As March – which we designate annually in the United States as “Women’s History Month” – comes to a close, we have gathered this evening to honor the many contributions that women, especially Armenian women, have made to society. Some people may find it odd that we continue to set aside a month to celebrate the achievements of women, for in today’s world, women are government leaders, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, astronauts, artists, CEOs of top companies, military commanders, community activists, and much more, fulfilling their ambitions and their potential alongside men.
But I welcome the opportunity to celebrate the vital role women play in society and to reinforce the message that all members of society, men and women alike, deserve equal educational and professional opportunities to achieve their full potential and contribute to the advancement of their community and country.
Speaking of Armenian women in particular, if you look around you tonight, you’ll see that we are in the company of some of best and brightest women in the country, each of them leaders in their own field, many balancing family responsibilities and successful careers. Armenia has made a great deal of progress since declaring independence 25 years ago, and Armenian women played – and continue to play – a crucial role in the prosperity Armenia enjoys today.
I am proud of the many ways the U.S. Embassy has partnered with Armenian women over the years. With programs such as our Women’s Mentoring Program, USAID grants to help women establish rural businesses, study exchange programs that allow female students to get an American education, and professional training provided to NGOs dedicated to women’s empowerment, for 25 years the United States has stood in support of Armenia’s women and their aspirations.
But more must be done. We must continue to work together to promote women’s voices and to ensure equal education, professional, and leadership opportunities for women at all levels. As you probably know, in Armenia, only 40% of working-age women are in the workforce. As much as $1.4 billion per year is lost from the Armenian GDP due to unequal opportunities for women to participate in professional and entrepreneurial activities. Less than 25% of Armenian firms have some level of female ownership and women manage only 17% of firms with five or more employees.
We hope that the necessary change can start right here in this room, by bringing together this tremendous wealth of experience and expertise and encouraging the sharing of ideas and visions for the future.
But enough from me. I look forward to hearing from our two esteemed guest speakers – Victoria Aslanian and Brigadier General Dawne Deskins – who will do so much to help shape the conversations that will occur tonight.