In the spring of 2009 of my freshman year at Boston College, I received an advanced study grant to travel to Armenia. As an 18-year-old of Armenian descent who had never been to the country, I had few expectations of the one month I would spend investigating small business entrepreneurship in rural Armenia.
I soon saw the links between economics, socio-cultural norms, and the status of rural women and girls, many of whom are confined to their homes. Living in disproportionate and desperate poverty, they are unable to influence or control household finances and decisions. Many of the women’s husbands work outside the country, and while this leaves their partners back home more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, women are unable to protect themselves or access basic health and reproductive services. I learned that more than half of rural Armenian women have never visited a gynecologist.
OBOS’s partner in Armenia, the “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), is working to address these inequities via education, advocacy, training and service programs throughout the country. The Association has informal branches in all 10 regions of Armenia and is headquartered in the city of Yerevan.
The main areas of focus include abortion, health care access, adolescents, advocacy and HIV/AIDS. Its work includes health clinics, one of which provides free reproductive care twice a week to women and girls, subsidized by sales of the 2010 Armenian adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”
Clinic staff undergo training at the Vernissage Reproductive Health Clinic at the St. Mary’s Family Health Centre in Yerevan, Armenia. Click the image to tour the clinic. Proceeds from the sales of the Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” are used to provide free reproductive health care to girls and women.[/caption]
I have worked on gender and economic rights in Armenia and in the greater Middle East region and witnessed first-hand the impact of poverty on access and health in these communities. For the women and girls who cannot afford health care, PAFHA’s clinics are essential lifelines.
As the president of the Boston College Armenian club, I am an active voice in the Armenian community on campus and in the greater Boston area, organizing events on the health of rural Armenian women and the Armenian Genocide, including an annual Remembrance Day gathering on campus. These are my actions — a way for me to raise awareness about human rights and engage people on issues and injustices that affect Armenian women and girls.
PAFHA’s work in Armenia, under the leadership of Meri Khachikyan, should inspire all of us who believe women’s rights are human rights. The group’s “Women’s Manifesto,” for example, is a courageous call-to-action that will soon be submitted to the Armenian government with the endorsement of approximately 500 community leaders.
Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, has called for taking up the health rights of those who cannot provide basic health services for themselves. Meri and her team are answering his call, and it is my hope that we can all do the same.
I am now applying for a Fulbright scholarship that will take me back to the Shirak province of northwest Armenia. This time I hope to build on my previous experience and further the economic rights – and ultimately the sexual and reproductive rights – of women and girls. As a young activist preparing for this assignment, and as a member of the Armenian Diaspora, I am eager to meet and listen to Meri’s experiences this October at the OBOS symposium and I hope you will join me, in person or by webcast.
Sophia Moradian is a senior at Boston College majoring in international studies with a minor in Islamic civilizations and societies. After graduation, Sophia plans to work internationally in the field of economic development and human rights.