Seven stories

Seven stories

Woman leaders in communities

As Part of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus, GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) supports empowerment of local female politicians in the municipalities of Armenia. The Programme cooperates with female mayors, councilors, holders of different leading positions in local administrations in order to capacitate them, further develop their communications skills, and to increase their knowledge and expertise. The active women are provided with trainings on project management, project proposal writing skills, as well as with networking opportunities. GIZ also provided them with small grants for implementing projects in their municipalities.

Regional Post collected some of the stories of those women who received support from GIZ and achieved significant results for the development of their communities.

 

Text : Lika Mkrtchyan    Photo : GIZ

 

Lusine Avetyan

Administrative head of Karahunj settlement of Goris municipality

Lusine Avetyan was the Mayor of Karahunj community for 14 years. After the Territorial and Administrative Reform in Armenia she was appointed Administrative Head of Karahunj settlement of the enlarged Goris municipality.

“Syunik is a traditional marz, and it is difficult for a woman to be acknowledged in politics. At the beginning people were bewildered saying that I cannot perform. However, throughout the years I managed to distinguish our community from others,” she says.

It was in 2002 when Lusine was first elected as a Mayor. Engineer by background, she also had some managerial work experience. Though she was still young and had little kids, the motivation to do something good for her village and the villagers inspired Lusine to declare her candidacy. The competition was quite high, as she was the only woman among the other candidates. At some point she was thinking of resigning but recalling the pre-election competition and the hopes of her voters, she found the strength to resist and to overcome the difficulties.

Of course, back then having a big family and small children it was a hard task for her to govern a village with all its problems. However, Lusine always strived for improvement. She was constantly participating in diverse trainings both in and outside Armenia, and after some time she got used to the vibrant rhythm of being a mayor.

By solving the problems of asphalting, construction of lighting networks, sewage lines, as well as setting up a wonderful school and a kindergarten, Lusine was able to break the stereotypes that women are not able to deal with issues that are believed to require interventions of men. From then on, when talking about women in politics, Lusine Avetyan's example was always highlighted.

"They would say, ‘just look at Karahunj, the hands of a woman have touched the village; see how beautiful it is.’ I feel very good when I am able to solve at least one issue in the community, be helpful to at least one resident,” Lusine says.

She believes that experience and knowledge are key to success, especially for women in politics. Besides, there is also the issue of finances: “It is a bit more difficult for women to become a mayor, as it is important to have financial stability. Not only relevant experience and capacities should be in place to become more competitive in the local elections, but it is equally important to strive for economic empowerment of locally active women.”

With the support of different organizations, a number of development projects are being implemented. They vary from the improvement of pastures and cattle breeding to municipal planning and e-governance. Lusine especially highlights that due to the hardware and software provided by GIZ, and especially through the Municipal Management and Information System (MMIS), their daily performance has become more effective, as the automatic flow of information simplifies and speeds up the processes of handling the needs of the citizens.

“We accept the applications from citizens and through MMIS process them quickly and send the documents back and forth to the municipality online. Our residents are very active; they follow online the status of their applications, the decisions of the mayor, the circulation of the documents, etc.”

In order to increase public awareness on participatory mechanisms and women’s engagement in community life and decision-making, Lusine submitted an application for the small grants initiative provided by GIZ. As a result, in all the eight settlements of Goris municipality women empowerment and participation workshops were conducted, thus positively affecting not only the participants, but also the trainers. Similar events can trigger women’s engagement in political and social life of the municipality and thus contribute to the increase in their self-confidence and capacities.

“There are many intelligent and experienced women. It is very important to have such people represented in the local council – people who have their opinion, who have knowledge and do not simply sit in the meetings for voting. The council institute is becoming more stable, thus leading to more transparency, investments, and solutions,” Lusine says.

 

 

Maro Arakelyan

Council member of Urtsadzor multi-settlement municipality, nurse in Shaghap settlement

Maro has been working as a nurse in Shaghap settlement for over two decades. Every day she comes to the former municipality building of Shaghap. The room that serves her as a medical station is located on the ground floor of the building. She is the only nurse here who takes care of approximately 1000 inhabitants of the settlement. Maro enjoys the trust and confidence of the fellow villagers. Perhaps this was the reason why in 2008 she decided to run for the council election. “People would come to me and say ‘Maro jan, can you solve this or that issue, you are on the ground floor and the mayor is on the first floor, he will definitely listen to you.” This made her think that if she became a council member, she would definitely be able, at least, to help raising issues.

Having the support and encouragement of her family, Maro has been elected for the second term as council member of Urtsadzor municipality. She recalls that earlier people in the village would go from door to door and ask their fellow villagers to vote for this or that candidate. As a tradition, her father-in-law would gather the family for a family council and tell them that one of the candidates was a person close to their family and urged them to go and vote in favor of him. “At those times, we didn’t realize the role of council members, what functions they performed, what impact they could have on the development of the community, what interference in the council decision they could have and at last what they could change locally. People would not raise any questions if there was a problem, they would directly approach the village mayor,” she says.

Maro remembers how hard it was for her at the beginning, “Before being elected a member of the council, I was afraid even to open the village mayor’s door and raise any questions on behalf of my fellow villagers. However, in 2008, when I was first elected, everyone would say, ‘Maro jan, you are a council member, solve the water problem, the mayor will listen to you’. After one year in office, opening the mayor’s door was like opening the door to my medical station. I became more self-confident because I felt more responsible for my community.”

In 2017 Maro together with other local female politicians from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan participated at the regional networking event organised by GIZ in Tbilisi. Maro always strives for self-development, and she believes that apart from duty-related contacts and capacity-building measures, such events give an opportunity for personal growth and direct communication with other women. During the event Maro was once more convinced that women’s activity and cooperation can indeed have a very significant importance in revealing and solving municipal problems.

As part of the GIZ Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus small grants initiative, Maro had organised four seminars and roundtable discussions in the municipality of Urtsadzor, to which she invited active women from all the three settlements of the municipality, namely, Shaghap, Urtsadzor, and Lusashogh. The seminars mainly covered the topics of women’s leadership, participation of the population and council members in local governance as well as perspectives for future development. The seminars allowed the local population to get acquainted with the processes and functions of the council and the mayor, to get to know the role and the significance of a council member, and how citizens can actively engage in local decision-making processes.

 

Irina Arsenyan

Council member of Kanakeravan municipality, teacher of Armenian language and literature

It’s been a year since Irina was elected as a Council member in Kanakeravan municipality of Kotayk marz in Armenia. Considering herself a newcomer to politics, Irina took the decision to run for council elections because she got inspired by a collective image of active female politicians. Believing in the power of women to introduce changes, even little by little, she decided to prove her strengths and contribute to the development of her community. Her decision was supported by her family and friends. They encouraged her to use her potential for the welfare of others.

Being the only female council member in her community, Irina says that she does not meet any obstacles, as both the mayor and other members of the local council are very caring towards the issues of the municipality: they always raise the problems during the meetings and never leave any issue unattended.

“I consider it my sacred duty to attend all the council meetings, participate in all the discussions to be able to handle all the issues raised, thus contributing to finding appropriate solutions to them,” she says. “After being elected a council member, I have become more attentive and responsible towards the needs of my community and my surroundings, towards every tree and bush. I try to notice everything that may escape from the eyes of a male council member.” Irina feels more comfortable dealing with education and protection of environment, as she also teaches Armenian language and literature at the local school. Having a journalist’s background, she considers it her duty to inform people, educate and help them combine efforts for making their community prosper.

As a newcomer she constantly participates in any workshop, training or seminar she is invited to, as there is always something new to learn, even if it is repetitive. Irina always self-reflects and reaps the most important for herself. Out of GIZ events she benefited greatly from a regional conference in Tbilisi, as an important question on the role of an equal opportunities officer in the municipalities was raised there. She used to think that this position could be combined with another one, for example, a consultant or adviser: however, after the discussion in a mixed group, she got convinced that this position required a specialist in the field, as there is practically no community in the country that wouldn’t have social problems. And now Irina says that after the enlargement if the issue is raised in a newly formed municipality, she will try to be helpful by transferring the knowledge acquired through GIZ.

In 2017, Irina was one of the winners of the small grants initiative of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus, implemented by GIZ. As a result, she organised four events, which mainly included seminars and discussions on the role of women in political participation, inter-municipal cooperation and on how to promote women’s potential in local governance. She says that these events were a novelty to their communities, at least considering the last 25 years she has been living there. Hence, she tried to create a diverse list of participants, including students, teachers, art workers, rural intelligentsia, housewives, etc. She wanted to assess the levels of interest of people with various age groups and occupation, in order to raise more female potential for the development of their municipality.

 

 

Arusyak Arakelyan

Secretary of staff of Abovyan Municipality

To create and to strive for innovative assignments  – this is what Arusyak Arakelyan, the secretary of staff of Abovyan municipality, likes most about her job.

Though her daily functions include leading the municipal staff and coordinating the circulation of documents, she always finds time to improve her routine by developing new templates and examining individual cases based on citizens’ applications.

“I like to create something new, to develop necessary documents and templates. I truly avoid stereotypes and patterns,” she says. “Every single situation requires an individual approach, even though it means looking through various legal acts. Sometimes I open the drafts of the decisions that I had prepared, and I always look at them critically, thus motivating myself to improve, to grow professionally and enjoy my work.”

Constant discussions with fellow colleagues from other municipalities and study trips within Armenia or abroad always influence positively by giving food for thought or by inspiring to improve the practices in their municipalities. As best examples Arusyak highlighted the study trip to Estonia and the conference in Ukraine that were dedicated to the exchange of knowledge and experiences in the field of e-governance. The trips were organised by the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus.

“Thanks to GIZ we could witness the serious achievements in e-governance in Estonia, which is leading when it comes to digital service provision. Basically, each citizen can fully make use of state or local services without even leaving the house. The visit allowed us to understand the whole infrastructure in order to incorporate the system in our municipalities. And I have to admit that step by step we are heading towards that,” Arusyak says.

The conference “Best Practices of Administrative Service Delivery in Small Communities of Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia” held in Ukraine in spring 2017 proved to be even more fruitful as it contributed to bringing the good idea of information cards to Armenia.

“Information cards allow summarizing information regarding a specific service. The compilation includes all the parameters that a citizen needs to know, mainly what documents are required, contact details, whether the service is to be paid for or not, the legal acts that serve as basis for this or that decision, etc. The idea of the information card is to serve as a guideline for citizens.”

On her own initiative Ms Arakelyan continuously adds more information cards in her municipality, as the provided services are numerous. “Usually we work on templates to simplify the lives of citizens, because they particularly need the application form and the necessary documents,” Arusyak says.

 

Naira Abrahamyan

Council member of Arpi municipality of Shirak region

After graduating from Yerevan State University, Naira Abrahamyan moved to Garnarich settlement of Arpi municipality in 1989 and started teaching physics in the school, where she is the principal today. Apart from educating the younger generation for almost 2 decades already, Ms Abrahamyan has also been engaged in local politics for 13 years already. Having started as a secretary of staff in the municipality, she later on had difficulties in combining the municipal work and the school. Thus, she took the decision to run for local council elections and carry on her duties as the school principal.

Twice nominated and twice elected, the only female council member of her municipality Ms Abrahamyan always gets actively engaged in the social, political and, of course, educational life of the municipality. “It is very important that the local self-government bodies cooperate with educational institutions. As a school principal and council member, I can say that it is the village that benefits from this cooperation. Educational programmes for local governments are also very important, as you get thematic literacy from each course and subconsciously give your consent to previously disagreed lines,” Ms Abrahamyan says.

A mother of four daughters and a grandmother of three grandchildren, Ms Abrahamyan is very caring towards every inhabitant of her settlement. When needed, she can even repair the heavy machinery, the leaking pipeline, the school classroom and the broken windows, help pull out cars stuck in the heavy snow and do any other work to support her fellow villagers. Thus, every day she is breaking the existing stereotypes that women cannot do the same work as men.

“Problems have always existed in our community; however, if we look at all the settlements of Arpi municipality separately, it will be visible that the ice got broken. For instance, with the enlargement the provision of administrative services has become easier. GIZ has provided computers and we have hired a young operator in our settlement, who, with the help of the new software [Municipal Management and Information System], will provide reference notes and other necessary services to villagers,” Ms Abrahamyan says.

Alongside the daily routine and numerous issues, Ms Abrahamyan always strives for participating in trainings and updating her knowledge on any aspect that might directly influence her activities. She believes that awareness and being informed are crucial if you want to make a change. “In order to learn what provisions in the Law on the local self-government have changed or what the functions of the local council are, it is important to constantly communicate and share information with colleagues and residents,” she states.

To make this come true, Naira participated in the small grants initiative of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus. Having won the grant, she has organised a series of seminars and round-table discussions and prepared an information leaflet on “Women’s active political participation in local self-government.” She pursued the idea of engaging as many women as possible from all the settlements of Arpi municipality to discuss issues of participatory democracy and bring up opportunities for local women to enhance their participation in local self-government and decision-making.

With this initiative it became possible to attract women’s attention to municipal problems and to activate their role as citizens who want to make a change in the lives of their communities.

 

 

Susanna Gevorgyan

Mayor of Arevashat municipality

For more than 25 years already Susanna Gevorgyan has been heading the community of Arevashat in Armavir region of Armenia. In 1993 her fellow villagers, knowing her diligence and dedication to the community, suggested that she took the reins of the community and started solving existing problems. Back in those years it was the village council (“sovkhoz”) that she became the president of. Only in 1996 when the local self-government was formed, Mrs Gevorgyan nominated her candidacy and was elected as the mayor of the community.

“Armenia was going through very hard times in those years; there was no electricity, no water, no gas. One day several villagers came to our place, and taken my organizational skills, asked me and my husband whether I could become the president of the sovkhoz. I wanted to refuse. However, after a second thought I got persuaded, and my husband also agreed that I became its head,” Mrs Gevorgyan remembers.

She had to overcome many challenges, the primary one of which being the irrigation water. The whole village was and is irrigated through deep wells, which didn’t work. Having solved this issue, she focused her attention on other major problems, such as asphalting, establishment of nocturnal street lighting, gasification, renovation of pipelines for drinking water, and so on. However, she managed to quickly catch up with her position and began to find solutions.

In 2017 Mrs Gevorgyan conducted a series of meetings with women of her community and adjacent villages in the scope of the small grants initiative of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus implemented by GIZ. The aim of the meetings was to increase women’s awareness and political participation. “Many women do not even have a slight idea what local self-government is. These trainings were very informative for them, because apart from theoretical knowledge they also had to come up with ideas, bring up issues of their communities and prepare group presentations. They understood how important it was to maintain good relations with local self-government bodies, to participate in discussions and run for local elections,” Mrs Gevorgyan says.

At present there are seven council members in Arevashat municipality, two of which are women. As Mrs Gevorgyan notes, they are all very conscientious, constantly participating in all council meetings, raising primary issues, working towards the solutions.

“The experience gained throughout these years has proved that if I'm planning something, I must do it, otherwise I cannot sleep at night. However, there is one challenge that I have been facing for several years already – that is, having a kindergarten. I cross fingers to see kids of my community attending kindergarten while I am the mayor of Arevashat,” concludes Mrs Gevorgyan with hope.

 

 

Jemma Harutyunyan

Mayor of Amasia municipality

Jemma Harutyunyan was elected as a mayor of Amasia enlarged municipality in the local elections of October 2016. As of today, Ms Harutyunyan is the only woman mayor of an enlarged municipality. As a result of the Territorial and Administrative Reform in Armenia, municipalities were enlarged. Out of initial 915 municipalities the number was reduced to 502, including 52 consolidated municipalities, whereas the final goal of the reform was to reach approximately 150 municipalities.

“After being elected a mayor, I frequently visit all the settlements in order to personally get acquainted with the problems of the settlement and the concerns of the population. Being in office for a year and a half already, I got convinced that the territorial and administrative reform is a progressive step, as it gives an opportunity to solve important issues in each settlement,” Ms Jemma Harutyunyan says.

She mentions that all the settlements have many issues that need to be solved in the course of time. Nevertheless, one of the advantages of the reform that Ms Harutyunyan mentions is the common budget. “The budget is managed from the center of the municipality, and thanks to that we have already been able to solve certain problems of some settlements,” she says.

The modernization of the municipal administration through introduction of innovative e-governance tools, such as Municipal Management and Information System (MMIS) and the establishment of the Citizen Office and training of the staff by GIZ, helped the municipality to provide more effective and efficient public services to the population.

"This was a huge support by GIZ to our population. There is now no need for citizens to spend finances and drive from their settlements to the center to pay property or land taxes or get a reference note: for instance, now they can address the administrative head or MMIS operator directly in their settlement. If not for this system and GIZ, there would probably be no Internet connection and internal network with some settlements," Jemma says.

Despite the hardships and high level of labor migration, Ms Harutyunyan does her utmost to create favorable conditions for her compatriots. She tries to trigger both women’s and men’s attention towards municipal problems and contribute to equal participation in local development and decision-making processes. In the framework of the small grants initiative of the Good Local Governance Programme South Caucasus, Ms Harutyunyan conducted a series of discussions and seminars on “Developing civil initiatives and enhancing political participation of women in multi-settlement communities.”

Jemma Harutyunyan’s day is too overloaded since it is not an easy task to live with the problems of a whole community. She gets the support from her family and friends; however, she finds inspiration in her regular meetings with the younger generation, “In my work, most of all I enjoy being around young people and children. I often visit kindergartens, the art school, and the sports club. I greatly enjoy the meetings with children.”