Yulia Dubitskaya has been working for the Association of Women of Abkhazia for more than three years. Founded in 1999, the organization is focused on human rights, strengthening civil society and women’s rights issues.
There is a crisis center for women victims of domestic violence operating at the Association. The issue is one of the most tabooed in the Caucasus, however, according to Dubitskaya, the community is becoming more responsive to the problem.
Women Connecting for Peace is launching a series of interviews with women who live in the environment of unresolved and prolonged conflicts, but are nevertheless trying to change their lives for the better.
– The domestic violence is a serious issue all over the region. What is the situation like in Abkhazia?
– Abkhazia is no exception in this regard. Unfortunately, the problem is very acute, but, along with other issues, it was very difficult to make our society believe that that this problem existed. Before tackling this issue, we conducted a survey. We tried to find out the attitude of public on domestic violence. Many respondents said that the problem did not exist in Abkhazia. But after three years of work, we managed to change the attitude of people to this social issue. Many began to acknowledge that there is a problem and that it is graver than it seems.
For more than three years, we have dealt with over 500 cases, with women from different social backgrounds and different challenges. Their cases were related to psychological, physical and sexual violence, as well as economic pressure. Of course, the problem exists and it is quite critical, but I can say that a lot has been done during this time with the help of the crisis center and, in particular, with support of UN-Women.
– It looks like the women are no more afraid to speak up, in spite of the fact that these topics are tabooed in the community?
– They have become more open, despite the fact that women are very afraid of the consequences. In our society, it’s embarrassing to talk about this, because there are friends and relatives all around. This, of course, is still a problem. Women are afraid to lose their children, because fathers often take them away, hide from their mothers. But the most important thing in this regard is raising awareness among women on their rights, which we are actively working on.
– How can women contact you?
– There are several ways to do it. First and the main means is the hotline. We call it the helpline. Women can call and ask different questions and not only about domestic violence.
We advise women on various issues and offer them support, redirect them if necessary. In addition, we organize educational meetings on raising awareness on the issues of domestic violence, including in the remote villages. We also print special booklets on domestic violence and distribute them. Moreover, we organize press conferences, produce videos and cooperate with journalists. We try to talk about the issue as much as possible.
We also cooperate with law enforcement agencies to raise the level of, so to say, sensitivity to this issue among the officers. Now, all our efforts are aimed at adopting a law on domestic violence. We also have a crisis advisory center. Of course, so far, it is not the full-scale crisis center. Women cannot stay here. We had cases, when we helped them to find shelter. Another important part of our work is psychological assistance; a psychologist and a lawyer work with women.
– The older generation prefers “not to wash dirty linen in public”. Who is mostly contacting you – are these young people or the elders as well?
– You know, people of all ages are approaching us, starting from minors, the teenage girls, ending with people over 65 and 70 years old. Domestic abuse is manifested in different ways. It does not always happen between husband and wife; it can be between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law or father-in-law. The attitude is changing slowly. We started to notice that even high-ranking government officials understand the problem and how important it is to have healthy society and healthy family, so that they can pass positive experience to our future generation.
– How do men react to your work?
–Situations vary. It happens that men threaten. We had such cases even in our crisis center. But there were some positive moments as well. Every year, as a part of an international activism, Abkhazia joins sixteen-day campaign against violence. Every year we try to do something new. We had a very good project organized by our center, which was attended by male civil society activists and simply those who are active members of our community. They participated in such a project, in a photo project, where they expressed their negative attitude to domestic violence. The project had great response on social networks. We received feedback from South Ossetia, from North Caucasus. People wrote comments saying that if we were able to do it in Abkhazia, we can move further in this regard.
– Is it trendy now among young people?
– I can’t say whether it is trendy or not, but if earlier, the men were offered to participate in similar meetings, as a rule, most of them did not come. Now, they are actively taking part.
– They are no more ashamed?
– No, not anymore. They understand what it is all about. There are some men in almost every government agency, who can be contacted on this issue, and they will listen.
– Were there cases when, for example, a victim came to you and then you had to contact her relatives?
– Of course, as a rule, there is a bigger story behind every story. And, when a woman decides to speak up, for many relatives it turns out to be shocking, some of them were not even aware what had been going on in the family for a long time. Each case is different, for example, we had one case, when a family fully supported a woman. However, there was another one when the family was against publicity and we had to deal with all those angry people. Sometimes husbands made scandals. But, there were cases when men came and talked quietly, they tried to understand why it happened in their family, what could be changed and how to make things work. It happened. There were cases, extremely rarely of course, when there was hope that the situation could be changed for better on both sides.
There were also conflicts that went beyond the families and we had to resolve them. As a rule, we try to speak a language that people understand, because the perception of a person living in a rural area is different from the perception of a city resident. The family patterns in cities differ from those in the remote areas. We need to show them that there is another way out of the situation.
We are in no way promoting the destruction of the family. All we are trying to show and to prove is that it is important to maintain the mental and physical health of a woman, because she is a mother, and the deterioration of her condition will affect children in the future. We are for healthy families, for strengthening the institution of the family.