“Women, Demystified: Overcoming Myths in Armenia’s Villages”

Myths about women’s health make their way up and down gravel stone streets, traveling from the rocky mountainside to homes casted in concrete and tufa, meandering from the bedroom to the laundry line, whispered from neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, sister to sister, mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. Myths are a way of life in the remote villages of Armenia.

Did you know that the pill causes your hair to fall out, damages your internal organs, and leads to infertility? Have you heard that condoms aren’t effective, bad for a man’s health, and causes allergies? What about the IUD? Did you know that it leads to infections and cysts? Well, if you haven’t heard about these side effects before, it’s because none of what I just wrote is true. But these are the myths I hear every week.

I’ve been working with COAF as a volunteer since the autumn of 2012, and my role has primarily been as a women’s health myth-buster. (Yes, I’m like the science educators on TV, except my myth busting is less explosive.) Each week, I accompany the Lusine Antonyan & Lusine Sahakyan dynamic duo to one of the COAF target villages. During the first couple months of my time with COAF, I was meeting with women one-on-one or in small group sessions and counseling them about their contraceptive options, alongside former volunteer, Taleen Khoury Moughamian. Since the start of the new year, I have been conducting a research study on the social influences that impact family planning decisions, as well as continuing the counseling sessions at the end of each of my interviews.

At first I was surprised by these myths about contraception that the women would relay to me and alarmed at how abortion is still used as the main method of family planning. However, in reading about Soviet health “education” campaigns and the lack of available information on this topic, I now understand why these myths have perpetuated and how the deep-seated reliance on abortion stems from Soviet ideology, policies, and current socio-economic conditions.

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When I speak with the women, I like to share anecdotes from my own experiences. Though raised in different countries and under different conditions, I, like many of the women with whom I speak, am a young woman in my mid-to-late 20s, married, and thinking about family planning. I know that by being able to relate to the women that my impact is greater. But myth busting is just touching the surface. What we need to create is a community-led initiative that will continue to spread knowledge about reproductive health, as well as help empower women and enable them to create better livelihoods.

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With the help of COAF, there will soon be a shuffle of women’s voices from up and down the gravel stone streets, from rooftop to rooftop, from home to home… but these whispering voices will have taken on a new narrative. In place of myth-spreading, there will be an exchange of knowledge. Women will become empowered to make good decisions for themselves and their families. Husbands and mothers-in-law will understand the importance of family planning for their wives, daughters-in-law, and children. The village status quo will have become a distant memory of the past.

Ani Jilozian

Fulbright Research Fellow

Masters of Public Health Student

This article originally posted in: http://coafkids.org/blog/women-demystified-overcoming-myths-in-armenias-villages/”

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