The great emphasis on education in Armenia could be attributed to the nation’s 1600-year-old history of literacy and its treatment of schools as the basis for cultural and political survival. Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (1995) ensures the right to education for all citizens of the Republic. In recent times the government has tried to ensure gender-equality in education, health, power, decision-making and other areas as demonstrated by its strategic action plans.
While Armenia does display an impressive gender-parity in primary education, there are several aspects to girls’ education in Armenia which in turn impact the socio-economic and cultural standing of Armenian women. Let us understand some of these facets of girls’ education in Armenia.
Armenia has a 12-year school education system. Grade 9 graduates are required to move to a high school to continue their education or choose a Vocational Education and Training institution. At tertiary educational level, students choose either a general stream (humanities, sciences, etc.) or a vocational stream (agriculture, construction, information and technologies, etc.). According to the World Bank, the Armenian government aims to incorporate its gender-equality agenda into the educational system. In 2011, the National Statistical Service reported a “universal enrollment rate among both boys and girls at the primary level and a 99.6 percent enrollment rate among girls” compared to “98.4 percent among boys at the secondary level.”
In a recent World Bank report titled, ‘Armenia Country Gender Assessment,’ it is reported that a dramatic growth of up to 57 percent among women in higher education occurred during the year 2012-2013. However, despite the growth in the percentage of women in higher education, the labor market still encounters a lower participation rate among women.
The researchers attribute this gap to the difference in subject-matter choices offered to boys and girls at the tertiary education level. While women are more likely to study the social sciences, health, education and other non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, men are more likely to choose STEM-related fields or vocational education, which in turn leads to better-paying jobs. These findings point to the “aspirational (behavioral), informational and institutional” factors of the tertiary level of education in Armenia.
Women’s Representation in the Workforce
The Asian Development Bank reinforces that a gender-parity in enrollment rates in Armenia, from primary to higher education, does exist. However, despite the tendency for a larger number of women to acquire postgraduate education, they lag behind men in the labor market due to their choice of “traditionally female” domains of study. In addition, women more often tend to succumb to cultural pressures of marriage and family duties. Factors such as the quality of education, gender stereotypes, and school curricula have been found to also influence and determine many women’s decisions.
Armenia has a history of including gender-inclusion education that dates back to the 19th century; however, a survey conducted by the World Bank found that 54 percent of Armenian teachers hold the opinion that girls and boys should be treated differently, because “they are essentially different.” School-textbooks and curricula are also responsible for promoting stereotypical and traditional ideas of womanhood and serve to inadequately represent women, according to Iveta Silova, author of ‘Gender Analysis of Armenian School Curriculum and Textbooks.’ The study notes that Armenian language textbooks and literature rarely include or acknowledge the works or contributions of Armenian female writers and poets.
This omission of female authors limits “the scope of the country’s literary accomplishment to the work of men only.” Some of these challenges to girls’ education in Armenia ultimately leads to underrepresentation of women in political policy-making roles and the labor market, thereby perpetuating stereotypical female roles and causing a wide wage-gap between men and women.
Strategic Steps for Girls and Women in Armenia
The World Bank determined girls’ education across the world to be a “strategic development priority” that can lead to better educated and healthier women who are more aware of their socio-political and economic rights. This, in turn, can help build better communities and lift nations out of poverty.
The Armenian government has taken consistent steps towards ensuring gender-equality in the educational system. Its adoption of the Gender Policy Concept Paper in 2010 and the Law on Securing Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in 2013 are prime examples of such efforts. The educational reform proposals by the government are aimed at “democratization of the education sphere…establishing gender-balanced representation at all levels of the education sphere…and supporting equality of women and men in society, social justice, and enjoyment of social freedoms.”
Measures are being taken to improve girls’ education and are aided by the continued efforts of the World Bank, the European Union’s support towards modernization of education, and the UNDP’s goals to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education” in Armenia.
– Jayendrina Singha Ray