Interview with Lara Aharonyan, Chairwoman of Women's Resource Center
Your organization has started to deal with domestic violence just recently. How did it happen?
During last two years, since the case of Zaruhi, there has been much talk about domestic violence, and we -seven organizations- created a coalition “Against violence towards women”. We did various actions as a coalition, raised awareness on domestic violence hot line and I believe that after that more people learned that there is a coalition of organizations, which can support them, and more people started to call and apply to us. Before, the issue was kept hidden, people would not talk about it, and now more people apply for help.
Besides, we have started to work more with regional organizations, creating groups and helping them to raise awareness in regions, especially the remote ones, because the majority of cases were coming from distant isolated regions and when thing happen, we were already late to help.
So we can say that especially after the death of Zaruhi the social awareness on domestic violence has increased?
Yes, and people began to apply to us more, because they know what we do. Zaruhi' husband was sentenced, Mariam Gevorgyan's court investigation is in process, I do not know yet how it will end. However, people see that there is a group, which does everything to help them, they are not alone. It seems to me, that the level of confidence has raised, for more people now call us.
They began to trust because they see what we do. Prior to that we had not so openly, had not done so many awareness campaigns, but now those people who participated in our campaigns, when they learn about cases of violence, they immediately inform us or other organizations in the coalition.
Was it, most probably, the same with the case of Maro Guloyan, who recently died as a result of domestic violence?
Yes, a journalist called in the morning and told about the case, and asked what we can do. Our lawyer and I contacted the family, attended them, and met also with the case investigator.
These people did not know their basic rights, they did not know, what to do, whom to call, did not know anything about the process.
Are women's rights protected in Armenia, in your opinion? What changes had happened since the start of your organization's work?
We are now in the phase, when violence against women has started being discovered. However, we cannot say that women's right are protected and everything is well. For, firstly, we don't have a law on domestic violence, and that hinders significantly our capacities to protect women's rights in full. The cases are opened on the basis of a regular violence, and this does not help, as the nature of domestic violence differs from the regular violence, because the perpetrator and victim of violence live in the same space, also there is a question of children...Domestic violence should be regarded separately.
Are any activities carried on development of the law?
In 2010, an inter-departmental committee was established and led by the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues. Also international and local non-governmental organizations, including our organization, participate in the committee. A working plan for 2011-2014 has been developed, but it stays only on paper, and in reality, there are many things to do. The law is one of things to do, and it should have been adopted in 2011, but it has been postponed constantly. The draft has to be brought in agreement with the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence and with national legislation, because there are some contradictions with the Family Law. For different reasons, the adoption of the law is delayed, because the Government resists the law being adopted. In fact, they do not want the law passed for a number of reasons, and we struggle that it happens.
Will anything be changed if the law is adopted?
Certainly, the law solely cannot change everything, there is a lot to be done in the society, and to reach more effectiveness in our work we try to work with organizations of the coalition in unity. Nevertheless, the absence of the law substantially hinders our work.
What are going to do to change the societal attitude?
We have a great lot to do, because, unfortunately, we do not teach our children how they should behave to each other neither in school nor in the university. We need to teach children from early ages about relations between sexes. Children mainly observe these relationships only in their families, and in many cases the situation in their families is far from being perfect. Due to this, we have decided to cooperate with one organization, which will work in regions with young couples, starting their own families, with youth, families and other. Our conversation will be built around the concept of respect, as all these things happen due to lack of respect, for a man regards a woman as an object, which can be treated the way he likes.
Do the cases of domestic violence in Armenia have common features?
Mainly it starts the same way: a girl gets married, after some time she starts to complain to her parents, friends and relatives and tell that she cannot stand it anymore, that her husband beats and treats her badly. The society's approach is the same:”be patient, you have a child, it will change, it is your husband, the father of your children”. We have already two notorious cases which ended in death: the one of Zaruhi and the other of Maro.
We want the society to understand that if you don't talk about this, you bring this to death, to murder. How many families in Armenia agree that their girl be killed? We need to pose the question this way because many people think: “OK, nothing will happen, he bet her, it will pass.”
However, what is the reason that a parent forces his/her child to accommodate?
The reason is that in our society the attitude toward sex is differentiated. If you are a man, you should earn money, keep your home well, and if you are a girl, you should become a mother, should be more accommodating, patient, should devote yourself to your family. The visible inequity of the roles brings to a situation, when one constantly has the power over the other and makes decision instead of her, and sometimes it reaches its ultimate, when his caprice is not satisfied, he can end in violence: to raise a hand, to oppress psychologically. For our society teaches from the childhood that it is normal for the man to be this way, and the woman shall obey.
Thus we have a task to teach also what is a masculinity and how it should be realized? We have many cultivated and accepted bad models, that is: you are a man, you need to show your force, need to shout, beat, strike, use bad language. This model constantly is reproduced. The minors getting older learn it. Because of this, we need to work not only with women but also men.
Maybe, I am exaggerating, but I often say to mothers: you raise you children to become victims, you give a complex of a victim to your girls, telling them “you should do this way, cut your voice, a girl should not raise her voice, she should obey her brother, father, uncle.” What father or mother would agree that his/her child becomes a victim?- the question should be put this way.
How many deaths should we have that this nation understands that it is enough, we cannot continue this way. When a girl calls and tells her mother that she is beaten, not to be told be patient. What a parental attitude is this to allow your girl be treated cruelly? Armenian parents who will do everything for their children...but maybe only to their male children, because they always think that girls are not theirs, they will go to others' homes.
We as a society shall take a responsibility for all victims, we cannot sit doing nothing.
Recently people talk much, including on television, about violence, especially television soup operas with lots of violent scenes. Do you see a problem here and do you do anything against it?
Certainly, we see the problem, because television has a great influence over people. We want to place social advertisement on television but cannot afford it. The channels do not provide us with free air and ask for a lot of money for a single social ad. On the other side, they play their soup operas, which are full of violent scenes, and the society, youth and even children watch them.
There is a need for and a lack of wise people. The most important thing for them is their own interest, and they will air even garbage for that. We try to do things differently, but probably this does not reach a wider audience as it would through television.
To summarize, what should be do to prevent domestic violence, where should we start?
Firstly, we need to adopt the law on domestic violence.
Secondly, we need to teach special police force to deal with domestic violence that they can work correctly in this area. We don't have judges, prosecutors, in all these spheres we need training, so that an abused woman who applies to police trusts that her rights will be protected, and she will not become a victim of another abuse and bad attitude, this time coming from the investigator. We have many cases, when women applied to the police and faced a bad attitude during investigation, and then dropped all their complaints.
We as a non-governmental organization know in which direction we should work. Now we implement a function of an urgent response, but systemic changes are needed to ensure that the system works regardless whether we are there on not, and the women do not need to appeal to NGOs.
Interview by Mary Alexanyan