For many Armenian women, domestic violence is a fact of life. The Armenian adage, “A woman is like wool. The more you beat her, the softer she will become”, is indicative of the kind of abuse-enabling environment young men and women grow up in. Strict gender norms conspire to constrain women’s choices, and legitimize violence against the vulnerable. Just as men learn to use violence as a tool from an early age, women are taught to tolerate abuse as part of the price for relying on men for their basic needs. But with the help of NEF, women across Armenia are increasingly taking a stand against violence at home, and forging new paths for their fellow countrywomen in the process.
Take Mane, for example, who left her husband and abuser of 9 years in fear for her life and the life of her young daughter. Both sought protection at a local women’s shelter in Yerevan following a particularly brutal attack that put Mane in the hospital. A shelter staff member spoke to Mane about NEF’s ongoing initiative, which helps women survivors of domestic and sexual violence start their own small business and achieve financial independence. Soon after leaving the shelter, she attended NEF’s business development trainings, and drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to put her plan into action. With a roadmap in hand, she launched her very own bakery business, quickly making a name for herself. Now her own boss, Mane says she "struggles to keep up with demand" for her signature cakes and pastries. "It can be exhausting", she says, but "I know that my daughter and I will reap the rewards". Hers is a full-time job that brings monetary as well as intangible rewards: restored confidence, a sense of purpose, and the friendships she has made with other survivors along the way.
Survivors like thirty-five year old Anahit, who made her way to a shelter in Yerevan after her then-partner and his family made threats against her life. Though pregnant, scared, and initially hesitant to assume the breadwinner’s mantle, Anahit was determined to provide for her newborn daughter no matter the stigmas accompanying her decision. After leaving the shelter, she joined NEF’s business development trainings, and, like Mane, drafted a proposal to acquire a small grant to give life to her ideas. Now the proud owner of a laser hair removal business, Anahit holds no shame in raising her child independently: “I’m back on my feet again, and I’m not dependent on anyone. I can take care of my baby and myself.”
Survivors of domestic and sexual violence frequently report feelings of powerless and worthlessness following an assault. NEF has found that the most effective way to support survivors is to empower each to exercise what has been taken away in the moment of crisis: agency. We provide survivors with the set of technical skills and competencies needed to design and realize their own business model, and then nest these tools in strong support networks that women can fall back upon for guidance and encouragement. Our results have been promising.
We tracked our most recent batch of graduates over a 4-6 month period. Four months post-graduation, 95% of respondents reported increased self-esteem, and 89% claimed their psychological wellbeing had improved by virtue of their participation.
Given the importance of social values in shaping acceptable behavior, we also tracked attitudes and perceptions frequently used to justify domestic violence. The results demonstrate significant shifts in participant attitudes, with 89% of respondents agreeing that domestic violence is not their fault, and 69% indicating that controlling behavior is unhealthy. 84% of graduates now earn monthly incomes ranging from US$300-400 – on par with the average Armenian salary of US$340/month. Better still, most expect to see their income increase as their businesses expand.
NEF is gearing up to empower an additional 200 women to rebuild their lives over the next 2 years using this same approach. We also plan to partner with 4 local organizations to train them how to apply our model in their own communities, dramatically expanding the number of women who can be reached.
AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! IT HELPS TO MAKE STORIES LIKE ANAHIT'S AND MANE'S THE RULE, NOT THE EXCEPTION!