The first thing you notice when you visit the website of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Armenia is Christine’s smiling portrait in the upper right corner, headset ready for the next call. Before working as an emergency call operator, Christine had spent many years looking for a job. The nature of the job did not matter that much to her, she was ready to learn a new profession. But very few places in Yerevan, Armenia, where Christine lives with her mother, would ever consider hiring someone with a physical disability.
Life for women and men with disabilities in Armenia is not easy. Beyond the many difficulties arising from lacking access to services tailored to their needs, they also face serious challenges in securing a stable income through meaningful employment. According to official statistics, unemployment among persons with disabilities is over 90 percent, which means they spend most of their time at home. Women are particularly home-bound, most of the time taking on traditional gender roles and caring for the household. In many cases, they are isolated from the society, a situation which can have severe consequences for their emotional and psychological wellbeing.
A few years ago, just as Christine was about to give up trying to find a job, she came across a recruitment programme for persons with disabilities at the National Crisis Management Center, a government agency that works on crisis response and disaster risk reduction. She applied, got called in for an interview, and received the job soon after. The program through which Christine got employed was the result of a collaboration between the Ministry of Emergency Situations and UNDP. As part of its inclusive and gender-responsive programming, the ministry was looking to diversify its team and create an enabling environment for women and men with disabilities. The Ministry of Emergency Situations recognized that effective disaster risk reduction requires the participation of all age, gender, social and vulnerable groups, both on formal and non-formal levels, to ensure coherence and comprehensiveness in building culture of resilience.
Looking to address the needs and priorities of women and men with disabilities, the ministry embarked on a series of changes. The administrative buildings were renovated with ramps and access points for people with limited mobility: accessible bathrooms, and separate rest areas for men and women. Moreover, some group activities, such as sports programs, were adjusted to be accessible for women and men with disabilities.
The changes enabled more people with disabilities to join the team. Five years after the program was launched, 13 women and 24 men with disabilities now work with the ministry in the area of disaster risk management. Christine says she feels blessed to work in a caring environment and can hardly imagine her life without her job. “My job is the greatest achievement of my life. Now I am much more confident and proud. Besides having a job, I am also given the opportunity to help others, which is a great motivation for me,” she says.
Just like Christine, Sevak was one of the pioneers to apply to the program at the National Crisis Management Center. For many years, he had been supported by several non-governmental organisations working for persons with disabilities. Often, persons with disabilities have to rely on their support to be able to survive. Finding meaningful employment was life-changing for Sevak.
When Christine and Sevak joined the team, they assisted with the renovation and adjustment processes, offering advice on how to respond to the different needs and priorities of women and men with disabilities. Being in a comfortable working environment has inspired them to do more. Christine was accepted to study at the Department of Crisis Management of the National Crisis Management State Academy and Sevak is now the Head of the Information Department at the National Center of Technical Safety.
Meanwhile, at the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Crisis Management State Academy, the work for inclusivity and gender-responsiveness continues. Last year, the academy building was renovated in order to ensure persons with disabilities have access to their educational facilities. Furthermore, the ministry revised its practices and policies related to community-based disaster preparedness planning discussions to involve women and men with disabilities in decision-making processes.
Addressing the needs of persons with disabilities is one of the most challenging sectors in Armenia. This is the first time a ministry, as a government entity, has proposed and made changes such as this, which sets an example for other ministries to follow suit. Their actions stand as an example of how to bring inclusivity and equality to the workplace. UNDP will continue to support them and give women and men with disabilities the chance they deserve.