Lena Nazaryan:

Lena Nazaryan:

“Living examples of power are the shortest way towards equality”

In April 2017, Lena Nazaryan was elected Member of the National Assembly from the “ELK” alliance of parties. We spoke to one of the most active female politicians of Armenia about women’s leadership, transformation of attitudes and the preconditions for equality.

 

Interview : Karine Ghazaryan

 

How did you start a career in politics?

— It was a very logical transition for me as I have always worked with people of high civil responsibility. Both in Transparency International Armenia and in Hetq investigative journalism outlet I was engaged in public interests advocacy mainly in the field of environmental protection. At that time I heard the story of Teghut forest in Lori Region which was going to be destroyed by the government and a mining company. We fought for Teghut warning the government that environmental problems would make the land dead for future use and would not let the mine function properly. We are witnessing now exactly that: Teghut Mine stopped operating, more than 1200 people got fired.

During this campaign I realized that politics penetrates every single aspect of life, that decisions are made by officials in political institutions – in National Assembly, in executive bodies. And if one really wants to make a change, he or she should take the responsibility and perform action. It is not necessary becoming a member of parliament: If you disagree with the government on a certain issue, like in destruction of Teghut Forest, you go out to the streets to protest thus addressing your issue to the officials. And once your particular demand is fulfilled, you go home. Still, when you disagree on many issues, when you disagree on fundamental issues, a protest is not enough. You have to dive in and try to replace the politicians whose agenda you do not accept.

It is almost a year you are in National Assembly. Could you tell a bit about your experience?

— During the first weeks, the staff of the NA didn’t believe I am a parliamentarian. Whenever I went to the departments they would ask whose assistant I was, as most secretaries are young women. Middle-aged parliamentarians have told me they genuinely believe women’s place is in the kitchen. Even young friends of mine ask how I “stay in that atmosphere,” and this question amuses me. Who said I am the one in the wrong place? I feel like I am just where I have to be, working on what matters to me as a citizen. After all, you can, of course, do nothing in NA, and for years many prove that possible. But you also can perform positive changes.

Do you think people trust men politicians more?

— People generally do not trust politicians. Women are just thought to be weak. For example, I funded my campaign from personal savings. A couple of friends did symbolic donations, and that’s it. I don’t think anyone would seriously invest in my campaign precisely because they’d fear people won’t vote for a politician without muscles. This stereotype does exist, yet I believe that stereotypes are there to be broken.

How can it be broken?

— For now, women help each other in household or in raising kids, but they do not support one another in social life. They do not call the police when they see a domestic violence case, do not vote for female leaders, do not believe in female leadership at all. But I think we should empower others with positive examples. You know, we always speak about women’s oppression and vulnerability, creating a certain image of women as those who need to be protected. I think women should rather claim their territory, and I myself try to change perceptions and attitudes with my professional skills, experience and political flexibility.

Can you be a role model for young girls who want to start political career?

— I want to be a role model because I myself have had no female politicians in Armenia as an example. I work to make my reputation and my influence more valuable than someone’s money and force. It is not at all easy: as a woman one should be more careful in politics, especially when people start to take her seriously. In our society it is much easier to discredit a woman than a man, telling “you devote yourself to work and neglect your kids” is quite enough. But being told so, one gets is a great opportunity to reply, and it is important not to leave such remarks unanswered. It is just necessary to be brave, as fear is the most weakening thing.

What people expect from female politicians?

— Whether a woman or a man, it doesn’t matter: A politician can shape a suggestion which later may transform into a demand. For example, I am working now on a legislation, which will allow young moms and dads to finish their work at 5:30 p.m. as this is when kindergartens close. When I presented this project I almost immediately started to receive positive feedback and requests about the status of the proposal. And that is a motivation for me to work harder. After all, among all the enormous reforms that politicians always promise, we should not forget about routine problems that people face every day.

Can Armenia have a female leader soon?

— No, that’s not possible any time soon. However, I am convinced more and more girls will achieve big success in many fields that are now completely controlled by men. And this living examples of power, in my opinion, are the shortest way towards equality.