One of AIWA’s global pillars focuses on social wellness, including the prevention of domestic and gender-based violence. We are committed to making lasting contributions that drive sustainable impact. In line with our social wellness goals, AIWA has continuously sponsored the Women’s Support Center (WSC), which offers the only two domestic violence shelters in Armenia, accommodating up to 24 women and children at a time. With the generous contributions from AIWA San Francisco and other private supporters, the WSC was able to purchase, renovate, and open its second safe house in 2019.
The Women Support Center’s shelters are life-saving for the hundreds of women and children who flee abusive homes and are at serious risk of physical harm. Those who take refuge at WSC’s safe houses are offered a tranquil and comfortable home where they can focus on recovery as they access comprehensive services. These services include a 24/7 hotline, social and psychological counseling, legal representation, various educational workshops, a successful economic empowerment program, and more. At the WSC’s safe houses children are given toys and books which they can play with without being punished or abused.
Once beneficiaries have worked through their trauma and are ready to reintegrate into society, the WSC supports them to live independently by providing them with clothes and everyday household items to ease their transition out of the shelter. “Seeing these women transform into empowered survivors after being traumatized, their self-esteem lowered, and their confidence completely shattered, gives AIWA the strength to continue to help provide services to victims and hopefully create change at the institutional level,” said Silva Katchiguian, president of AIWA.
Viktoria Ter-Nikoghosayn, Ph.D., world-renowned trauma expert and AIWA-SF member, had the opportunity to visit the two safe houses. She notes, “I talked to some of the women… The women and children were calm and engaged. The way Maro Matosian organizes and runs these houses is impeccable and exemplary.” Ani Jilozian, the WSC’s Director of Development, shares two important observations of the Safe House, “The kids that day decided to color the wall, and to me, this was symbolic of how their lives are slowly becoming more colorful and vibrant as they rehabilitate. I also took a picture of our little garden, where I noticed two roses, one standing strong and one drooping. To me, this was symbolic of how there are many challenges along the way, and not all stories end in success, but it is also possible to change your life’s path and to blossom.”
Domestic violence is one of the most pressing social issues in Armenia. A 2021 nationwide household survey revealed that 1 in 3 women in Armenia endure one or more forms of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, with 15% reporting physical violence, 32% psychological violence, and 7% sexual violence. Alarmingly, this same study found that nearly half of women who were physically or sexually abused remained silent about the violence, and over three-quarters of women continued to live with the abuser who physically or sexually abused them.
The Women’s Support Center has come a long way since its founding in 2010. “At the time, Tufenkian Foundation was assisting vulnerable families in the Medzamor region,” said Maro Matosian, Founder and Executive Director of WSC. “Among these impoverished families, 40% experienced domestic abuse. Upon hearing this data, the AIWA women went into action and decided to address this issue in Armenia.” Joan A Quinn, an advocate, journalist, and active AIWA member, recalls, “AIWA’s support for WSC was born when I hosted a breakfast years ago, which included US Ambassador Marie Yovanovich. Our hope to ensure the human rights of abused women and their families was formed with the guarantee of a safe house and counseling. I am proud of our progress and acknowledge we have a long road ahead as the need to help continues to grow.”
While there are many challenges along the way, AIWA is committed to making lasting contributions that drive sustained impact on women’s rights and domestic violence prevention. “Through the years, AIWA central contributed annually to WSC and AIWA affiliates from LA and SF raised significant funds to assist the victims of DV,” said Maro Matosian. “Because of their continued support, WSC was also able to do systemic work, improve legislation, cooperate with the government to develop support centers in the regions of Armenia, and train hundreds of policemen and other responders.”