A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.
Recent months have seen an increase in fighting between different militia groups and the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The situation is now so bad that it seriously affects civil society organisations ability to carry out their work.
”We are deeply worried, both for the safety of our partner organisations and for all civilians who are subjected to this violence” says Ylwa Renström, Coordinator for DR Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In February this year, 11 African countries signed an agreement called the Framework of Hope for peace and security in DR Congo and the region.
The following month the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2098, in which it for the first time gave a brigade within a UN peace keeping mission (MONUSCO, DR Congo) the task of carrying out offensive operations – on its own or together with the Congolese army. The resolution also gave the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, the task of helping the parties in the framework to deliver on their commitments. Within her mission is a special mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration.
Framework without women
Mary Robinson has highlighted the crucial importance of women and women’s rights organisations being a big part of the peace work. However, the framework itself hardly mentions women – apart from stating that it’s important that ”women’s groups” know the details of the agreement. And so far, neither the framework nor the resolution have lead to any big improvements in the situation for people living in the conflict-ridden North and South Kivu.
Besides from fights constantly flaring up, UNHCR in the end of July reported an alarming rise in sexual violence in North Kivu, with a registered 705 cases January-July, compared to 108 cases during the same period last year. At the same time tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to leave their homes, fleeing the armed violence. There are several militia groups that are active in the provinces and they are fighting amongst each other as well as with the Congolese army.
Severe threats against activists
Civil society organisations operating in the Kivu regions, are used to working under difficult conditions security-wise. However, it has gone from difficult, to worse, to really dangerous.
”Earlier our partner organisations talked about, for example, getting stopped in road blocks but being able to talk their way through. Now there are times when they don’t even dare to go out. There have been several severe threats against human rights activists and many are very afraid” says Katarina Carlberg, Kvinna till Kvinna’s Field Representative in DR Congo.
”It’s crucial that the Congolese government, as well as the international community, focus on the protection of civilians and to achieve a stable security situation. This is also in MONUSCO’s mandate.”
Villagers fleeing their homes in Sake, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, after fighting erupted between FARDC Government forces and rebel groups. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.
In November last year, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the militia group M23 were responsible for nearly 200 cases of rape and arbitrary executions, during their fighting in the North and South Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, states a new report from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).
More than 350 victims and witnesses were interviewed for the report and their testimonies speak of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, like mass rape and the rape of girls as young as six years old, executions and violations resulting from widespread looting. Particularly systematic and violent was the abuse committed by FARDC elements as they retreated from the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu and regrouped in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu.
“Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a comment.
BackgroundIn April 2012, a mutiny of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu, initiated by General Bosco Ntaganda, led to the creation of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebellion.
After occupying part of Rutshuru territory from July 2012, the M23 rebellion seized the towns of Goma and Sake on 20 and 22 November 2012 respectively, while troops from the FARDC retreated towards Minova, South Kivu province.
In partial compliance with a communiqué issued on 24 November 2012 by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), M23 combatants began to withdraw from Goma and Sake on 1 December 2012.
Source: UN Joint Human Rights Office
In December 2012, a judicial investigation was launched, supported by MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DR Congo, and other partners. As of the end of March 2013, 12 senior officers had been suspended in relation to the Minova incidents while the investigation by Congolese justice authorities is ongoing.
According to UN News, the joint investigation puts poor discipline among soldiers and officers, as well as improper training and inadequate vetting mechanisms as causes behind the violations.
“I welcome the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities, including the decision to suspend senior officers allegedly connected to the mass rapes,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, Roger Meece. “The UN continues to offer its support to both the judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces. However, for this support to be continued, the ongoing investigation should be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and justice should be delivered to the victims. Future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.”
10 May, Tanzanian soldiers arrived in Goma as part of an intervention brigade of 3 069 peacekeepers, authorized by the UN for the area. The brigade is part of MONUSCO and is tasked with ”neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities”, reports UN News.
The fights in Syria started in March 2011, and, according to the UN, in February 2013 the death toll had reached 70 000. Here it's the city of Homs that is being hit by shelling. June 2012. Photo: UN Photo/David Manya.
The situation in Syria is critical, especially for women and children. Society is being destroyed by war and violence and the consequences will be long-term. The Iraqi women’s rights and peace organisation Warvin recently went to Syria and reports that women’s rights are being increasingly threatened.
In April, a representative* of the Iraqi organisation Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues visited Syria. For three days he travelled around and spoke to civilians living in various cities.
In Aleppo, all the people he met told him that living conditions are very hard and asked him for help to reach out internationally with their stories.
– The people I met told me that they haven’t had electricity for six months and that the mobile phones don’t work. Everything is expensive, if you want to buy 1 kilogram of potatoes, it costs more than 4 dollars. Also, they don’t have any gas or petrol. I saw many people who were sick, but treatment and medicine is very expensive, if available at all.
We’ve heard reports about sexual violence during the conflict. Did people say anything about that?
–Because of the situation it’s difficult to find any documentation. But people told me that many women were raped. One big problem is that if for example you are a sunni muslim man who rape a shia or Alawi muslim woman, it is seen as a success story.
You mean that rape is used as a tool to punish other religious or ethnic groups?
– Yes, exactly.
Conservative group in control
Another thing that worries the Warvin representative is the advance of the conservative military group Jabhat Al Nusra (”The support front for the people of greater Syria”), supported by Al-Quaeda. The group now controls the whole Aleppo area.
– Jabhat Al Nusra tells women and children to wear scarves. At checkpoints they stop the buses to check if the women inside wear scarves and if they don’t, they will be taken outside and punished. They cut the hair of one Kurdish girl at a checkpoint, because she didn’t wear a hijab.
The Warvin representative was also told that members of Jabhat Al Nusra throw stones on cars in Aleppo that are driven by women and that the group has forbidden women to wear jeans.
– They want to practice Islamic sharia law. In the city of Derezor, with a mixed population of Kurds, Christians and Turkomens, Jabhat Al Nusra has already established sharia courts.
No promotion of peace
He is not optimistic about the future of Syria. The different military groups are all supported by foreign actors, who push for their own interests in Syria rather than promoting peace and human rights, he says.
During his visit, he did not come across any specific peace initiatives. According to him, the Syrian opposition does not have a road-map for the future of Syria.
– They have no clear vision of what the country should be like after Assad’s regime has fallen, regarding for example human rights, women’s rights and rights of ethnic minorities.
He is disappointed about the fact that although more than two million Kurds live in Syria, the Syrian opposition has not yet recognized the difficulties this group faces. The situation for Kurds, as well as for Christians and other minority groups, was bad already under Assad, and it has not improved, he says.
– In Aleppo there have been systematic thefts taking place, supported by Jabhat Al Nusra and The Free Syrian Army. They ask Kurds and Christians to sell their houses to sunni people, and then force them to leave the city. No one looks after the rights of the Kurdish people.
International actors should take action
The Warvin representative would like to see international actors like the United States and countries in Europe to take action to solve the situation. In his opinion, European countries should force China, Iran and Russia to cut their funding to Bashar Al-Assad’s government. He also thinks that they should ask Saudi Arabia and Turkey and others to cut their funding of fundamentalistic islamic groups.
– This is crucial for democracy, women’s rights, human rights and freedom of speech. People wanted to get rid of Assad because of a lack of democracy. If fundamentlist groups take control over Syria, the war will continue, says the Warvin representative.
* For safety reasons the representative wants to be anonymous.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 14 requesting the European Union to stop financial support to Egypt if the country doesn’t make considerable progress in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Members of European Parliament (MEP) asked the EU to set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt, applying the ‘more for more’ principle. High representative Catherine Ashton had been vague about the EU’s policy towards Egypt at a debate on March 13.
”While we have to show ‘strategic patience’ with the political developments in the country, we will not remain silent on issues like fundamental freedoms and human rights. At the same time we have to help meet the socio-economic expectations,” Ashton said.
With both subsidies and loans from European financial institutions taken into account, EU aid to Egypt totals 5 billion euros in 2012-2013. The European Parliament reminded the EU that part of this package is conditional on respect of human rights, democracy and economic governance, thus the EU should “set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt.” The MEPs wanted to see a focus on civil society, women and child protection.
Saba Nowzari, working with Egypt for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation, stated, that “Egypt’s institutional channels do not work, the government itself is facing lots of challenges, so the allocation directly towards women’s rights could be difficult. But nevertheless the EU should always make demands regarding human rights and specifically allocate money for women, not only for their human rights, but also for their economic growth, job opportunities and access to public space.”
The European Parliament also expressed ”deep concern” about the rise of violence directed towards women in Egypt, especially towards activists and female protesters, and urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. Another demand was the abolition of all laws allowing police and security forces to make unlimited use of violence and to pass a moratorium on the death penalty.
United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee, CC
Today, on April 17, the UN Security Council discusses the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict. The report highlights several emerging concerns, such as the practice of forced marriage by armed groups and the links between sexual violence and natural resource extraction.
“It is important that the UN Security Council continues to keep the focus on this issue. The Security Council plays a key role in preventing and combating the prevalence of sexual violence in war and conflict,” says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, and continues:
“But it is worrying that sexual violence used against political dissidents, as happened during the riots after the Kenya elections in 2007 and in Conakry in Guinea in 2009, is not mentioned in this year’s report, as it was in the last year’s. Nor can rape and serious sexual harassment Egyptian women recently suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo be found in the report. Our experience is that sexual violence and the threat thereof is one of the most common obstacles for women around the world to get access to the public sphere and to gain influence in society.
This year’s report states that:
- sexual violence is a serious war crime and elucidates that there is an evident connection to international peace and security;
- sexual violence and the number of rapes in Mali have increased;
- sexual violence is often used as a strategy to forcibly displace populations and for ethnic cleansing. One of the reasons is to get access to coveted natural resources or to facilitate drug trafficking. This happens for example in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Libya;
- in Syria, rape happens at some places and at certain times to such an extent that it could be classified as war crime and crimes against humanity. Jailed Syrian men have also been reported to be victims of rape and torture;
- forced marriage and sexual slavery has become increasingly common. Militia and guerrilla leaders in e.g. Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen abduct young girls, marry them for then be able to “legally” rape them. Other victims of sexual violence are forced to marry their abusers. This way the perpetrator gets away from punishment;
- activists, opposition, local politicians and their families are particularly vulnerable to threat of sexual violence and sexual violence.
The report also provides recommendations:
- women who get pregnant after being raped should be offered adequate care and access to safe abortion or emergency contraception pills;
- impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence should be counteracted and prohibited;
- efforts should be made for better monitoring and reporting on men as victims of sexual violence.
“In recent years, conservative forces with religious leanings take every opportunity to try to limit women’s rights. We saw this most recently in March at the UN’s
After the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the UN Security Council adopted in 2000 the Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security
,” which is about women’s rights and participation as actors in peace processes. It was followed by the Resolutions 1820
, which further strengthen articles of Resolution 1325 (1889), and specifically target sexual violence in conflict (1820, 1888, 1960).
Commission on the Status of Women. An unholy alliance between the Vatican and Iran amongst others used every opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of the effort to reach an agreement to end violence against women,” says Lena Ag and continues:
“It is therefore an important signal that the powerful G8 countries, with British conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague at the helm, adopted a declaration in support of the UN’s efforts against sexual violence in conflict last week.”
Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen
Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima from the Panzi Hospital presented the hospital's first Annual Report in Stockholm. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Katharina Andersen
One of the few functioning institutions in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo is the Panzi Hospital. Since 1999, about 30,000 women have been treated and cared for, and left the hospital empowered.
The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo was founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege in 1999, mostly to assist pregnant women. But the hospitals first surgical patient was a woman who had been raped and then shot in her vagina. This woman was to be the first of about 30.000 survivors of sexual violence who have been helped at Panzi. Beginning with the war of 1996, sexual violence in the DR Congo increased enormously and rape became a weapon of war. A study from the World Bank amongst others shows that 12 percent of the Congolese women have been raped at least once.
The Survivors of Sexual Violence Project
Experiencing so much misery, the hospital started ‘The Survivors of Sexual Violence Project’ in 2004, with the objective to provide holistic care to survivors of sexual violence. Dr. Mukwege saw the necessity of not only repairing the physical damages of rape, the psychological traumata are oftentimes more difficult to heal. Care is required that goes far beyond clinical treatment. Thus, the hospital provides counseling and guidance, psychosocial, legal and socio-economic help.
As Jan Egeland, European Director of Human Rights Watch, puts it: “Panzi Hospital and its founder, Dr. Denis Mukwege, serve as a beacon of hope for thousands of victims of rape and sexual mutilation, ranging from children to grandmothers.”
No public health facilities
The DR Congo used to be known for its well-functioning health care system; nowadays public health facilities are more or less non-existent, which affects women especially hard.
The high prevalence of rape and the fact that contraception is either too expensive or only sold to women who can prove that their husband consented to birth control, contribute to that Congolese woman have on average six children. Having been pregnant many times or being very young when getting pregnant increases the risk for serious pregnancy or birth complications.
Women’s health is furthermore threatened by the lack of educated midwives, unattended births, the enormous distances and bad road conditions, oftentimes preventing women from reaching a hospital; and last but not least widespread poverty, which makes it impossible to pay a hospital bill. Maternal mortality in the DR Congo is thus among the highest in the world.
Treatment at Panzi hospital is free for survivors of sexual violence, malnourished people and HIV/aids patients, the most vulnerable groups. “Health and human rights go hand in hand and health should be an assurance for all mothers, not just for those that can afford the services, “ says Dr. Mukwege
The UN Millenium Development Goal (MDG) 5A has the target to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent before 2015 – but with only two years left until deadline, only 50 percent are reached. Still, every day, almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, and for every woman who dies, 20 or more women experience serious complications, like obstetric fistula.
Fistula ‐ a devastating childbirth injury
Panzi hospital also provides care for women with fistula ‐ one of the most devastating childbirth injuries. A fistula develops when the head of the child during prolonged labor presses on the tissues of the vagina, cutting off the blood supply to the bladder or the rectum, which causes a hole in the tissue, through which urine or faeces pass uncontrollably.
Women with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and family, their communities ostracize them and force them to live isolated. A successful operation at Panzi means that these women not only are cured, but get back a social life.
Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima presented the first Annual Report
Panzi Hospital’s first Annual Report was recently presented in Stockholm. Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima from the hospital traveled to Stockholm to tell about the situation on the ground after the assassination attempt on Dr. Mukwege in 2012. He had to flee the DR Congo, but decided later to return, as the hospital is the place where he is needed, Grace Muhima says. He was welcomed back like a hero, thousands of women were waiting to greet him – and promised to protect him. “These women have been mistreated and raped for a long time, their rights have been violated, but they have remained courageous,” he said upon his return. “Thus, I am comfortable staying at their side to help heal them, no matter the consequences.” Local officials and MONUSCO, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo have promised increased protection for Dr. Mukwege.
The situation is very unsafe, but the hospital staff continues the work, Dr. Muhima said. She stated furthermore that the hospital needs help of the international community for capacity building and for further development to be able to help even more women. More trained midwives for example would have a tremendous impact on reducing maternal mortality.
In a misogynic country like the DR Congo, Panzi hospital is a place where women are offered the experience: somebody is on my side, somebody cares and somebody helps. Here women are not outcasts, not stigmatized.
One of the cofounders of the hospital, the surgeon Dr. Nfundiko, says: “… often people come in and have lost their hope. It is always satisfying to watch them recover and regain their hope, determination to heal and will to live.”
Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
Eight different parties have taken the Kenyan government to court over its alleged failure to protect them from sexual violence in the aftermath of the post-election clashes in 2007.
Kenya’s national elections in December 2007 were followed by widespread ethnic violence. Women and children were often targeted and sexually assaulted. Up until now the Kenyan government has not prosecuted any of the sexual offenders of the post-election violence.
A group of Kenyan civil society organizations and victims of sexual violence are now suing the government in response to its failure to act and investigate the crimes and also for the lack of protection during the riots. The government failed to properly train and prepare police to protect civilians from sexual violence, they claim. 26 per cent of the recorded rapes from that time period were committed by police officers.
General Election in Kenya 2012The next Kenyan general elections will be held on 4 March 2013, electing the President, Senators, County Governors, Members of Parliament, Civic Wards and Women County Representatives. They will be the first elections held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. Many fear for another violent election.
Physical and sexual violence targeting women is commonplace in Kenya and widely tolerated. Contributory factors are, amongst others, the low status of women in society, patriarchal values, power structures focused on male dominance and a criminal justice system that is largely inaccessible, especially to poor women, according to a recent report Battering, Rape and Lethal Violence by Claire Mc Evoy.
Women in Damascus, Photo: Trilli Bagus
February 18th to 20th, Syrian activists and members of the country’s opposition met in Stockholm for a three days conference to discuss ”Women’s Influence and Participation in a Post-Authoritarian Syria.”
Issues like gender quota, human rights, the constitution, peace and reconciliation, psychosocial support and women’s empowerment were among the discussed topics. The conference resulted in the foundation of The Syrian Women’s Network, as the participants decided to work closely together in the future.
Organized work for women’s rights might be essential to break the pattern women experienced in the Arab spring countries: To be an equal part of the revolution, but when it comes to decisions and peace making, they find themselves excluded.
One of the conferences’ participants, a female activist from Syria who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, shared her experiences of equality in decision processes at the beginning of the revolution and that this changed as the protests shifted to armed conflicts. Now women are the ones suffering the most under the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and she was worried whether women will be able to overcome the devastating effects of war and violence and find the power to get actively involved in politics.
Now might be a good moment to start to shape the role women can have in a future Syria, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for negotiation talks on February 20th, after a meeting between Russia and the Arab League. Sitting down at a negotiating table is the only way to end the conflict without irreparable damage to Syria, he said. “Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it is a road to nowhere.”
Hopefully, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, will be attended and women will sit at this negotiation table as well. This would increase the chance of lasting peace and might also be a possibility to address the question of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Until now, in only three ceasefires in the world sexual violence was ever mentioned.
Armenia is a country where one out of four women have experienced violence – mostly in their family environment. Nevertheless the government recently rejected a law against domestic violence.
“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she will get” says an Armenian proverb. Domestic violence is not only a proverb but everyday life for many Armenian women. According to an Amnesty International report from 2008, over a quarter of women in Armenia have been hit or beaten by a family member and about two thirds have experienced psychological abuse. Nonetheless, Armenia has no specific laws against domestic violence. In January, the government of Armenia even blocked what could have become the country’s first domestic violence law and recommended amendments to other existing laws instead, claiming that amendments would make a separate law unnecessary.
Anna Nikoghosyan from Society Without Violence, Armenia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Råghall
Anna Nikoghosyan from the Yerevan based NGO Society Without Violence sees in the rejection of the bill an unwillingness of the government to recognize domestic violence as a serious issue and the lack of political will to promote women’s rights and gender equality. “While our government is rejecting the law on domestic violence, there are women who suffer, who are murdered, who undergo psychological, sexual or physical abuses, who do not know where to go and how to protect themselves.”
There is no state help for women who have experienced violence, their support has been left to NGOs. But being short of funds and the fact that domestic violence is widely regarded as a taboo and a private matter makes this a challenging task.
It is deeply rooted in the patriarchal society to justify domestic violence and Anna Nikoghosyan says that many women even believe that they themselves provoke men to beat or rape them through their behavior. If a woman gets raped, it is only to be blamed on her and leaves her stigmatized and a social outcast. At the same time, a woman has to submit to a man’s sexual demands.
Most of the rapes in Armenia go unreported due to the social stigma attached to it. The official police statistic for 2012 lists 621 cases of domestic violence, 5 of which were murder. Those are only the reported incidents, the number of unreported cases is far higher. Violence often happens in the broader family context, by intimate partners or family members. To report domestic violence is equated in society with ‘destroying the family’ and is strongly stigmatized. Amnesty International suspects that crimes and violation of women’s rights “are both significantly under-reported and perpetrated with widespread impunity.”
Presidential Election in ArmeniaOn February 18 Armenia elected a new president. The only female candidate, Narine Mkrtchyan, was forced to withdraw her candidacy, according to Gulnara Shahinian from the organization Democracy Today.
Amnesty International quoted a woman who dared to say stop and break the silence: “I put up with his beatings for 14 years because that’s what’s expected here in Armenia. In the Armenian family the woman has to put up with everything, she has to keep silent. The fact that I did something about it, that I went to the police and divorced my husband – [made] people in my village point at me and say she’s crazy, look at what she did to her husband, she should have kept quiet.”
Many women who dare to file complaints often subsequently withdraw them again because of the social pressure or threats by their parents or husbands, or because the police tell them to handle that matter privately.
Corruption within the police and among judges is common, so women are often denied justice when they do take cases to court. “Because of the lack of legislation and absence of special regulation mechanisms, many domestic violence cases still remain unpunished or the court decisions are lighter than they could be in case of a separate law,” says Anna Nikoghosyan. The Armenian government’s refusal to recognize violence against women as a crime and implement a law against it is a key obstacle to justice.