On Friday, November 21, the Women’s Support Center (WSC) held an awareness and fundraising event at the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) in Arlington, Massachusetts. The program focused on women’s rights and domestic violence in Armenia, featuring WSC director Maro Matosian, teamed with Dr. Antranig Kasbarian, executive director of the Tufenkian Foundation. Attorney Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law Boston who specializes in representing women and children crime victims, provided closing remarks. The event was attended by roughly 40 women and men, most of whom had working knowledge of Armenia and the issues at hand.
Maro Matosian during her talk (photo by Chris Mensoian)
Presentations focused on the importance of bringing the domestic violence issue into Armenia’s public discourse, using the work of WSC to illustrate various points. Kasbarian began by offering a brief look at the Tufenkian Foundation, its track-record in Armenia and Artsakh, and its focus on social protection programs (including but not limited to WSC). He also wove into his narrative the changes in Armenia that have taken place in the 23 years since independence. Whereas many citizens of the 1990s looked to government as the source of all ill and the source of possible remedy, today a new grassroots landscape is opening up, featuring various civic initiatives seeking to empower citizens from the bottom-up. Within this field lies the issue of women’s rights, which has attracted numerous supporters ranging from humanitarians to avowed feminists, with many shades of involvement in-between.
Focusing on WSC, Matosian noted its establishment in 2011 through joint efforts of the Tufenkian Foundation, US AID, and the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA). Beginning with a hotline and walk-in services, WSC staff soon realized that their efforts required a full-time shelter to truly serve the needs of domestic violence victims. Today, WSC is the only facility that provides a comprehensive professional program to meet the immediate and rehabilitative needs of victims of domestic violence.
Of the many significant facts cited, the following set stood out: Since its establishment in 2010, the WSC has received 1,274 hotline calls and has provided assistance to 819 women. In 2013, the WSC had 35 women and 42 children at its shelter. To the WSC’s credit, 80 percent of the women who have made it to the shelter do not return to their abusers.
(L-R) Wendy Murphy, Maro Matosian, Antranig Kasbarian, and Martha Mensoian (photo by Chris Mensoian)
In addition to its rehabilitative programs, WSC and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women in Armenia engage in outreach activities to educate the public, empower women, and engage stakeholders. Public service announcements, protest marches, candlelight vigils, sit-ins at court houses, petitions to legislators to include domestic violence as a specific crime in the penal code, and the annual Oct. 1 National Day to Stop Domestic Violence Against Women in Armenia were enumerated as some of the methods employed to inform and educate the public, as well as the courts and police. As a result of these activities, articles on domestic violence and coverage on Armenian television has increased. A primary objective is to raise awareness of the judiciary, law enforcement, and victims of domestic violence. While much headway has been made, the WSC has a lot of work to do, including overcoming detractors who allege that raising the issue of domestic violence is tearing Armenian families apart, when in reality the perpetrators and supporters of domestic violence are those responsible for such results.
A lively question-and-answer session followed the presentations.
WSC relies mainly on private contributions from foundations and individuals. Donations to the WSC can be made by check to the Tufenkian Foundation (with “Women’s Support Center” or “WSC” in the memo line) and mailed to: The Tufenkian Foundation, 20 Capitol Drive, Moonachie, NJ 07074.
Similar events will be held in coming weeks and months. The next presentation is scheduled for Friday, February 13 in New Jersey. Stay tuned!