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Domestic Violence ‘Natural’ Part of Family Life in Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province

The rate of domestic violence against women as well as that of sex-selective abortions is much higher in the Armenian province of Gegharkunik than it is in the country's other provinces, Tatevik Aghabekyan, program manager at the Yerevan-based Women's Resource Center non-profit (WRC), said during a press conference today. 

The WRC recently organized a field trip to Gegharkunik to raise awareness about the different forms of violence against women and to educate the women of the province on how to protect themselves against domestic abuse.

“Choosing the province of Gegharkunik was not coincidental since they've got quite high rates of domestic assault in these areas,” Aghabekyan said, adding that most residents in Gegharkunik villages were not fully aware of the signs of domestic abuse or the definition of abusive behaviour.

“When asked whether women in their village were being subjected to domestic violence, [the residents] would reply ‘no.’ But when we asked them whether there was no family in the area where the woman was being beaten or otherwise abused, they replied unanimously that it was a ‘natural’ part of their family life. Men especially found talks about domestic violence amusing; they’d say that they could not imagine life without it: ‘How can you not beat [your wife]?'”

As part of the trip, members of the Women's Resource Center held meetings with representatives of local schools, health facilities and village administrations. “We observed that schoolchildren already had a pretty deep-set stereotypical thinking about the issue. The kids would say that 'violence is bad,' but when it came to domestic violence [against women], they'd say that it was 'an entirely different matter.' One of the boys – a 12-year-old – said that if the woman does something wrong, then she should be beaten,” Anahit Simonyan, another WRC member, said.

Social worker Anna Hovhannisyan, for her part, stated that provincial men continue to exercise control over their wives even if they are not physically present in the country. “80-90 percent of the men who work abroad use Skype to check what their wives are wearing or where they're going. Often, the woman's in-laws take on the role of the husband and oversee her every move to make sure she does not behave 'inappropriately.'”

Incidentally, Hovhannisyan added, young unmarried women in these villages were not much more independent than the married. “Their situation is quite dire; they are locked up at home since their parents believe that going to Yerevan would be 'destructive' to them. So these women are just sitting at home waiting for marriage.”

According to the WRC member, the higher level of financial security in the province is one of the most common reasons for domestic abuse victims to not report the violence. “I noticed that people in this area were quite well-off, as opposed to residents of other provinces. Financial vulnerability, combined with domestic violence, is hard to put up with, so women [living in poverty] often speak up against their abusers. Here, on the other hand, women would say, 'They take good care of us, it's okay that they beat us up occasionally.'” 

Interventions of several non-profits alone, the WRC representatives stated, are not effective enough to prevent and end violence against women and girls in this province; state-level involvement and effor is therefore required to find a solution.