25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It’s also the launch of the 16 days campaign, backed by the UN and a range of Armenian organisations.
When I arrived in Armenia four years ago, the subject seemed to be completely taboo. So it’s encouraging that there is some greater media interest. But many media still seem to choose to ignore it. I recently gave a well-attended and well-reported press conference at the National Press Club. I thought it striking that the only remarks I made that were not reported by any of the media present were on women’s rights and domestic violence. I wonder if that was the choice of the mostly female journalists present or their mostly male editors. I fear too many people (men and women) still just think that beating and psychological abuse are acceptable ways to treat women, hiding behind the old lie that bringing the issue out into the open threatens the family – as if a family founded on fear and abuse is a healthy basis for society.
Of course it’s always important to acknowledge that this problem isn’t unique to Armenia. Gender based violence is still too prevalent in too many countries, including the UK. But that’s no excuse for not acting to stop it. In the UK, a year ago the Government adopted a wide-ranging action plan on tackling violence against women and girls.
In Armenia it’s good to see local NGOs seeking to encourage a constructive debate on the issue as the first step to changing attitudes and making domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, unacceptable in Armenia.
We recently launched the 2012 Na/Ne awards for media coverage of women’s issues, which we run each year with the British Council, OSCE, UN and other partners. There were some good pieces of journalism last year around the subject of domestic violence, but there is still a reluctance in many quarters to face the issue head on.
As a small contribution today I’d like to pass on the story of one Armenian woman, a mother of 2 children, who has had to deal with the reality of domestic violence and who received help from one of the several NGOs who are working here to make progress, the Women’s Resource Center.
“My life was hell a couple of years ago. I had 2 young kids and was subjected to both physical and emotional violence by my husband. I was afraid to leave him; he was always threatening me of taking my children from me. He used to tell me that in Armenia, men are never punished for beating their wives. The worst is that i used to believe him. I came to the crisis center of the Women’s Resource Center one day for a free legal counseling and was informed about the law in Armenia regarding my case and about my rights if I decided to leave my husband. Two months after that, I finally divorced and now live alone with my children in peace. The Women’s Center provided me the information that I needed to protect myself and my children and also the courage to do it.”