Show Less
Open access

Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

Edited By Renate Haas

From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.
Show Summary Details
Open access

Armenia: Ancient Traditions, Upheavals, and the Beginnings of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies

Seda Gasparian / Gayane Muradian

Armenia: Ancient Traditions, Upheavals, and the Beginnings of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies

1.  Introduction

In the 20th century, Armenia operated within a socialistic higher education system for 70 years. During the Soviet era Armenian higher education enjoyed advantages (free education,1 employment security) and faced disadvantages, which were linked to strong competition, lack of choices in academic courses and opportunities to study abroad. In the post-Soviet era (i.e., since 1991), the higher education system of Armenia has gone through numerous transformations, both positive and negative. Among the positives are: more than one major as well as alternative mandatory courses can be pursued; the assessment system is flexible; and the curriculum is diverse. In addition, universities have received more autonomy in management and finance. Among the negatives the lack of resources, specialists, professional networks and certain disciplines as well as the tuition fee should be mentioned.

Women’s and Gender Studies, aimed at institutionalization of gender education to raise awareness and change gender stereotypes regarding women’s status in public and private life, is one such discipline that has commonly been neglected in Armenian academic curricula. Although the Bologna agenda, in the context of curriculum reform, includes introduction of new disciplines and inter-disciplines, so far little has been done to develop a full gender-inclusive curriculum in Armenian higher education institutions at large. We are not of the opinion that the Bologna requirements should impose certain courses upon our universities; each university and department should make the best of the situation by debating the particularities of ← 391 | 392 → the implementation. American, European or Russian courses and research projects should not be artificially transmitted without genuine analysis of their relevance to the local context (Shahnazaryan 2010), professors and students should not be led into a series of reforms whose actualities they do not understand. As to Gender Studies, what we think relevant is that each country or the central university should be provided with tools to help them consider and discuss implementation carefully and effectively; they should try to provoke wider debate parallel to training specialists and designing gender-inclusive courses before finally institutionalizing the new discipline. This process will take some time, as very often departments of higher education are inherently conservative and consequently resistant to updating old courses and implementing new ones.

However, there seem to be other, more serious barriers in Armenia for gender education to overcome than the ones mentioned above, namely the numerous economic, political, cultural, psychological and socio-ideological challenges.

The growing gender ignorance and asymmetry, questionable democratic governance, dismissal of women from the decision-making process (women’s involvement in government being incomparably lower than that of men), legal and organizational obstructions are problems, the solution of which requires further democratization of society, munificent budgeting and serious research in the sphere of Gender Studies, which cannot be conducted only through individual enthusiastic devotion and endeavour. A full-fledged policy of institutionalizing the discipline is needed. Gender inclusion in Armenian academe and implementation of gender-sensitive academic curricula are extremely relevant today.

It is hard to examine a highly dynamic situation, especially in a field as complex as higher education and in a discipline as sensitive as Gender Studies, though often changes that occur are gifts to the policy researcher. There have been changes in the past months, and indeed since we initiated this research. New elements have arisen and are bound to arise that make us hopeful that gender education will become part of Armenian reality and Anglicist women will have their say in the matter. ← 392 | 393 →

2.  ‘Gender Dynamics’: Past and Present

Armenian history has had examples of equal opportunities provided to men and women in society. In the 9th century, highly placed women had a value and role beyond the purely sentimental personal and family relationships; they wielded much power and authority. Bloodless resolutions to conflicts necessitated negotiation, and mediators were often married women. The charters of the Armenian Siwnian dynasty (9th century) attest ownership, purchase, bequest and donation of property by women, though women were never portrayed in ecclesiastical sculpture as donors, as men were. Daughters had a legal right equal to sons to inherit property as well as to own property; in the 12th century, legal practice prohibited husbands from using physical violence against wives and allowed women to initiate divorce (Redgate 1998: 207; Gevorgyan 2001: 35).

The first Armenian women’s movement started in Western Armenia2 in the 19th century: ‘The nineteenth century saw Armenia attract the attention of other westerners, besides Russians. Commercial contacts existed already, but now American missionary work and European scholarly research helped to spread western ideas among Armenians and information about Armenian matters to westerners’ (Redgate 1998: 266). The result was the rise of an intellectual class of women, who became active propagators of patriotic sentiments, freedom of expression, and female education. The first boarding schools for girls were founded, followed by the establishment ← 393 | 394 → of the first women’s organization (Women’s Society) in Istanbul in 1864.3 The year 1879 witnessed the establishment of two more Armenian women’s organizations – School-loving Armenian Women and Armenian Women Dedicated to their Nation. The next result of women’s ongoing movement was the establishment (in 1880) of the fourth powerful organization of Armenian women, this time in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia (then known as Tiflis), where Armenians dominated the urban economy and enjoyed prosperity and educational revival. All the mentioned unions and many others that appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Russia, the USA, France and other countries where Armenians had communities, in addition to promoting education, were also involved in charity and poverty relief activities. There were also societies of book/school/education-lovers and unions of female students or graduates of various universities. All of them, more or less, provided financial assistance to needy and sick people, got involved in a number of civic activities, set up orphanages, founded schools and trained female teachers for various educational institutions, where commonly English or French were taught as a foreign language (Harutiunian 2003: 60–62). The successful educational activity was the most important achievement of the first Armenian women’s movement.

The Soviet official and legal policy of gender equality, even though somehow spurious, reinforced or ‘imposed from above’, had a significant influence on the public position of women in Armenia and led to an improved social status for them. Law promoted education and work outside home, made mutual consent a requirement for marriage, banned dowries, gave women the right to inherit and own land. Equality, though, did not extend to the private sphere, where women were still seen as responsible for domestic work and childcare. During the Soviet rule (1920–1991) women participated actively in the social, economic, political, academic and educational life of the country. Professional women and so-called ‘women-heroes ← 394 | 395 → of socialistic work’ were the most vigorous representatives of what can perhaps be regarded as the second feminist movement in the Armenian reality.

The post-independence period (1991 onwards) saw enormous political, economic, and social upheavals. There was a resurgence of discriminatory customary practices based on rigid gender roles. Many of the positive achievements in terms of incentives for women’s participation in politics and the workforce were presented in negative connotations and abandoned. Gender disparities increased, traditional patriarchal stereotypes prevailed, adherence to a more archaic ideology gradually became the norm. In this context, ‘Armenian women were quicker to accept Western values, concepts and ideas and are perceived as more flexible and open to learning new skills and languages, traits that have become essential during the post-Soviet period. In contrast, Armenian men more comfortably adopted patriarchal and traditional views and roles, influenced by the East’ (Gender Assessment 2010: 15).

Today the capacity and resources that Armenian women can lend to the development of the country are great; however, there are numerous institutional barriers that are preventing them from doing so. ‘According to the results obtained by the researchers based on 90 interviews among 10 target groups, the main factors hindering the progress of women are the traditionally patriarchal way of thinking, and political corruption’ (Abrahamyan 2013). We would add that women are also affected by the ongoing transition to market economy, poor economic development, and resulting high-level unemployment and male out-migration.

The transition period struggle of Armenian women against limitations and for their rights to contribute freely to ongoing economic, political, social and educational processes can perhaps be identified as the third feminist movement in our country.

While women constitute more than half of Armenia’s three-million population (census of 2011) and account for 58% of degree holders,4 their involvement in high public administration and government positions is several times lower than in many democratically advanced countries. ← 395 | 396 →

Despite the fact that soon after independence Armenia became a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and passed laws that enshrine equal rights between men and women, independent Armenia has had only four women in ministerial posts. Only two of today’s 18 ministers are women. Armenia’s 11 provinces have had only one female governor so far; she resigned, however, in 2010. Meanwhile, the posts of city and town mayors still remain beyond the reach for women; there are female mayors only in a limited number of rural communities.5 Only 14 out of the 131 members of the National Assembly (the Armenian Parliament) of the current convocation are women, i.e. Armenian women’s presence in parliament is 8.4%.6

In this context it comes as no surprise that despite covering broad themes that ensure gender equality and outlining several critical sectors (decision-making, economy, education, domestic violence, marginalization), the government- established Council of Women’s Affairs, the Center for Gender Studies of the Armenian Association of Women with University Education (AAWUE), many other women’s NGOs7 and gender projects (funded either by the government or international and donor organizations) have not been effective in formulating gender policies that address women’s economic, political and educational empowerment on a large scale. Their achievements are not very tangible. Experts have noted that ‘the slow progress for women’s issues in Armenia’ and ‘the absence of an autonomous women’s movement’ is the result of the NGOs’ inability to cooperate and form ‘a united body of women claiming their rights’ (Wistrand 2007: 10). Leaders of NGOs have also mentioned their marginal impact on the political reform process (Implementation of CEDAW 2007: 6). ← 396 | 397 →

Recent positive changes, however, suggest that a more comprehensive system to advance gender equality and Gender Studies will be instituted in Armenia in the years to come.

3.  On the Way to Institutionalizing Women’s and Gender Studies

Transitional patriarchy is quite apprehensive of Women’s and Gender Studies and its institutionalization (as recent campaigns and witch-hunts have shown). In the light of this statement the achievement of a full elimination of gender segregation in the field of education, the adequate involvement of women in the formulation and implementation of educational policies and the institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies in higher learning seem to be important problems to cope with.

There are 68 HE institutions with 112,244 students; a little more than half of them (54.9%) are women. Female students prevail numerically in almost all departments in the government-run institutions of higher learning, with the exception of about a dozen (Agriculture, Transportation & Communications, Industry & Construction, etc.). In non-governmental institutions young women outnumber men even in the departments that are traditionally regarded as male domains. The situation can be accounted for by the fact that the students in non-governmental institutions are not granted deferment of military service. In the 2010/2011 academic year, young women made up 56.2% of the overall number of graduates. Of about 9463 professional teachers involved in higher education and research 4784 are women.8

Nonetheless, women still do not take an adequate part in the planning and implementation of the educational policies. The positions of the Minister of Education and Science and one of the two Deputy Ministers are occupied by men. From the other 95 top positions only 34 are held by women, among them several Anglicists. However, the positions they occupy do not enable them to have an impact on policies concerning gender education and to promote academic feminism. In this context it comes as no surprise that ← 397 | 398 → the inclusion of Gender Studies (on disciplinary or interdisciplinary levels) in the curricula of some faculties was initiated either by the academic staff of the faculties or by women’s centres, the Center for Gender Studies of the Armenian Association of Women with University Education (AAWUE) giving an important impetus to the process.9 Unfortunately, in both cases the weight of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies is not quite visible, despite the fact that at least due to the intermediary role of English, Gender Studies should have become an official part of English Studies long ago.

AAWUE head Jemma Hasratyan stated that ‘from 1999 on the AAWUE Center for Gender Studies initiated the introduction of interdisciplinary and special courses on gender issues into the curricula of higher education institutions’ (2003: 6). The result of the initiative, however, was very modest: interdisciplinary and optional courses in a couple of non-central HE institutions.

In the course of this research we found that Gender Studies have become part of the officially recognized curricula only in three faculties of the Humanities at Yerevan State University: International Relations, Sociology and Social Work. In other institutions of higher education, too, the visibility is still low. However, the recent months have been witnessing a positive change. On May 7, 2013, USAID/Armenia, Yerevan State University, the most prestigious HE institution in the country, and Arizona State University officially opened the new Centre for Gender and Leadership Studies at Yerevan State University (head Gohar Shahnazaryan). The initiative is part of a broader effort under the Women’s Leadership Program that USAID and Higher Education for Development launched in March 2013. It is funded by USAID within the frame of the Armenian Educational Development Project. The Centre will develop a new curriculum in women and gender studies for many faculties of Yerevan State University and other institutions of higher education, promote career advancement for female university graduates, ← 398 | 399 → conduct outreach activities and advance public policy research on issues related to gender equality and women’s leadership. Over the course of the three-year partnership, eight Yerevan State University scholars in areas related to Women’s Studies and its institutionalization will participate in a semester-in-residence program at Arizona State University. They will sit in on courses of the School of Social Transformation’s program in Women and Gender Studies and will develop syllabi and action-oriented research goals. The first group has already arrived, and not by chance is there an Anglicist in it, which means we will officially start conducting the first Gender Studies course in the English Philology Department very soon. This, of course, will be a more sophisticated phase in the process of institutionalizing Gender Studies in the mentioned department, but it is not a first step. Numerous BA and MA theses in Gender Studies (mostly referring to gendered language, language and gender, or gender advertising) have been carried out and defended. A doctoral study is in its final stages.

Considering the fact that YSU is the leading university of Armenia, and the Centre for Gender and Leadership Studies was, not by chance, established there, it is expected that in the nearest future academic feminism will gain momentum and Gender Studies will become part of the officially adopted curricula and develop into a fully institutionalized discipline in all university fields, including English Studies.

4.  Conclusion

Academic feminism and Gender Studies seem to have more chances in Armenian higher education institutions and English Departments today than ever. Nonetheless, the unconditional commitment and professionalization of the teaching staff and international financial and curriculum support are not enough to maintain the academic infrastructure concerned. Educational Gender Studies schemes also need contributions from the Armenian state, business and private sectors. Facilitating links between the government and non-government organizations and associations engaged in a variety of sectors to solve gender problems that are hindering the full-fledged development and democratization of society, is also very important. It is expected that the next stage in the development of Gender Studies and feminism will be more markedly political, due to the growth of the middle class that is at ← 399 | 400 → the forefront of progressive, emancipatory strategies. The middle class will help to strengthen the ties between academia and politics.

It is our firm belief that the higher education system in Armenia should provide appropriate gender policy and a tangible possibility for gender research through

  •   encouragement of academic interest and commitment to the field of Gender Studies,
  •   integration of the gender component into the state education policy,
  •   integration of gender knowledge into the higher education system,
  •   establishment of gender-balanced representation in higher education institutions,
  •   ensuring a more equal access to quality education for both sexes,
  •   shaping an egalitarian gender culture,
  •   furthering democratization of society through Gender Studies,
  •   full institutionalization of Gender Studies.


Abrahamyan, Gohar, ‘Gender Gap: Study Shows Armenian Women Having Significantly Less Involvement in Government than Men’, 25 Jan, 2013, <> (29 Jan, 2013).

Gender Assessment, (USAID/Armenia), prepared by Elisabeth Duban / Hasmik Gevorgyan (Arlington, VA: DevTech Systems, Inc., 2010).

Gevorgyan, Hasmik, ‘Gender Issues: Problems and Solutions’, in Gender Education, ed. NGO Trust Social Work and Sociological Research Center (Yerevan: Gitoutyun, 2001), pp. 33–41.

Harutiunian, Anahit, ‘Armenian Women’s Movement in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries’, in Gender Studies in Armenia. Special Issue, ed. Armenian Association of Women with University Education (Yerevan: Asoghik, 2003), pp. 58–75.

Hasratyan, Jemma, ‘Developing Egalitarian Culture in the Society. Institutionalization of Gender Education and Gender Studies in Armenia’, in Gender Studies in Armenia. Special Issue, ed. Armenian Association of Women with University Education (Yerevan: Asoghik, 2003), pp. 104–115. ← 400 | 401 →

Implementation of CEDAW in the Republic of Armenia in 2002–2007. Alternative Report prepared by the Center for Gender Studies of the Armenian Association of Women with University Education (Yerevan: Asoghik, 2007).

National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, ‘Members […] Fifth Convocation’, <> (18 Oct, 2013).

Perkins, Gillian / Ruslan Yemtsov, Armenia: Restructuring to Sustain Universal General Education (Washington DC: World Bank, 2001).

Redgate, Anne Elizabeth, The Peoples of Europe. The Armenians (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

Shahnazaryan, Gohar, ‘Higher Education in Armenia: Challenges and Achievements’, in Universities in Crisis: Blog of the International Sociological Association, 31 Mar, 2010, <> (18 Oct, 2013).

Statistical Yearbook of Armenia, 2011 and 2012, <> (18 Oct, 2013).

Statistics on Higher Education, 2012, <> (18 Oct, 2013).

Wistrand, Birgitta, ‘Women Empowerment and Cooperation in Armenia with a Focus on the Syunik Region’, An assessment report prepared for the OSCE Office in Yerevan, 2007, <> (18 Oct, 2013).


Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) <>.

Center for Gender and Leadership Studies at Yerevan State University <>.

Gender Theme Group (GTG) <>.

Women’s Resource Center Armenia <>.

Women’s Rights Center <>.

[Received August 29, 2013] ← 401 | 402 →


← 402 | 403 →

1 Referring to the period Perkins and Yemtsov (2001: 6) described it as an era when ‘Armenia’s education system was comprehensive and generously provisioned, with virtually all services free of charge to the user’.

2 The partitioning of Armenia into two parts and the wording Eastern Armenia and Western Armenia is the final result of a series of ruinous invasions of historical Armenia throughout history. Armenian statehood was abolished in 428 and the country was divided between Byzantium (Roman Empire) and Persia. In the 7th century the Arab forces conquered both parts of Armenia. The country witnessed two perils in the 11th century: the annexations of Byzantium and the aggression of Seljuk Turks. The 13th century saw the conquest of Armenia by the Mongols. In the 15th century much of Armenia passed to two Turkmen dynasties. The Ottoman Turks gained Armenia in the early 16th century. In the 17th century Turkish authority extended over Western Armenia and Persian authority over Eastern Armenia. As a result of Russian-Persian wars Persia entirely withdrew from Eastern Armenia in 1828 and it became a province under Russia. In 1921, after a short period of independence, Eastern Armenia was declared a Soviet republic. The collapse of the Soviet Union engendered new attitudes for Armenians in their newly independent republic in Eastern Armenia.

3 With reference to Yeprem Poghossian from the Mkhitarist Order (Venice) who studied the history of Western Armenian NGOs, Anahit Harutiunian states that ‘out of around 630 NGOs that operated in Istanbul in the 19th and early 20th centuries about 60 were women’s organizations’ (2003: 59). During this period the Armenians were the largest ethnic minority in Istanbul. Estimations put their number at 250,000 in 1851 (Redgate 1998: 269).

4 For more detailed data see Statistical Yearbook of Armenia, 2012 and Implementation of CEDAW 2007.

5 While some progress has been made in terms of women’s local government representation between 2005, when only 16 women headed rural communities, and today (2013) with female mayors in 22 of the country’s 866 villages, still the involvement of women in broader local government systems currently makes only 2–2.5% (Abrahamyan 2010).

6 See the official website of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

7 Experts have estimated that of the thousands of NGOs officially registered in Armenia, 60 can be considered ‘women’s NGOs’ (Implementation of CEDAW 2007: 41).

8 These statistics are available at <> and <>.

9 According to the head of AAWUE Jemma Hasratyan (2003: 109) it is not only because of men ‘who hold positions of power and authority’ in education that women are squeezed out, but also because of women who are ‘hostages to patriarchal stereotypes that traditionally relegated women to the private sphere of family and reproductive life’. She concludes that gender education is a prerequisite to transition to a new social order.