Leaving no woman or girl behind in Armenia: Interview with Ani Jilozian, Director of Development at the Women’s Support Center
‘A powerful ripple effect in the community’
The Women’s Support Center, twice funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), is a women-led organization in Armenia. It works to protect, rehabilitate and empower survivors of domestic violence by improving service delivery, preventing violence and strengthening institutional responses.
We talked with Ani Jilozian, Director of Development at the Women’s Support Center, about its current project.
How do you ensure that women and girls in the most marginalized communities benefit from your project?
We have made a concerted effort to reach women who were displaced following the devastating 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. A year ago, most of those displaced were living with host families, relatives or in collective, state-sponsored shelters.
With the UN Trust Fund’s support, we targeted women and girls living in these shelters. In just half a year, we led multiple awareness-raising sessions, reaching 450 displaced women and girls across several regions, to inform them about domestic abuse and available support services. As a result, we have had several referrals to our Center and have also provided comprehensive domestic violence services, including shelter, to displaced women and children.
We also targeted other marginalized women, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women, women living with disabilities, women living with HIV, and others who face increased risks of violence.
Finally, word of mouth is a powerful medium in Armenia. Beneficiaries from the current and former projects, many of whom are from marginalized communities, actively share information about our Center within their own networks.
What kind of intersecting forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls are you seeing in your work, and how do you address these?
As we slowly emerge from multiple crises, it becomes even more obvious that different systems of oppression overlap and compound one another. A victim of violence, who is then displaced during war, faces additional challenges that are unique and specific to her circumstances. A woman living with disabilities, who is economically and otherwise dependent on an abusive partner, becomes even more vulnerable if her safety nets are disrupted by a crisis such as a global pandemic.
In terms of service delivery, we adopt an individualized approach. We consider all facets of a woman’s life when providing her with assistance.
At the community level, we work with our partners to educate the public about these intersectionalities and to transform attitudes and perceptions around domestic violence. We have found awareness raising to be crucial in building support among key stakeholders, developing programmes that strengthen social networks, and challenging social norms that contribute to the cycle of violence — ultimately driving social change.
Finally, we understand that women facing multiple systems of oppression remain vulnerable because they are excluded from state policies and programmes. So, at the institutional level, we work with key stakeholders to push for policy reform that ensures that marginalized women who face intersecting forms of violence receive the support they need.
Why is it important to build and strengthen the capacity of service providers in handling cases of violence against women and girls?
Taking a survivor-centred and gender-responsive approach is truly the best way to support survivors. We have seen the impacts of this approach first hand.
When we opened our Center, we were among the first organizations in Armenia to introduce feminist empowerment concepts into group sessions, where women are provided with the practical tools to identify domestic violence, discern the warning signs, and learn safety planning. Doing this creates an environment that enables women to assert themselves, increase their self-esteem, and recognize, validate and explore their feelings.
This is key to challenging the structural root causes of domestic abuse and working to overcome trauma, which then encourages them to take agency over their lives and to end the cycle of violence.
What does it mean concretely to have a survivor-centred approach when working with marginalized women?
We provide marginalized women with tools and resources to meet the goals that they have set for themselves.
We also understand that engaging survivors in the fight against domestic violence can be powerful and uplifting, both for them and for other women looking to end the cycle of abuse.
Many of our survivors have spoken out against the violence they faced and are now proud spokespersons for combating domestic abuse. This has had a powerful ripple effect in the community.