• Monday, September 22, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    HUMAN RIGHTS: Ominous Silence About Domestic Violence

    By Kester Kenn Klomegah
    MOSCOW, Apr 22 (IPS) Over a quarter of Armenian women have been hit or
    beaten by a family member and about two thirds have experienced
    psychological abuse, yet the state grossly fails to prevent, investigate
    and punish domestic violence, say researchers and rights activists.

    Levels of violence against women are roughly the same everywhere in the
    ex-Soviet countries, they add.

    "During my research on domestic violence in Belarus and Ukraine, I
    did not see any significant differences in levels of violence. What
    differs from country to country are the measures taken by the authorities
    to combat the problem and social attitudes towards women including social
    acceptance of violence," Heather McGill, a researcher with Amnesty
    International (AI) told IPS

    "In Ukraine and Armenia, the state offers minimal support to women.
    The support available is generally provided by NGOs. The situation in
    Belarus may be slightly better in that the state has preserved the rather
    paternalistic social services and social control systems inherited from
    the Soviet Union," McGill explains further.

    Ara Sanjian, a director of the Armenian Research Center at the University
    of Michigan-Dearborn in an interview with IPS, observes non-governmental
    organisations (NGOs) supported by western donors are raising the issue of
    violence against women in the country.

    "I believe there should be a more stringent law to punish extreme
    cases. However, it is more important to raise awareness of this issue, not
    only among women, but also among men," she points out, adding:
    "I have met educated women in Armenia, who see a western plot when
    matters involving the privacy of an Armenian family like incest, family
    violence, and particularly the use of contraception, are raised."

    Ukraine is the only country of the three (Armenia and Belarus) that has
    adopted a law on domestic violence. It came into effort in January 2002.
    Initially this was not very effective because it included the concept of
    "victim behaviour" – making it possible for policemen to avoid
    prosecuting the abusers and to warn the victims instead.

    McGill explains: "In one case, I spoke to a chief of police in the
    Vinnytsya region in Belarus, who informed me that the concept of victim
    behaviour was important, because if women were to alter their behaviour,
    and for instance, ensure that the house was tidy and dinner was on the
    table when the men came home, the men would no longer find it necessary to
    beat them."

    "Victim behaviour" was deleted from the law after AI launched a
    campaign.

    Laws to protect victims of domestic violence are notoriously difficult to
    legislate. Nearly everywhere in the ex-Soviet countries, lawmakers are
    very reluctant to discuss the problem.

    A women’s organisation Doverie (which means trust), a centre for
    social, psychological and legal assistance in Orsha Vitebsk region in
    Belarus, was told not to discuss such "indecent things", an
    activist who did not want to be identified, confided.

    Everywhere the police are reluctant to deal with cases of domestic
    violence, and often fail to respond adequately, or impose either minimal
    sentences or fines for domestic abuse. As a punishment, fines are
    counterproductive. It punishes the whole family by taking money out of the
    family budget.

    There is an ominous silence about violence against women by their husbands
    and partners. Most ex-Soviet countries are parties to the International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the
    Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

    In Armenia, McGill says, the institution of family is very strong.
    Consequently, no one wants to talk about the abuse. Governments too fail
    to take responsibility claiming domestic violence is a private matter.

    "One of the biggest problems is that women themselves do not come
    forward, they are ashamed to admit that they are victims and they fear
    repercussions from their families and abusive partners; they also have
    financial barriers, they cannot afford to move out and often, even if they
    divorce, they end up living in the same flat as the abuser and continue to
    be victimised," McGill said.

    "Armenia (which is a more conservative society) has some traditions
    that somehow prevent the issue from being publicised and discussed openly
    in public. Women tend to hide the problem more than seek for help,"
    Irina Alaverdyan, a public relations manger at the Policy Forum Armenia
    (PFA), a think tank in Yerevan

    The Armenian Ministry of Family and Youth runs a network of over 200
    crisis centers throughout the country that offer counseling and legal
    support to women. However, the actual quality of the support offered
    differs according to the level of expertise of the staff, and there are no
    state run shelters. The enormous restrictions faced by NGOs in Belarus
    means that it is harder for NGOs to function, and the support offered by
    NGOs is minimal.

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