with prostitutes both before and after marriage.
Although I have never seen it, I have heard that domestic violence is a problem here. When a woman doesn’t obey her husband, he controls her however he sees fit.
Positions of power are most often given to men, with women working beneath them.
Now, this is not 100% true, 100% of the time, but these problems are visible often enough to realize that in general, women here are not treated as equals in this society and are unduly oppressed and suffering. The following is a video that shows some of the things I just mentioned.
Zone of Silence (This video, for download, has subtitles in English.)
The video below is on YouTube, but is in Armenian only.
It’s not easy to be an Armenian woman. They are so repressed that they have low self-esteem, little confidence in themselves, and not much hope for change.
How to help these women? How to give them hope? How to show them that there are people out there who care what they’re going through?
While surfing the web one day, I discovered an amazing organization that is working to help women exactly like the ones I just described. It’s called Traveling Postcards, and was founded by a woman named Caroline Lovell.
Traveling Postcards is a humanitarian organization founded on the premise that art has the ability to heal, feed and transform our lives. Hundreds of unique, hand-made art postcards, containing words of compassion and solidarity are hand delivered to individuals and communities, bringing awareness, hope, visibility, beauty and voice to women and girls whose lives have suffered from isolation, violence or repression.
Traveling Postcards provides an opportunity for women to share their voices with the world, and connect with and bring hope to other women, through making postcards.
I sent her an email to see how I could get involved, and got the following reply:
I am always looking for a facilitator on the ground who is interested in holding a workshop and making cards. That is why I am so happy to hear from you! I think it would be wonderful to gather a group of women and have them engage in the workshop. It is really fun and art making crosses all borders! Don’t worry about the language difference, as the sentiments of solidarity will easily translate. There are Facilitator Guidelines and any materials that are small can be used on a card. Often bits of materials, ribbon, buttons, old photos, etc are reused to make cards. In Niger the women cut up cloth and glued it on the back of cardboard that had been thrown out. Their cards are beautiful!
Sometimes cards are made with an intent of raising awareness around a specific issue such as violence against women. I have made cards with women living in local US shelters to send to women living in Afghan shelters. This somehow brings a more personal connection, women letting each other know that they are not alone and that they can be inspired by one another. Often a group will get together and decide where they want their cards to go and I will help the facilitator to achieve this.
Sometimes women just know that that their voices and their wisdom are important and worth sharing and yet they have not been given an opportunity to speak. Everyone knows that the postcards are made to “give away” without the expectation of receiving one back. It is not a pen pal exchange, rather an opportunity to be of service and connect without knowing exactly what will happen to your card (except that it will be given as a gift somewhere). Everyone I have seen that received a card has been deeply moved by it.
The cards are usually tucked in a suitcase and hand delivered. People contact me or learn about the project and just want to be involved.
I hope you will join us and use your voice to lead others in your community! Please let me know how I can best help you.
So I got involved. I gathered a group of women from the college together, told them about the project, and we got to work, using my craft supplies of paper, fancy scissors, wildflowers I had gathered, glue, tape, markers, and crayons.
The women wrote touching words of love and encouragement to the unknown recipients of their cards. I surprised them at the end with postcards made by women in California. Caroline Lovell mailed them to my mom, and my mom brought them to me when she came to Armenia.
I sent the cards with a friend to bring back to the states, to mail to Caroline Lovell. Caroline will photograph them for the Traveling Postcards website, and then find a deserving group of women to receive them, thus completing this cycle of postcards.
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