Interview with Ani Jilozian - Women's Rights in a Rapidly Changing Armenia
We met Ani Jilozian in Louis Charden, a little french-inspired coffee shop with green walls. After we sat down and ordered iced mochas (10/10 would recommend) Ani started to tell us her story. Luckily for us, she could tell it to us in perfect English, since she grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Much like me, she never took much of an interest in the culture until she took her first trip to the motherland, in her case, as a Birthright Armenia volunteer. She didn't even know that there was an Eastern dialect of Armenian until she went to teach English in a small village where the only people she could talk to were a French couple. Through the simple necessity of everyday interactions, she learned the new language, and a new way of life that led her, in turn, to a new interest.
“I wasn’t really interested in women’s rights issues until I came to Armenia,” she told us, “It’s much more palpable here than in the US.”
Indeed, with around one third of Armenians living in poverty, and no laws against discrimination, sexual harassment, or domestic violence, Armenian women’s opportunities are severely limited. Although women are overtaking men in Armenian universities, they are still less likely to pursue PhD’s, and are expected to be mothers first.
Ani works at the Women’s Support Center, an organization that is dedicated to improving women’s status in society by acting as a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and working with these women to become self-sufficient through entrepreneurship programs. They also work with therapists and social workers to help raise the women's self confidence and reintegrate them into society. This is an especially important step, since most of these women suffer severe psychological damage from being in abusive relationships for 15 years on average.
Ani herself is more removed from the organization's beneficiaries, but she does many jobs for the organization, such as writing grants, managing social media, and doing training on subjects such as sexual and reproductive health.
As well as collaborating with other charitable organizations like Society Without Violence, the WSC has collaborated to do training with the Armenian police department on dealing with domestic violence. With a new police minister instated in 2013, as well as a significant number of female officers in the force, the police have been receptive to this program, and together they are making strides to combat domestic violence in Armenia.
"It's an exciting time to be pushing this agenda," Ani tells us. "5 years ago, we were always starting from zero. Nobody knew that domestic violence existed. Now, they know about it so we can start teaching them how to change it."
Ani has been working on raising awareness of women's issues through articles and reports, as well as social media. Now she is looking into using art to raise awareness. They are working on a theater production dealing with these issues in September, and looking into exciting new prospects for the future.
To Contact the Women's Support Center, click here WSC