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Armenia’s Long Fight against Domestic Violence Continues

The country of Armenia has taken a step in the right direction by passing a law with the intent to combat domestic violence by enforcing criminal and administrative liability against those found guilty. However, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the lives and wellbeing of women and children in Armenia still remain at risk due to government negligence and failure to provide appropriate resources to survivors.

The law was passed in December with 73 votes in favor and 12 against. Opponents of the law, all of whom were members of a self-proclaimed opposition party called the Tsarukian bloc, argued it would be disrespectful to traditional Armenian values for the government to interfere in family affairs.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) voiced support for the bill, claiming it to be an essential part of a societal value system and necessary for a healthier society. “The heated discussions and the many opposing views—even regarding our society’s value system—are evidence that problems exist within our society. Any manifestation of violence is reprehensible, especially if it is taking place in the family,” ARF Supreme Council representative Aghvan Vardanyan told Yekir Media.

However, though over a month has passed since the law was imposed, there has been little to no improvement in the way in which domestic violence complaints are treated. “The new law is one important step, but until authorities take reports of domestic violence seriously and ensure that women and children get the legal, medical, and social help they need, the danger remains,” Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said.

The law classifies domestic violence as “‘a physical, sexual, psychological, or economic act of violence’ between family members, including spouses in unregistered marriages,” and includes a constituent that labels “strengthening of traditional values in the family” as a key principle. The Coalition to Stop Domestic Violence Against Women has expressed concern with the mention of “traditional values,” worrying that it could be used to reinforce problematic gender roles.

HRW spoke with 12 Armenian survivors of domestic violence. The women shared accounts of being punched, kicked, raped, struck with objects, stalked, threatened, and imprisoned within their own homes. Five women said that the assaults continued while they were pregnant. Three of those five women experienced miscarriages following a violent attack.

Many women are trapped in these life-threatening situations because they have no means to escape. Despite having a population of nearly 3 million, Armenia has only two domestic violence shelters in the entire country, both of which are in the capital and run by nongovernmental organizations. The Council of Europe indicates that there should be at least one specialized shelter in every region and one shelter space for every 10,000 people. If Armenia were to adhere to those standards, the country would have approximately 290 domestic violence shelters.

“Women in Armenia need the government to provide meaningful protection from abusive husbands and partners, not to reinforce gender stereotypes about men’s dominance or family roles that can contribute to violence in the first place,” Buchanan said.

HRW has published a list of recommendations that they believe could improve the domestic violence problem should the Armenian government be open to implementing the suggestions. Most solutions revolve around the training of law enforcement officials in how to properly respond to domestic violence claims and guide victims in the right direction toward protective services.

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