“In Armenia, as in every patriarchal society, they tend to isolate women from public spaces by giving her very limited and defined roles such as that of a mother and wife -- the one who takes care of children and other family members. Those roles are presented as an integral and main part of a woman's identity, beyond which the woman does not ‘exist,’” notes researcher Anahit Simonyan.
The expectation extends to government and politics as well.
In August Armenian Premier Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced a government strategy to increase the population of the country to five million, up from the three million.
The state often encourages the view that a woman’s worth is measured by the number of her offspring. For example, during his pre-election campaign, Pashinyan defended a female member of his team – accused of being a feminist activist – by presenting her as the mother of four children.
The fact that she has children is considered a natural defence, proof that she is a good, moral person.
“Society’s attitude towards a woman who does not want to have children or does not want to take those roles is negative. Such women are viewed as a ‘threat’ to patriarchal norms… Being childfree is natural for men too, but it never becomes the basis for public shaming, disapproval or labelling. Women who do not want to have children are labelled by society as incomplete, lonely and miserable,” notes Simonyan.
For married women, that means pressure to have children quickly. “Do you have any news yet” – code for “are you pregnant yet?” – is a common question after a few weeks of marriage.
24-year-old Lilith Baghdasaryan, a feminist activist and marketing specialist at an IT company based in Yerevan, says she and her husband hear that question regularly from seemingly everyone -- close relations and random strangers.
She notes that many in Armenia view having children as an obligatory step to being successful.
‘’A significant part of society considers women to be ‘’incubators’’ whose body is ready to bear children, especially male children. ...I have heard cases when people urge 34 to 35-year-old women to have at least a child because they will need someone to take care of them when they are older,” Baghdasaryan says.
For Baghdasaryan, the issue has become less problematic due to her and her husband’s united response.
‘’As time passes this conversation is happening less and less frequently. We have managed to communicate to those who are asking that this is not their business, but rather it is our own personal life and the decision should be made exclusively between the two of us,’’ Bagdasaryan notes.
For single women like Aleksanyan, however, the situation is more perilous.
She first started to question the goal of marriage and kids when she was around 18, Aleksanyan says. Now her focus is on her career at a French company, and her plans to write a book.