“The domestic violence problem needs a process of fundamental changes” - Exclusive interview with Johanna Nelles
27 November, 2014
“The domestic violence problem needs a process of fundamental changes” - Exclusive interview with Johanna Nelles
On November 25th, protests aimed to stop violence against women, were held in 22 Georgian cities, including Tbilisi. The demonstration started everywhere at the same time at 13:00. In Tbilisi the protestors assembled in front of the parliament building and gathered signatures for a petition. To provide our readers with competent analysis about the cores and causes of gender-related violence, Georgian Journal spoke with Mrs. Johanna Nelles, the Council of Europe’s Head of
the Unit on Violence against Women from the Directorate on Human Dignity and Equality.

– What are the main challenges in the battle against domestic violence in the Caucasus region and specifically, Georgia?

– The challenges in the region are quite similar: In general there is a lack of services that are available to victims. The most acute problems are that domestic violence as such may not be recognized by all as human rights violations, as severe forms of physical violence, as gender stereotypes that play negative role and so on.

– You mentioned society having the wrong perception regarding domestic violence. That is the case in some regions where traditions mandate and even encourage violence. How do you propose we battle this phenomenon?

– We have to identify traditions that are harmful to either women or men and the key to overcoming these traditions is long-term engagement, from the government and also from members of society. To launch the process of fundamental change. And that kind of change will need generations – or at least one generation. It will not happen overnight. And of course, that kind of change will not happen without the engagement of men. Women should be seen as partners – not just partners in relationship, but partners in society as well. That requires fundamental improvement in the area of gender equality. And that’s what the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) calls for – achieving greater gender equality because that is the cause and consequence of all these forms of violence that we see.
It’s all about making sure that these cases come out, that women speak out, that society empathizes with them. That’s the momentum needed to achieve change. Otherwise, if they are afraid, if they think that they will be turned down, they will be ridiculed and they won’t be believed – then they aren’t going to try and find help. We need to create an environment where women feel comfortable with talking about what happened to them. And that of course, first and foremost, requires professional handling by the police. They need to be trained properly, laws should be placed to allow them to act and provide practical help to women. In short, practical support from professionals is step number one. And to make changes real, you should start with next generation right away. So education is key, ensuring that children grow up with correct views of how relations work, so that they are more based on making a team together, than a competition. So there are many, many building blocks to free the society from violence.

– Let’s discuss another pivotal issue – The church and religion factor in a society where the church enjoys phenomenal respect and authority. How can modern liberal values be incorporated without alienating the religious population?

– Well, it cannot be done against believers; it has to be done with them. I think the benefits of a world free of violence must be shown and demonstrated. That is something, which of course, will take time, but the Istanbul Convention for example, shows and underlines the value of human life by making sure that women do not get beaten and murdered at the hands of their husbands. And these are the kind of values that are shared relatively widely and I think any kind of religious population should embrace them.

– Let’s talk about reintegration of victims back into the society. One of the main obstacles to this is the reluctance of victims to speak out and seek shelters after facing harassment...

– The first and most important step definitely is lifting the silence around it, putting the blame on perpetrator and not on the victim and creating such kind of environment where women feel safe to say what is happening to them at home and not feel the shame and the guilt over it. Then they will speak out. When women suffer violence from their partner, they need to be given a helping hand. People need to reach out to them and that’s best done by shelters. If there is a shelter nearby, that will make it much easier for them to leave and seek understanding people. Shelter doesn’t mean just a roof over your head; it means counseling and moral support. It means rebuilding your life, legal advice on the next steps and so on.

– And how do you reintegrate into a society, which believes that if you are trying to leave your abusive husband, it is you who should be blamed?

– The views of our society will have to change – the blame should never be put on the victim. It should be accepted that the violent partner is the one who should be blamed. That’s why the Istanbul Convention asks for those both things – it asks for immediate support and protection, while at the same time it supports the long-term engagement.

– Lastly, let’s also discuss the issue of forced and arranged marriages, especially at early age. The fact that the problem persists is no secret for anyone, yet the government so far has not been able to do much to prevent it. Where do you think lies the solution to this issue?

– Again, I think this can only be solved by offering more education and starting the process of questioning traditions and attitudes that have a harmful impact on the lives of women and girls. And this can be done through finding partners among those who practice these traditions and showing them the negative effects. The Istanbul Convention covers forced marriages and it asks governments to criminalize that and offer services to victims.

– How do you propose to deal with the negative stigma in society – wherein girls who break up forced marriages, are deliberately frowned upon?

– One thing to free girls and women from any stigma is to allow for the easy annulment of such marriages in civil law, which is what the Istanbul Convention requires. It means that young women, who are leaving such a marriage, do not have to bear the stigma of a “divorced woman.” That can help you rebuild your life and help you rebuild your future.

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