“Society without Violence” NGO was founded in 2001 aiming to protect Women’s rights in Armenia striving to reach to gender equality in all spheres. The organization carries out educational and informative programs mostly in regions and villages (Gegharkunik, Syunik, Shirak, Lori, Tavush).
Interview with Anna Nikoghosyan, Program Manager of “Society without Violence” NGO
Why there is no gender equality in Armenia, what do you think?
The reason is our way of thinking, our traditions. In our country a woman has been in the second place in all the spheres. A woman serves as a maid at home, she doesn’t have a freedom of speech, the man is the head at home and she does whatever he tells her to do. There are few women who can manifest themselves, because the women are told that they must have babies, bring them up and do the household chores. There a few women who can realize themselves in various fields.
What happens when a woman cannot realize herself, what are the consequences?
That can bring to different results, for example to violence. If the man holds the realms in the family, every single thing that he disapproves may give birth to violence. The meal may not be ready in the given time, and that may be the reason for the man to beat his wife. This is particularly common in the regions.
One of the consequences is that there are few women politicians, who would be role models for the young girls and they would strive to imitate them. Hence, the limitations in the family set up from a very young age cause us to have few women leaders. Men prevail in all the fields.
Is an Armenian woman ready to leave aside the traditional image of an Armenian woman and become a leader, be engaged in the active social and political activities, enter the political turmoil?
I think that nothing happens at once. Even if they say that the ratio of involvement of men and women in the politics has to be 50 to 50, there are no women to fill this 50 percent. And there is a reason for that. As I already mentioned families bring the girls up telling that a woman should not seek career goals as she have to bring the children up and so on.
That is why we work with women and start working from a young age, so that young girls understand that they are a full-fledged member of the society and they have something to say. We encourage them, give them the relevant skills, so if they decide that they want to realize themselves in this or that field, they have to work on themselves in order to be able to do that.
Today, we have few women leaders, however it is good that the number of woman activists is increasing, may be the organizations like ours have their contribution in this.
It was determined by the law that in the coming parliamentary elections every sixth candidate in the proportional lists should be a woman. Do you think that forcing a woman to become a deputy in the NA will give any result, or it will just provide a formal presence in the legislative body?
I think that it is artificial. Nevertheless, I have to say thatthere are some parties and some women leaders in the politics whom I respect and I think that their activities have made certain contributions to the society. But these are single cases, because in the overwhelming majority of the cases the presence of the women is formal.
I think that it is a long-term process and we cannot change everything with one law or a decision. Women have to understand that they can change something and they have to work on them. And if they do years later we will have women leaders and why not, may be one day we will have a woman president.
What do you understand under the word violence, and how do your beneficiaries perceive it?
I consider every action that is against my will as violence. Moreover, my perception and the apprehension of those women radically differ. Especially in the regions, villages when we ask what they perceive under “violence”, they consider violence only physical violence. She can also mention the psychological violence without going into details and understanding what it is. They do not speak about sexual violence at all, and they hear about the economic violence for the first time. Thus, the violence as a phenomenon is not perceived in the right way, they think that it is beating, slap, crushing, but humiliation and disrespect of woman, lowering their self estime , not letting them work is not considered violence in our society, but a common deal. So we try to change such way of thinking, to change people’s consciousness first of all.
What kinds of violence are widespread here?
I thing that here the psychological violence is more common, that is shouting at, humiliating and underestimating the woman, when the husband constantly says “You are a woman, you cannot do this, you cannot do that, sit down and shut up”.
Economic violence is also common, when the woman is not allowed to work and economically depends on her husband. It is a widespread phenomenon in the regions that a woman is not allowed to go out of the house, receive education and obtain a profession.
Do women realize that it is violence, do they know how to protect themselves?
Unfortunately, many of them do not realize that what happens to them is nothing but violence. Because if they complain to their parents, they say “He is your husband, he can hit and curse you”. They become upset and think that maybe it is normal and start to put up with it. Later on, when the situation becomes unbearable, they see that they cannot bear it anymore, another problem arises-they do not know whom to turn to.
Do they turn to the police?
Very few of them turn to the police. Even if they do, the police officer’s attitude is similar to the one of the parent: “Well, he is your husband, he can beat you once or twice, go and talk to him, try to sink the feud and understand one another”. During the training we teach them what to do in case of violence, whom to turn to, we give them the number of the hotline. However, their approach to someone’s help is somehow skeptical. They think that it is their destiny and they “have to bear their burden”, so they hush and put up.
And what should be the role of law enforcement bodies in the prevention of violence in the families?
We have a lot to do in this field. Unfortunately, our efforts and the efforts of other organizations aimed at establishing a link between the police and the families are futile. First of all, we need assurance towards the police, so that the violated woman will be sure that if she turns to the police she would be safe and protected.
There is no assurance, because the police do not respond adequately, because the police officers have the same traditional and stereotypical way of thinking. If he has the same mental outlook as the man, who violates their rights how can he help that woman?
If the woman goes to the police station and submits a complaint, because of the complaint she is subjected to a more severe violence after the return. She is forced to take the complaint back, because her husband suppresses her. And after she takes the complaint back the police officers are no longer interested in her destiny.
A police officer should learn how to treat a woman, who has been subjected to violance, how to help her, so that they do not ask the woman who is a victim of violence “Why did your husband beat you?”.
Interview by- Mery Alexanyan