Meet Eva Tovmasyan from Armenia
This human rights activist turned Supreme Court spokeswoman shares why she believes a personal example is the best mechanism for change.
The Press secretary of the Constitutional Court of Armenia, Eva Tovmasyan, is a master communicator. With extensive experience in the civic sector and well-versed in politics, she reveals how she was inspired to become a civic activist and why she believes it is her duty to inspire others.
When she was young, Eva wanted to be a surgeon, but fear that she would not be able to have a calm family life prevented her from pursuing this. Eva does not ascribe this opinion to conservative beliefs, but rather to her own mother’s experience of her own mother – Eva’s grandmother – being a busy medical professional. In the wake of the 2008 anti-government protests, Eva was deeply influenced by the violations of human rights which happened in the country during that time – 10 protesters were killed after a clash between the army and civilians. She joined the pro-democratic movement and gradually became interested in the protection of human rights, with politics occupying a central place in her life. Her calling proved stronger than anything else and this, Eva believes, is how it often happens in life: no matter how hard you try to be something – or someone – else, sooner or later you end up on the right path.
“In bookshops in Armenia, there are blue and pink books with professions for young boys and for young girls. When you open one, it’s a nightmare inside. Women are supposed to become hairdressers, nurses, and teachers. I find it equally unacceptable putting specific professions for boys”, Eva shares. She believes we must question these attitudes daily and try to push one another to move beyond these stereotypes.
These attitudes are to some extent reflected in the composition of the Constitutional Court: it has nine judges, eight of whom are men. But, Eva says, the staff of the Court itself, the heads of the departments and divisions, are majority female. As a woman, she says, you always need to push and make your presence known.
Eva shares the example: an upcoming public hearing needed more security inside the building. To arrange the logistics, a group of police officers arrived to speak with the heads of staff and Eva was the only woman in the group. No one would shake her hand. “Men shake each other’s hands and say their names, this is how they get to know one another, this is the corporate culture. And when in a meeting there is a female in a male-dominated environment, no one knows how to greet her. So, none of the police officers knew the right protocol, and chose to ignore me altogether. I was obliged to let them know that they could shake my hand and acknowledge me.”
Eva refuses to remain behind the scenes or to be ignored. She says she is always very vocal about situations like this one. “I find it funny when at the table for example men start to talk politics and only initiate contact with other men. So if you want to chime in, you have to fight for your place in the discussion and debate. I always try to take it lightly and not to be aggressive about it, because changing attitudes is much easier this way.”
“I refuse to see the world as male and female”, Eva says. And she is happy to say that Armenia is slowly changing in this regard. But some of the issues remain. “Every woman needs to decide what is best for her and what opportunities she has. Maybe someone wants to become a housewife and a mother, and they should be free to do so. There’s nothing shameful in being a young wife and mother if this is your dream. But there is also nothing shameful in a woman being happy in her thirties, without dreaming about finding a husband or having children. My dream is to ensure that everyone has a choice, whatever the choice may be. Women should be equipped with all the tools and opportunities to dream and to fight to make their dream come true.”
During the past year, she was mostly involved in trainings during which she explained the principles of feminism and the anti-discrimination movement with a focus on political activism. “I help people around me learn what other activists helped me learn. It is an obligation to transmit this knowledge.”
“I do not enjoy some of the ways the feminist debate is led in some societies, groups, and communities. If one takes a step back and looks around, all we can see are some justifiably angry women who are trying to raise their voices against injustice yet end up just screaming in a void. And sometimes our inability to convince people of what is right comes from this negative language. My position on this has always been to live your life as an example – not because you’re special and should be a role model, but because you can be a precedent for others. Being a woman is not a secondary role, it does not mean that someone must solve anything for you, as humans we also just reach out for support. Emancipation does not equal isolation. Life has nuances: sometimes we are happy, sometimes – angry. But there should be no hesitation when we are dreaming and fighting for our goals.”