No longer silenced: Making intimate partner violence a thing in the past in Armenia
The first time Nina* spoke to the Women’s Support Center (WSC) was in 2020, when she participated in WSC’s workshop for displaced women from Nagorno-Karabakh. There, Nina recognized the signs of the daily abusive relationship she was experiencing, while still grieving from the war. Shortly after, WSC supported Nina to create a safety plan for her and her children to escape violence; WSC also connected Nina to legal services to better understand her rights and choices as she pursued freedom.
Since 2010, WSC has been a first point of contact for many women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) and a key agent in strengthening institutional responses to this phenomenon in Armenia. Support by a small grant by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), WSC-led project aims to support 1,080 women and girl survivors of IPV in seven regions, and internally displaced women and girls in three regions, in an effort to end the cycle of abuse in the COVID-19 and post-conflict context. The project revolves around improving attitudes and building capacities for service providers handling cases of violence. Ani Jilozian, WSC’s Director of Development, said “Only by creating systems-level changes could we develop a rights-based, multi-agency response to survivors of [IPV] and their families.”
A twice-funded grantee partner of the UN Trust Fund, WSC builds on the success from previously funded project, through which it leveraged the media to cover high-profile IPV court cases and created a ripple effect in raising awareness within the community around IPV, and strengthens its engagement approach this time around through support centers. Ani shared, “By 2020, [Armenia] had established regional domestic violence support centers in every province of the country–an initiative that the WSC was heavily involved in.” WSC provides training and ongoing mentorship to these regional support centers to ensure competent essential services for IPV survivors.
As the fast-changing socio-political landscape in Armenia affects the realities of women and girl survivors and those at risk of IPV, WSC also swiftly adapts its work. Ani highlighted the rise in cyber violence and in reports of more violent forms of abuse; notably, more women of younger age are coming forward to report violence. She said, “Now, the average woman who accesses our services is in her mid-20s. We even see young women in intimate partnerships come to us prior to marriage–something unimaginable in the past.”
WSC’s project also includes women’s economic empowerment components as part of its prevention initiative. For Nina, WSC’s vocational training programme enabled her to acquire floristry skills and eventually opened a small and growing business. Nina happily shared, “Everything in my life was in black and white. I never imagined that my life could change and that it could turn positive and full of light, that I could be an independent person, economically stable, and create a life for myself."
In Armenia, despite the adoption of the law against domestic violence and visible political will, the culture of silence around IPV coupled with political instability continue to bar survivors from reporting violence. This means that a concerted effort is necessary, and WSC is doing so through the regional support centers where hardest-to-reach women and girl survivors and at risk of IPV can seek immediate support even before violence starts.
* The survivor’s name was changed and details of her story left out to ensure her safety.