(I wrote this text during my travel to Vienna for the OSCE conference, it was published on the blog of www.pushingthelimits.se)
While waiting to board my flight back home, I reflected on what I learned during these past 2 days in Vienna at the OSCE Supplementary Meeting on gender equality with a special focus on violence against women.
This was the first time I was participating in a conference of this scope and representing our NGO, the Women’s Resource Center. All member state representatives were invited; including civil society and government. The discussions where divided into 3 sub-topics: Protection, Prosecution and Prevention. The participants were invited to share their successful practices in the area, ask questions and give recommendations on the issue for better interventions in the future.
For the occasion, I dropped my jeans, colorful blouses and comfortable sneakers for a more “serious” look; black pants, a shirt and a conservative jacket, thinking that in order to be taken seriously by the people participating in the meeting, I needed to make some concessions.
The first day, during the civil society round table, we formed three small groups to discuss the different aspects of violence against women. I was in the group of people discussing prevention. On my right side, there was this nice lady with a long black dress from an Austrian NGO for healthy families, trying to convince me that patriarchy is actually good but poor economy and lack of support for young families and absence of grand-parents were the causes why men sometimes were violent with their wives. I had an intense urge to ask her if she had any origins from Armenia or the Caucasus? Then I refrained to make any humorous remarks, these people were really “serious” about everything and would definitely not appreciate me being sarcastic. On the other side, two women from Kyrgyzstan were trying to explain how bride snapping was an important problem they were fighting in their country and all the European looking participants were going ts ts ts, shaking their heads in real concern. In front of me, a very determined and loud woman from PAX Europe German-Austrian NGO was trying to convince everyone else by using the “poor” Kyrgyz women’s statements, that Islam was one of the causes of domestic violence. I was shocked, my pants were itching me, I wasn’t sure if it was because of the fabric or the racist, sexist and hetero-normative statements I was hearing in the middle of this peaceful gathering that was driving me mad.
The next day, a judge from Spain, presented the advanced legal system adopted by her government to fight this problem and help women in the most efficient way, another group presented their domestic violence law, others followed bringing on more and more practices from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, USA. Finally, a woman from Solidarity Africa claimed that all state members agree that this is an important issue and have been signing all kinds of conventions, but no one has been monitoring them to ensure that they are being adequately implemented. In my opinion, she is the one who voiced the most important recommendation by urging the OSCE to be stricter in monitoring member countries.
My countries’ official governmental representatives were not present to this meeting; they did not hear all the recommendations. They had not one good practice to present on the issue; they still have a hard time acknowledging that violence against women is actually a real problem in Armenia.
Sadness was what I felt throughout the meeting sessions and afterwards while walking back to my hotel in the cold November evening through the colorful Christmas decorated storefronts of this historic city. I was wondering how long it will take us Armenians to realize, how long before we acknowledge the problem, how long before the draft law on Domestic violence will pass in parliament, how long until women will finally break the silence on violence and abuse?
This November 25, with a group of activists, the Women’s Resource Center will march for the 4th consecutive year in Yerevan to raise our voices on violence against women and girls, to show our support to all those suffering silently in their homes, alone in boarding schools or at the work place.
It is so cold at the Vienna airport. Before closing my laptop, I check one last time my emails; I read the one sent by the coordinator of the November 25 events at our Center. As I go through it, I feel anger replacing my sadness; the Mayor’s office that grants permits for all kind of public actions in our city is requesting our presence for a meeting in two days, apparently we need to convince them that violence against women is a real issue in Armenia in order to receive permission to organize a march or a protest.As I board the plane for Yerevan, leaving behind the peaceful city of Vienna, I think of all the challenges awaiting me there and I try to convince myself to stay calm to be able to persevere one day at a time.
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