Pushing Gender Roles, One Kick at a Time

Nelli Shishmanyan

It doesn’t take much to push the boundaries - sometimes doing the washing up or kicking a ball on a pitch is just enough to get frowned upon. That is, when a man does the former and a woman the latter.

In Armenia, the line dividing gender roles is neither fine nor subtle - social rules have it that men are the breadwinners and women stay at home caring for the children. This line of thinking starts early as children follow their parents’ behaviour and conversations, picking up what the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ are. So cleaning is a woman’s job, playing football is a man’s game.

Yet slowly, times, they are a-changin’, in the capital and beyond, albeit along generational lines. Research conducted by the Asian Development Bank in 2015 highlighted that over-50s are more likely to label certain tasks as “exclusively female duties regardless of whether the woman is also employed, including preparation of meals, washing dishes, and housework.” The post-independence generation believes that spouses should divide household tasks equally, but even then, a significant portion of respondents up to 39-years-old of age feel that cleaning and cooking are “the wife’s [or the woman’s] sole responsibility.”

Alexander Amroyan in Yerevan and Nare Galstyan grew up in families where there are no pre-assigned roles to fit into - what men and women can, or can’t, do is not set in stone.

Alexander Amroyan, 17, with his mother, Marina, 39, and his 9-year-old sister Sona. Since he was a child he has shared with his parents chores around the house. As day-to-day activities are sharply divided along gender lines in Armenia, seeing a man washing dishes or sweeping the floor is rare. Yet, Alexander has followed his father’s example and thinks “there is nothing extraordinary with it.’

Alexander is cleaning up the kitchen after his sister prepared breakfast. Currently in his last year at high school, he wants to study philosophy at the Yerevan Slavonic University.

Alexander puts some empty jars in a cupboard on the balcony.

Taking care of the house is a family business for the Amroyans. The men of the family, Alexander and his father, regularly do the housework. The situation varies greatly between the capital and the region, at least in the perception as surveys show that when asked about the acceptability of more flexible gender roles, people may agree in principle but not in practice.

Alex is putting the washed pots in the cupboard. A survey conducted in 2015 showed that most Armenians agree that it is acceptable for men to undertake domestic chores, about a quarter did not think that men who are ready to contribute equally to domestic duties exists at present.

Kitchen cleaning is nearly over.

Lernagog is a village of 2,000-people close to the Turkish border. A former sovkhoz, a state-owned collective farm in Soviet Union, it is home to a girls’ football team which is famous in the regional tournaments of Armavir marz [province]. There is little to do for children, even less for teenagers, but a ball and a pitch has given 11 girls a purpose. And it has broken the rooted stereotype that football is “just for boys.”

Nare Galstyan, 17, founded the football team in 2013 in her school. She is regarded as the best football girl in the village. Armenia does not have a formal tournament for women’s football. In 2003 the women’s national football team played its first international match against Austria, and the team failed to qualify for the World Cup and the Women’s Euro Cup. The national team has not played since 2012.

Nare has been a football lover since she was a child. Her family has been supporting her football passion, apart from her grandfather who has frowned upon what he saw as a sport unsuitable for girls. He eventually gave in.

Nare is a fan of Henrik Mkhitaryan, the Armenian national team’s captain and Manchester United midfielder. The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), an NGO focusing on education, healthcare and rural development, reconstructed the school in Lernagog. As its official she learned about her passion during the construction work, when they organized a meeting between Mkhitaryan and the young footballers in the village.

Nare rejoices on the pitch. In 2017 Nare was awarded a place in the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), a cultural exchange program that provides merit-based scholarships to students from selected countries to spend a year studying in the US. Women’s football - or soccer, as it is called in the US - is popular in the States (the national team won the women’s football world cup in 2015) and Nare hopes she can keep on playing.

Some players are irregular in training on the pitch as some girls help their parents in the farming activities, a task common among male and female teenagers in rural communities.


Taboos/ Stigmas

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