A new life without violence

Date: Friday, May 20, 2016

Twenty-nine-year-old Mariam has been living in one of the shelters for domestic violence victims/survivors with her 8-year-old daughter for six months now. She spent five years with her abusive husband. Because Mariam’s mother disapproved of her son-in- law from the beginning, she refused to take her daughter back, leaving Mariam nowhere else to go. Mariam had found out about the existence of a shelter from a social worker from the Social Service Agency, and she made up her mind quickly: with the social worker’s help, she applied to the domestic violence victim identification group. After being granted the status of a domestic violence victim/survivor, she moved in to one of the state shelters together with her daughter.

Painting of a child living in one of the shelters; Photo: Sopho Datuashvili
“When I first walked up the stairs, I was hesitant,” Mariam says. “I was anxious, as I did not know where I was going, what life would be like here for me and my daughter, but soon I felt myself at home. In the past, I could almost never leave home; my husband would control my each and every step. Now, no one is restricting me; I can make all the decisions on my own. Most importantly, what I gained here is freedom and trust. I can now see that it’s time for me to stand strong on my feet and that I can do it. If not for the shelter, my daughter and I would probably still be living in violence.”

Just like Mariam, an increasing number of women are speaking up about domestic violence in Georgia, trying to overcome this problem and find a solution. At the same time, as a result of changes in public awareness of this problem, an increasing number of women are seeking refuge. In 2015, for example, 155 women used the shelter services throughout the country, an increase from 114 women in 2014 and only 100 women in 2013. In the first four months of 2016, 43 victims/survivors were admitted to the domestic violence shelters. The most frequent users of the shelters are women between 24 and 34 years of age(75%).

Currently, there are four state-run domestic violence shelters in Georgia, located in Tbilisi, Gori (Shida Kartli region in the east), Kutaisi (Imereti region in the west) and Signaghi (Kakheti region in the east). The latter opened in early April 2016. All were established as a result of UN Women’s support to the State Fund for the Protection and Assistance to the Victims of Human Trafficking (State Fund) in the framework of the UN Joint Programme for Gender Equality, generously funded by the Government of Sweden. The shelters are now funded and administered by the Government of Georgia.

The domestic violence shelters are safe, comfortable and child-friendly. After being admitted to the shelter, the victims/survivors are provided with medical, psychological, legal and social assistance. Aside from these benefits, they also receive vocational education and training. Domestic violence victims/survivors often do not have a job or the relevant education necessary to sustain an independent life. Therefore, shelters prioritize rehabilitation services aimed at providing vocational education, skills and employment support to the victims/survivors. All beneficiaries enjoy a personalized approach.

When Mariam was offered an opportunity to master a new profession, she chose to become a manicurist. She will graduate from her manicurist programme soon. The vocational education centre (a partner of the shelter) where she takes her courses referred her to a manicure salon for on-the- job training . Mariam drops her daughter off at school when she attends courses, and the shelter staff helps her pick the girl up from school. After having completed her education, Mariam will stay at the salon to work.
In order to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of domestic violence victims/survivors, a pilot social project has been launched in the Tbilisi shelter. The project is aimed at offering art-therapy courses to the beneficiaries to aid them in their rehabilitation and, at the same time, to teach them different crafts –sewing, embroidering, knitting, clay and enamel work, and jewelry production, among others. All beneficiaries are engaged in the project, and there are plans to replicate it in all other shelters.

However, much remains to be done in terms of expanding the geographic coverage of the shelters and increasing the quality of the different services provided. The State Fund is seeking to make the services for the victims/survivors of domestic violence more flexible and to increase access to them. A crisis centre will open in the summer of 2016 to provide temporary accommodation to alleged domestic violence victims/survivors before they are granted their official status. In addition, there are plans to develop specialized services for the victims/survivors of sexual violence in 2016; by 2017, these services will be offered to beneficiaries.

In 2014, Georgia signed the Council of Europe’s Convention on Combating and Preventing Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) and plans to ratify the Convention in the very near future. Providing victims/survivors of violence with access to high-quality services is an important part of the legal obligations thereunder. Furthermore, in response to UN Women's call to world leaders to “Step It Up” at the “Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action” on 27 September 2015 in New York – where world leaders committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030 and announced concrete and measurable actions to kick-start rapid change in their countries – the then Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili declared ending violence against women and girls and domestic violence as one of the country’s top priorities. The Prime Minister noted that Georgia is devoted to women’s rights and observing the principles of equality between women and men, and it will keep complying with the human rights protection standards in the future, as well. He stressed that the country will continue updating, revising and developing subsequent phases of the National Action Plan on gender equality, on ending domestic violence and on the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

The women discharged from the shelters are also continuing the fight against domestic violence. They often help other victims/survivors by advising them and teaching them how to act and overcome violence. They are starting a new life, yet without having broken their ties with the past. Sometimes the shelters are helping them with legal or psychological services, while other times hosting them as guests at different events. The women have an interesting tradition: the survivors, having completed rehabilitation, overcome violence and started a new life, meet with the shelter residents for discussions. These women serve as examples to encourage and show the victims/survivors still in the shelters that they, too, can make it.

Mariam, too, will soon become a successor of this tradition. After starting her job, she will save up during the first two months and then rent an apartment. The local municipality will fund her rent, and the shelter is helping her to get child support. Mariam only regrets that she has lost so many years and did not pursue this path earlier in her life. She advises other women with the same problem not to tolerate it!