AGBU Toronto event shines a light on the unwavering spirit of women

By Anna Maria Moubayed

On Friday, March 10, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) of Toronto held a panel discussion on women’s brilliance and resilience, inspired by International Women’s Day. Sareen Kardjian, Co-Chair of the AGBU Young Professionals of Toronto (YPTO), led the panel, which featured three Armenian women in the workforce, each in different competitive industries.

Migan Megardichian, a privacy advocate and lawyer, represented the law and technology industry. She advises on privacy and data ethics with a focus on enterprise cloud services and Artificial Intelligence initiatives. Dr. Sharysse Kayoumedjian, represented the healthcare industry. She is the chief resident of wellness at the University of Buffalo. Her medical degree has led her to her final year of residency training in family medicine at the University of Buffalo. Aida Gregorian also presented at the event. Gregorian is a bilingual lawyer serving as Deputy General Counsel at Onlia headquarters in Toronto. As an advocate and researcher, she serves on several working groups advancing human rights, Indigenous Armenian issues, genocide, and cultural genocide.

Each industry brings a different set of challenges for women building their careers within it. “[As a woman], you’re generally underestimated, which can work to your benefit,” said Megardichian. In 2022, IT World Canada selected Megardichian as one of the top 20 Women in Cybersecurity. She was also the first Armenian to serve on Toronto City Council. For Megardichian, women are inherently resilient due to necessity. Women always care for those around them, especially in the communal society in which Armenian culture thrives. It also comes from generational traditions, trauma, and resilience.

“We think about generational traumas, but with that also comes generational resilience and power,” she said. According to one study, a female physician makes 74 cents for every dollar a male physician makes.

“I strive to do the best that I can while always keeping that in the back of my mind and hoping for the best for the next generation. That’s why we keep trying to do our best,” said Kayoumedjian. After setting up shop in a clinic in Yerevan to complete her residence, Dr. Sharysse Kayoumedjian experienced the stark difference between the doctor-patient relationship in Western countries and Armenia. “They dress up to see you; they bring you pastries. It’s something different. They’re so grateful that you’re there to listen to them,” she said.

For Kayoumedjian, this was a way to identify the barriers in Armenia’s healthcare system and set up a long-term goal for her career. “My long-term goal is to help establish primary care in Armenia’s healthcare system,” she said.

Also leaving for Armenia and Artsakh, Gregorian, much like many Armenians from around the world, decided to leave her job and home during the 2020 Artsakh War to play her part in humanitarian aid. In 2020, Gregorian coordinated humanitarian emergency assistance to 45,000 displaced Armenians during the war. “There’s nothing I’m more proud of than my work there today. Graduating law school, being called to the bar, certificates, diplomas, none of it is as important as my work in Artsakh,” said Gregorian.

Gregorian spoke about the challenges of understanding and dealing with the human and emotional tax of working to provide emergency humanitarian aid to those affected by war and the difficulties of speaking out on mental health within the community. “As descendants of genocide survivors, it’s particularly traumatic to witness war,” she said.

(L-R) Sareen Kardjian, Aida Gregorian, Migan Megardichian, Dr. Sharysse Kayoumedjian (Photo: Vazken Keshishian)

Through the darkest times of the war, Gregorian saw some light in power Armenian diasporans were able to create together to help. “I was able to see true collaboration between diasporans,” she said. Discussing the theme of resilience, Gregorian shared her thoughts on how she saw first-hand during the war that the strength of Armenian women is rooted in their need to survive under difficult circumstances. “To be creative and strong is embedded in an Armenian woman’s DNA. Our ancestors relied on each other as a community to lift each other, which should be an inspiration today,” she said.

In her remarks, Kayoumedjian explained that the resilience of Armenian women throughout history has been an inspiration during difficult times, especially during her medical studies. “The rewarding aspect of my career has been that I am blessed enough to be able to deliver babies. I’m glad that people trust me with that momentous event in their lives. It’s a phenomenal experience,” she said.

The most rewarding part of Kayoumedjian’s career has been that it goes beyond the job description. “It’s not just an exchange of my time for money; it’s the exchange of my time for money, for freedom, the ability to learn, the ability to mentor, the ability to protect people’s personal information, freedom to make my own decisions and not let anyone else dictate my decisions. I consider this valuable,” she said.

For Gregorian, one rewarding aspect of her career has been the awareness of boundaries between a healthy amount of work and an unhealthy amount of work. “I used to think I had unlimited energy levels, but that’s not true. So, I am learning to manage my boundaries,” she said.