"Women can become the bearers of a great change".

Interview with Ruzanna Torozyan, President of "WINNET Armenia".

"WINNET Armenia" with its ten Women's Resource Centres became a member of "WINNET Europe" in 2014. What opportunities does it createfor our centres?

In 2010, when for the first time we paid a study visit to Sweden, we had a very long-term goal - one day to be able to join a network, such as "WINNET Europe",as it is a strong network of women who really defend the rights of women in all spheres. They have very good experience in the field of women entrepreneurship development, engaging women in innovations and awareness programs. And I think that joining "WINNET Europe" will enable us in the future to replicate their good practices also in Armenia.That’s why one of our priorities is to develop capacities ofstart-up companies first so that we can be the change-makers and raise those reforms from the bottom to the top.

And, most importantly, we face an exciting challengeright now: we have received a very good offer from “WINNET Europe” to become a regional centre.Within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Armenia canhave a central role, the Women's Resource Centre serving as an exemplary model tobe spread in the region.Therefore, our primary task is to develop our capacities, share our experience with our new partners and spread this model to other countries in the region.

What specific areas of work does "WINNET Armenia" engage in to ensure women’s advancement?

We have lots of plans.We have many resourcesand very good specialists in all centres. The work in all centres is based on the initiative groups, which are professionals in specific spheres, and that makes us strong.

2016 elections are forthcoming, and we are going to spread the best experience that we had in Syunik region during the local government elections, also to other regions where we have created new resource centres.

We are going through the same path with the new centres as we have passed a few years ago. We have created active women’s clubs and women leadership clubs. At this stage we are developing their skills, their political interest, leadership skills, so that next year we can educate them and lead them into politics. This is one of our major priorities.

The second direction that we are takingin parallel to the political engagement is the creation of new economic opportunities for women.We have begun needs assessment with new centres, sincethe regions are very different in their opportunities.Therefore, it is necessary first to assess the opportunities that exist for women in terms of job creation.
Job creation for womenis a priority for us, because when women are economically stronger, empowered, their attitude towards the events in the communitychanges.Women get interested in elections, politics, as well as in improving their community life.

We also regularly carry out awareness-raising activities. More than 2000 women have been trained in Syunik region,informed about their rights, and it is a continuous process. In other words, there are courses, awareness that we regularly hold in all centres, irrespective of anything. It includes gender violence, domestic violence themes. 

In your opinion, what’s the reason that in our society women are less involved in local government, in general, and in higher levels of government agencies, business. Are the possibilities limited, is the legislation imperfect; do stereotypes hinder? ... In your opinion, what is the reason?

We have done a little researchin our resource centres to find out what is the reason that women are less involved in business, entrepreneurship.It turned out that there are three main reasons.

The first is the credit policy that prevents our women from dealing with entrepreneurship.Real property is mainly registered by the name of spouses, which is a serious obstacle for a woman to access loans for starting a business.

The second obstacle is imperfect taxation,legislation;women being unaware often lose their businesses or come across barriers.

And the third and the most important point is that women lack the business skills, they need training.

These are real challenges that we have set forth.We cannot solve all these problems at the local level.We think to raise these issues by the resource centres to reach decision-making level.

But at this stage we are trying to develop women's entrepreneurship skills, helping them, for example, by providing small loans.We have circulating funds, which from time to timewe provide to family businesses.There are very good examples when we provide financial resources to the families, without interest rate but to be returned, and they start their own business, get a profit, and then return the money to us.We also support them in reaching out to the market.

What activities do you undertake to break women stereotypes?

I must stay that in most remote regions traditional stereotypes are an issue, they hinder women's involvement in politics.We mostly work in this direction; we are trying to change women's attitudes so that they change the attitudes in their families, of their spouses, other family members' attitudes.

My example is a striking example,asI've been the first woman in the community council since 2005 andI am now the only female member of the council.I also had these problems.And I think that we need time, we need to work to break the stereotypes, and to empower women, since as long as there are stereotypes women have to be prepared, this is very important.

My experience really broke the stereotype inGoris that it is possible for a woman to get into politics.When I was first elected, I worked a loton myself, sinceI represent women and it is important to be prepared.That is why we are working with the women before the elections.It is important for us that all women engage into politics prepared and aware.Only in this way we will be able to break those stereotypes.

We also raise public awareness.We have alternative platforms, social platforms, where we present the stories of electedwomen, their successes.Hence, we try to show to the society that women can indeed be in politics and bring about major changes.

Syunik region has the largest number of women representatives in local self-government bodies.What is the reason?

In 2012 Syunik's network of resource centreswith the support of the OSCE implemented a new initiative aimed at encouraging women to involve in politics.We worked in 20 communities (14 rural and 6 urban), found women who are interested torun in the elections and participate in the decision-making processes, educated them, helped to organize their campaign and thus led to politics.We worked with 39 women who were feeling our support, and were more self-confident, 28 of them won the election and became local government representatives.This is our best experience in Syunik province, which we are going to share with other regions in 2016.

Thus, working with women for a long time gives results.You cannot pick any woman's hand and lead into politics.

We are eager to support women.We are open for cooperation with all organizations and individuals who want to make sure that women are the bearers of change, be next to us, support us and we can succeed.

Interview by Mary Alexanyan