Garik our office accountant brought me this beautiful plant. Ashot and Davit spent their own money to bring me another one just as lovely. The lady in the flower-shop, busy with the annual rush that comes on Women’s Day every March 8, shouted a cheery Shnorhavor as I walked by.
In common with just about every other woman in Goris, I went to My Lady salon to have my hair done. They fitted me in for a blow-dry even though the place was heaving with women enjoying their day off and getting dolled up for a rare night out. Cafe Deluxe is ready for them. On evenings at this time of year it is usually populated only by small groups of men drinking coffee, vodka or beer but tonight they expect lots of families celebrating the women who keep their lives running. The tables and doors have been decorated with red and gold 8s in honor of the day. The owner has stocked up on cake and ice-cream.
Here in Armenia, Women’s Day is a mix between St Valentines Day, Mothers Day and Teacher appreciation day in the US. Artur bought Aleta long-stemmed roses. Natalie went to a school party at our biggest hotel. (I haven’t yet had the debrief, but there was to be dancing. With boys). My poetry pupils in Halidzor bought me a sunny yellow flower in a tiny pot. The streets were thronged with people out to visit and chat. I caught up with Haykush as she made dolma, and interrupted Nina as she was mopping the floor. They were both in high good spirits, but Women’s day didn’t seem to have reduced their workload very much.
In the US, International Women’s Day is not a public holiday. It is more of a campaign day than a festival, and those of us who mark it do so to honor crusading women who changed things for us; and to draw attention to women at home and all over the world who still have to put up with unfairness, lack of autonomy and abuse. It is not much fun, and it is a pity it has to be done…but there we are. In honor of the British suffragettes who won the vote for (some) women in the UK one hundred years ago, I wore a green and purple dress today. While Emmeline and the Pankhurst posse were shingling their crowning glory and giving voice to their sense of injustice, many women in the Caucasus were still covering their hair and sometimes even their faces from nose to chin with white or black cloth (the color depended on age and marital status) and keeping silent—obedient shadows of their fathers, brothers and husbands. I have seen pictures from the 1920s that show women in Goris dressed this way. Times change of course and no woman in Armenia wears this headwear today, although it still remains a very visible part of the cultural memory. An elementary school girl, asked to draw a picture of a local icon a couple of weeks ago produced this picture of a Hay woman in traditional garb.
Some girls and women here are still being curbed and silenced, not now by clothing but still by culture– that’s if they are given life at all. In some parts of Armenia, live births of boys outstrip those of girls by 20 to 1. This is gender selectivity on a scale second only to China. (You can read a recent Guardian article about this here). Why the big demand for boys? Well, as a matter of course, aged parents here live with their sons. When sons marry, they bring their new bride home to the in-laws she will one day care for. Some parents still see boys as the way to secure their own future– a girl is only a drain. It remains to be seen how long this thinking will last when male unemployment is so high; when a man must leave his home (and thus his wife in the company of his parents) to find work in Russia; and when so many girls are doing so well at school and securing professional positions outside the home. My friend Liana recently ran a social media campaign which asked prominent Armenians to post pictures with their daughters, and say how proud they were to have a girl. Across the country, many mothers and fathers took part. In my own circle I know many parents who cherish their daughters and take pride in their spirit, brains, entrepreneurship and ambition. These girls’ time has come.
People here marry young. I have heard community organizers, volunteers and teachers sigh about losing young female talent from soccer teams, small businesses and classrooms after girls become wives. Either their husbands don’t wish them to continue their outside interests, or the brides think it is inappropriate. That used to happen too of course in the UK and US. It is rare for it to happen now.
Not all young brides here have their independence threatened. I spent this afternoon with Armine. Not many women drive in Armenia, but Armine does. Armine met her husband through work. She is at home now, because they have a young baby, but Armine’s husband Arman was cooking dinner tonight–khorovats. Both Armine and her husband are thrilled to bits with their Meri. Today Meri was dressed a blue sweater and jeans that match her big blue eyes–only her rattle was pink. Meri is the proud future of this little family, and the proud future of Armenia. Happy Women’s Day Meri.
Tatev and her mother stopped me in the street to give me some perfume. Narine’s grand mom chased me down the road to give me a tablet of raspberry wafer, peanuts and chocolate. Numerous friends sent me flowery gifs via Facebook. Women’s Day was a very good day for me. May it and the next year be good for you too, wherever you are.