By Lilit Harutiunian, and Gevorg Stamboltsian in Prague
More than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members, according to the latest report by a London-based global human rights group.
Amnesty International presented its report called “There’s no pride in silence: domestic and sexual violence against women” in Yerevan on Thursday, saying that “many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.”
“Violence in the family takes many forms, ranging from isolation and the withholding of economic necessities, to physical and sexual violence, and even murder, yet women have few options to escape situations in which they are at risk,” say the organization’s experts. “Strong family bonds are an integral aspect of Armenian culture and women who report violence are seen as threatening the family and are pressured to keep domestic violence a private ‘family matter’.”
According to Amnesty International, women in Armenia who try to report violence in the family often experience social isolation, as friends, relatives and neighbors reject them. “Women often experience reluctance on the part of the police to get involved, and in some cases the police endorse the view that domestic violence is a ‘family matter’,” the report underscores.
“It happens because laws, policies and practice discriminate against women, denying them equality with men politically, economically, and socially,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director, speaking about the general gender situation in the world.
The human rights organization says that assistance provided to victims of domestic violence in Armenia is far from being sufficient.
“Since 2002, a handful of shelters have been operating despite facing widespread criticism for their part in making domestic violence a public issue. These shelters, which are run by non-governmental organizations, are reliant on intermittent funding, and most of them have been forced to close or reduce their operations in recent years due to lack of funds.”
Amnesty International also sees some positive steps taken in Armenia towards addressing violence against women. In particular, it sees as progress the current discussion of a draft law criminalizing domestic violence as a separate offense. The organization also hails police training programs initiated to implement guidelines for police responsibilities in responding to domestic violence.
In the report, Amnesty International calls on the Armenian authorities “to clearly and forcefully condemn violence against women” and take other urgent steps “to change wider social attitudes to domestic and sexual violence”.
These steps, according to the advocacy group, must include criminalizing domestic violence, facilitating its prevention and providing support to its victims and survivors, ensuring that victims of domestic and sexual violence have access to the criminal justice system without facing pressure to withdraw their complaints and raising awareness of family violence as a crime and a human rights violation.
The report is based on Amnesty International’s research in Yerevan as well as in Gyumri and Martuni in 2007 and 2008, with the field work consisting of interviews with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, representatives of Armenian women’s NGOs, government officials, police, medial workers and legal specialists, according to Laurence Broers, Amnesty International’s researcher on Armenia. It also relies on published sources by Armenia’s academics, NGOs and media outlets.