On Sunday, March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day. In Armenia, the date is also a national holiday and, coincidentally, this year it marks exactly six months since I arrived in Yerevan to lead the World Bank team here.
So, for me this is an opportune moment to pause and reflect on some of the gender realities that I am learning about in Armenia, including their influence on socio-economic dynamics.
One of the first things I noticed is the strength and diversity demonstrated by women here – across all walks of life. I have encountered well-educated professionals leading sophisticated work in universities and government ministries, charismatic leaders of non-governmental organizations, and hard-working heads of household in rural communities coping with heavy burdens while their men are working overseas.
My visits to rural communities during the past few months have reinforced the message that comes across in a recent Washington Post article: Armenian women are an unshakeable pillar of the economy and society – but they face real challenges.
Progress is slowing on gender equality
My starting point is this: a country needs to make the best possible use of all of its assets – including all of its human capital. So, gender equality really is smart economics.
One striking observation of Armenia is that very little has changed since the year 2000. For example, when comparing data from 2000 and 2011, we learn that female enrollment in secondary schools (already very good) has improved, and women’s wages as a share of men’s has also improved slightly (although it remains quite low). Female labor force participation (already mediocre), however, has dropped, while the share of women in parliament remains extremely low.
Other data point to areas of concern: entrepreneurship is limited among women, and female-headed households (often widows or women married to men who migrated overseas) are at greater risk of poverty. Last week, in this space I discussed the findings of quantitative and qualitative analyses on the phenomenon of “missing girls” – skewed sex ratios at birth linked to fundamental gender inequalities.
What we are learning through our work in Armenia – both research and analysis, and sectoral programs – is that traditional gender norms affect all of these outcomes, both social and economic.
Armenia’s “knowledge and innovation economy” needs both women and men
If we dig more deeply into the choices made by young Armenian men and women when they pursue tertiary studies, we see that women are much less likely to pursue science, engineering, or services – all key sectors that will thrive if Armenia is successful in its stated goal of investing in a “knowledge and innovation economy”.
This tells me that one gender equality priority will be to invest in widening the scope of girls’ choices through oureducation sector dialogue with all stakeholders, so that girls and women are able to both benefit from and contribute to a thriving future in Armenia.
The World Bank Group program in Armenia includes partnerships to modernize the education system, to innovate and capture benefits from the global knowledge economy, and to improve the business enabling environment for entrepreneurs.
In all of this, our goal is to ensure that women as well as men, girls as well as boys, have more opportunities and, ultimately, better lives.
This article is also available in Armenian: HERE