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The women left behind in Armenia

Written by on Wednesday, 29 January 2014
Armenia, Business and Economics
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Kristine Arakelyn lifts her son Gevork outside their home. Kristine is taking part in Oxfam's agricultural cooperative scheme which is helping to ease migration in rural villages. Photograph by Emily Maccines/Oxfam.

Editor’s Note: Oxfam’s Armine Gevorgyan blogs from inside Armenia, where many young men are migrating abroad in search of employment and new opportunities, leaving their wives and daughters behind. Almost a third of homes in Armenia are now entirely led by women.

Here in the rural village of Khor Virap in Southern Armenia, women sit around gossiping about the man who left for Russia, found a mistress and left his wife. Sveta, a mother of one, says, “I wonder what happened to that poor woman and her four children.” This is a fear shared by many women left behind but for Sveta and others like her there is little choice.

“If the men of the village don’t leave for migrant work, then they will simply be condemned to starve. In order to work on the land, they need investments and money.”

In Khor Virap, women’s reign is dominant in the village for almost nine months of the year while the men are in Russia. Work is hard to find and life is extremely tough. Sveta explains,

“Water is supplied every other day and for only two hours at that. If you have a pump, you fill the water up. If you don’t you have to go here and there carrying water. In other words, we can’t just work on the land, you have to go and work for someone else for a miserable amount of money.”

She adds,

“You need money for the kids’ education and that’s not an easy thing.”

Given the lack of opportunities and income, many young girls end up marrying after finishing school and their newly wed husbands then leave for migrant work. Sveta’s 17 year old daughter Mary does not even think about further education. Sveta explains,

“So she studies, where is she going to work after that? There are no jobs in the village, so why should she study?”

Tamara, a mother of three sons and in her thirties, shares a similar story. Her husband, Saro, is only home for three months of the year. It is seven years now that Sara has been a migrant worker while his wife stays at home, to look after the household. For women like Tamara who are left behind, the burden rests heavily on their shoulders:

“My day starts at six. I go to the field to work. I come home at six at night. Then I go to work in our home orchard. Then I make sure that the home is clean, and the children are not hungry, and so on, every day.”

Tamara only receives 3-4 thousand drams (4.7-6.3 pounds) for working 12 hours a day in the field. The heavy village work and over-tiredness have nevertheless left their mark. Despite being fairly young at 37, Tamara has already been operated twice for gynecological problems.

“What can I do? Look, the women in the village do not have a normal everyday life. Our health condition is not very good. We work for most of the day.”

She continues,

“It is terribly expensive to see a doctor and get a consultation. Operations are so expensive that when you have been operated on and should recuperate, you don’t have time or money for that.”

In rural villages like Khor Virap, organisations like Oxfam are supporting women to find work so that they can earn a living and not depend solely on their husband’s remittances. The Vankadzor cooperative is one such initiative which is giving women opportunities to grow and thrive on their own. Nune Avagyan, the president of the “Vankadzor” women’s consumer cooperative in Gomk community in Vayots Dzor marz, says,

“Today we have jobs, can grow different crops, and have established greenhouses and sun-drying facilities. We want to develop and produce excellent greenhouse crops in our small communities and turn our village into a little Switzerland.”

Due to the new job opportunities in the village, many young men are forgetting about leaving their homeland. This means that families can stay together and husbands can watch their children grow up. For Tamara it’s important to share the burden when her husband is home. She explains,

“I share both the worries and work of the home equally with my husband; otherwise we could not get it done.”

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