25 November is recognised as an international day of struggle of violence against women. For several years the Women's Resource Center marks this day with big marches, which signal the beginning of a 16-day campaign against gender-based violence.
During the campaign and on other occasions NGOs working on women rights declare that we need a law on domestic violence. There is a draft law close to its final version to be submitted to the government very soon.
We discussed the need for the Law on Domestic Violence with Lara Aharonyan, president of Women's Resource Center (WRC).
Why do we need a special law on domestic violence?
Adoption of a special law is important in several aspects. First of all, if the law is adopted, it will mean that domestic violence is defined legally and condemned, for many people in Armenia believe that there is no such a thing in Armenia. The adoption of the law will confirm that there is domestic violence in Armenia, will define its concept, the forms it can take etc.
With the adoption of the law it will become possible to collect data, which is impossible now. When we request data from the courts and police, they do not have statistics, as it is not possible to distract the cases on domestic violence from the general ones.
Another reason is that domestic violence differs from violence used by another person, because you live with a perpetrator under the same roof, and our laws do not provide for mechanisms which deal with violence occurring in a family, in a private space, including mechanisms on its prevention, on ensuring security of a victim, on handling the issue of children...
If a woman- victim of violence- goes to the police, then a judicial process starts, and until the court verdict there are no mechanisms to ensure the safety of the woman, and who knows what can happen to her during that time? The separate law will define that the state shall take responsibility to support victims of violence, shall envision services and resources for effective protection of the victim of domestic violence.
Many times when a women- victim of domestic violence, who dared to leave home-comes to us, we do not know what to do with her, for there are only two shelters, which have been opened by NGOs, and they do not have enough space. There are no any shelters in regions. The law will promote that appropriate mechanisms be established in marzes, in remote villages to address the issue of domestic violence.
In your opinion, what are the reason of violence in Armenia, are there any specific forms, conditioned by national mentality and traditions?
All around the world the reasons of domestic violence are the same, be it in Armenia, Europe, Africa or America. It comes from inequality of men and women, patriarchate. If you look down at the opposite sex, as at an inferior, it is clear that you will deal with him/her as with inferior. To demonstrate or sustain your power, you can use violence as one of the means, which allows to keep the opponent under control and in fear and to demonstrate that you are the decision-maker.
Of course, this is done subconsciously. No matter how well informed we are, we have learned since being children, that there are roles in the society, and they are not equal: the man has the power and the woman should obey.
If we want to struggle against domestic violence, we have to struggle against the roles, the gender stereotypes. Domestic violence will exist until the moment we reach gender equality.
Economic, social and other issues are factors intensifying or diminishing it, but not the essential reasons of domestic violence.
The experience of women organisations shows that in Armenia women who suffer from domestic violence apply to the police very rear, and the majority of those who apply, later take their complaints back. In your opinion, why?
It is not only in Armenia, even in countries where there are special professional courts, police, women still take back their complaints, it has rather social and psychological roots.
The woman, who goes to the police, is already vulnerable and has to go through hard processes. She has to live through the things that happened to her again, has to tell the police about it. They are going to interrogate her, question:”and what did you do?”...
The complaints are often taken back, because women do not feel protected, they continue to live with the perpetrator in the same society, and they do not know what he is able to do further. And if there are children and the woman does not work and she does not have a place to go, supporters, this makes the woman's situation harder.
She does not want or cannot go back to her parents, because there is a stereotype that if you marry you have to adjust to everything. If something goes wrong in the family, the woman is the first to be blamed: “so what happened, maybe you did something wrong?” These questions should be taken out, because whatever happens, nobody has a right to raise a hand at, pressure or use violence towards the opponent.
Because of this, many women do not know what to do and stay at home, and, as a results, awful things such as with Zaruhi, happen.
On the other hand, we do not have services, specialists, who can work with perpetrators, take corrective measures and work with families. Thus, there is little choice that women have: she has to leave the family or to keep quiet, there is no alternative to solve the situation.
If the Law on Domestic Violence is adopted, will the situation change, will the victims apply to the police?
The adoption of the law itself will not change anything. If laws alone could solve the issue, then everybody would adopt it and violence would end. However, the law is important and is a weapon in the hands of human rights defenders. On the one hand, we can inform women about it, and on the other hand, we can pressure the government that it fulfills its responsibilities defined by the law.
But now we have very limited possibilities in legal terms. So, we need both the law and activities to increase awareness.
The Draft Law on Domestic Violence was developed by the Women Rights Center since 2007. What is the reason that the law has not been adopted until now?
In our government and the National Assembly men dominate, and they are not aware of women's issues and needs. I am saying “women's” because the victims of domestic violence are mostly women. Therefore, they will not deal with these issues until they are pressured from the grassroots, NGOs and society to talk about these issues and address them.
Armenia took obligations in front of the Council of Europe and the UN, and every time it is registered that Armenia still has not adopted the law on domestic violence.
The pressure from outside and the pressure from inside, from non-governmental organisations and the cases that happened, brought the issue to its ripeness. We are pressured from every side, and arrived at the point that we cannot delay any longer with the adoption of the law.
Interview by Mary Alexanyan