Violence Against Women in Armenia
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Population of women: 1,662,000/3,109,000
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 77
School life expectancy for women: 13
Women's adult literacy: 99%
Unemployment of women: N.A.%
Women engaged in economic activity: 49%

Source: UN Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated December 2012


last updated July 2015


In 2009, the U.N. Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) urged Armenia “to adopt comprehensive measures to address” violence against women, including strong civil and criminal domestic violence laws.[1] However, in May 2013, the Armenian government affirmatively rejected a domestic violence bill that had been in the drafting stages since 2007.[2] As of November 2014, Armenia has not enacted legislation to address the CEDAW Committee’s request. Additionally, Armenia has neither signed nor ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), which entered into force on August 1, 2014.[3]

The relationship between strong mandates for gender equality and successfully reducing domestic violence is well articulated in the above referenced Istanbul Convention. The convention recognizes that while both men and women may be perpetrators or victims of domestic violence, the “vast majority of cases are women exposed to violence…making domestic violence a gender-based phenomenon…a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women…preventing the full advancement of women.”[4]

Gender Equality

According to the Global Gender Gap Report for 2013, Armenia ranks 94th out of 136 countries for gender equality.[5] While equality of education improves Armenia’s rank (29 out of 136), the lack of participation of women in government (115 out of 136 countries) and poor health outcomes (131 out of 136) demonstrate a profound gap in equality between women and men.[6]  The report shows the gender gap has continued to widen, with Armenia’s rank dropping from 71 to 94 over the seven-year period 2007 to 2013.[7] A 2011 study conducted by Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights found that women in Armenia are highly underrepresented in official authorities and public administration.[8] The level of women’s representation in the Armenian parliament was approximately 10% in 2012, one of the lowest among the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states.[9]

The Armenian Constitution provides for equality between women and men.[10] The Constitution grants citizens universal suffrage, equal protection of human rights and dignity, civil equality, equal protection under the law, equal economic rights and equality in marriage. [11] As a general rule, “[v]iolation of human rights may be challenged in courts, including the Constitutional Court, if there are legal obstacles or legal uncertainty as regards the exercise or restoration of infringed human rights.”[12]

Armenia has also developed a gender policy strategic action plan for the years 2011-2015,[13] and reportedly a 2014-2017 Strategy on Gender Equality.[14] The 2011-2015 gender policy action plan is intended to increase participation of women in decision-making roles; reduce discrimination in employment, social services, health and education; address negative gender stereotypes; and prevent violence against women and human trafficking.[15]

In May 2013, Armenia’s Parliament adopted the law on “Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women” (Equal Rights law). The bill was characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as a “significant step forward in placing equal rights for women unequivocally in the law.”[16] The official justification for the law states: “Gender equality is considered to be one of the most basic human rights as a fundamental democratic value of European civilization and the basic principle of social justice.”[17]

The Equal Rights law prohibits direct and indirect discrimination “in all areas of public life.”[18] It specifically prohibits unequal pay or working conditions as a form of direct discrimination.[19] Additionally, the law states that it guarantees equality of opportunity and equal treatment before the law, with an emphasis on the public sector, labor, employment, health, education and voting rights.[20] The law states that violations of gender equality are violations of “due process rights” and victims of gender discrimination or other violations of equality may appeal to state and local authorities for redress.[21] The Equal Rights law also appears to allow women to apply for “judicial protection” in cases of discrimination or violations of gender equality; however the mechanism or scope of judicial intervention is not clear from the available translation of the law’s text.[22] Implementation mechanisms at the national, local and civil society levels are outlined and authorized in Articles 14-18.[23]

In enacting the Equal Rights law and related action plans and strategies, Armenia appears to be responding to repeated requests by the international community to establish an effective gender equality mechanism for the advancement of women in Armenian society.[24] However, as noted by the OSCE in December 2013, despite the considerable amount of work that went into developing Armenia’s gender policies and programs, “there are limited measureable results or specific outcomes that can be identified.”[25]

There is continuing concern about women’s equal treatment in both public and private spheres in Armenia despite the passage of the Equal Rights Law. There was significant controversy surrounding the passage of the law itself with a focus on the meaning of the term “gender equality” in the new law. Critics demanded that the term be deleted from the Equal Rights Law claiming it “undermines traditional notions of the family and fosters homosexuality.”[26] In response, the Armenian Parliament deferred any amendments to the law for at least one year while the Armenian Prime Minister, through its Women’s Council, issued a statement in support of gender equality and the new law.[27]  

Following his October 2014 visit to Armenia, the Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights urged the Armenian government to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in conjunction with work already done by the Office of Ombudsman and with others pursuant to international standards.[28]  

Domestic Violence

Prevalence of Domestic Violence

Recent research shows that domestic violence is widespread in Armenia. A survey on domestic violence in Armenia released by Proactive Society in 2011 found that 59.6% of its respondents had been subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study, released one year before, provides insight into the various forms of abuse experienced by women in Armenia. The UNFPA conducted a prevalence survey on violence against women in Armenia, including domestic violence, for the years 2008-2009.[29] In a report on the outcome of the survey released in 2010, the UNFPA found that domestic violence accounted “for the greatest share of physical and psychological” violence suffered by women in Armenia.[30] Of the women surveyed, 9% admitted to experiencing physical violence, 25% to psychological intimidation, 61% to controlling behavior, and 3.3% sexual violence, all at the hands of their domestic partners.[31]

The UNFPA stressed that incidents of domestic violence were likely under-reported by survey respondents due to a “culture of shame (and sometimes of fear) that shrouds the problem in silence [and] distorts the results.”[32] The OSCE found a “lack of consensus” among policymakers in Armenia on the prevalence of domestic violence.  This is attributable, in part, to the “increasing, but still low level of reporting of incidents of violence in the family.”[33]  Domestic abuse is still very much considered a private or family matter in Armenia. The deputy head of the UNFPA in Armenia responded to the results of the OSCE’s survey by stating that, “[w]e live in a patriarchal society. . . . The man plays the role of family protector and main breadwinner. That brings with it a sense that if he is the main breadwinner then he must have final say, and any objection to that leads to what we have.”[34]  Additionally, according to a 2008 Amnesty International report on family violence in Armenia called, “No Pride in Silence,” social attitudes in Armenia are accepting of violence against women.[35] Just as men hold attitudes of entitlement, women may be reluctant to come forward out of “fear or shame for endangering family unity and stability”, according to the 2014 report by the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights.[36]

Armenia lacks comprehensive laws on domestic violence that would make domestic violence a crime or provide a victim with an order for protection remedy. The Criminal Code does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, making it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable for intimate partner violence. However, general provisions in the criminal laws pertaining to crimes against the person may be applied to certain cases of domestic violence. Relevant provisions include: Murder (Article 104); Murder in a state of strong temporary insanity (Article 105); Causing death by negligence (Article 109); Causing somebody to commit suicide (Article 110); Infliction of willful heavy damage to health (Article 112); Infliction of willful medium-gravity damage to health (Article 113); Infliction of medium-gravity or grave damage to health in the state of temporary insanity (Article 114); Infliction of willful light damage to health (Article 117); Battery (118); Torture (Article 119) and Forced violence sexual acts (Article 140).[37] In addition, the Criminal Code prohibits illegal separation of the child from the parents (Article 167).[38]

Criminal penalties range from 8 to 15 years (or life) in prison for aggravated murder (Article 104), to fines, correctional labor or two months in prison for infliction of light injury (Article 117).[39]  The financial or other dependence of the victim on the perpetrator is treated as an aggravating circumstance under Article 110, Causing a person to commit suicide, and is an element of the offense, Forced violent sexual acts, under Article 140.[40]

A report by Proactive Society highlights the inadequacy of Armenian law in punishing acts of domestic violence and ensuring victim safety.[41] The Proactive Society report notes that while the listed criminal provisions may be used against a perpetrator, “concepts stipulated in the active Criminal Code are oftentimes ambiguous” and difficulty to apply in domestic violence situations.[42] Or, the language can be interpreted in a light favorable to a violent perpetrator, including Article 105, murder in a “fit of insanity.”[43] Under Article 105, penalties for murder are reduced to a maximum of just four years in prison if the killing was provoked by “mockery, heavy insults or other . . . immoral actions” of the victim.[44] The terms “mockery” and “heavy insults” are vague and open to wide interpretation by law enforcement and prosecutors, according to Proactive Society.[45]

Additionally, Armenia’s Criminal Procedure Code classifies several crimes relevant to domestic violence, including Articles 109 and 110, as “private prosecution cases” that may only be prosecuted on the basis of an injured party’s complaint.[46] Such cases are subject to dismissal upon reconciliation of the accused and the injured party, allowing a perpetrator to pressure a victim to drop her case.[47] Article 73 of Armenia’s Criminal Code also waives criminal liability for “not grave” offenses, such as battery or light damage to health, if the offender “reconciles with the aggrieved, mitigates or compensates the inflicted damage in some other way.”[48] Again, this allows abusers to pressure victims to withdraw complaints. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Armenia, most of the 337 domestic violence cases reported by Armenian law enforcement in 2013 were classified as “not grave” offenses of “low or medium gravity.”[49]

Response of Law Enforcement and the Judiciary

Police response is essential to the ability of victims to seek redress under the law. It is the first place that most women seek help outside of their family or church. By law, police are charged with enforcing those laws that exist to protect its citizens. Yet, according to Armenian officials, the Armenian police currently have few tools to prevent abusers from entering or returning to their home, even if it places a woman or her children in danger. In some cases, if a domestic violence incident disturbs the “public order” or “night-time silence,” police may intervene under laws regulating hooliganism or similar administrative violations.[50] Generally, however, police will only issue warnings or fines and no provisions are made for the victim’s safety.[51]

The Armenian police reported to the OSCE that officers have received new training on how to respond to domestic violence; [52]  however, the police remain reluctant to intervene in such cases.[53] The Armenian police have begun to collect some statistics on violence against women including filed complaints and whether the complaints were referred to the courts.[54]  The Armenian Police Service reported 1,759 cases of violence against women during the first nine months of 2014, 428 of which were cases of domestic violence, with 12 resulting in death.[55] In this past year, a unit in the police department serving youth has been strengthened to focus on domestic violence to promote public education in the schools and increase reporting. Efforts are also being made to increase the number of women in the police force.[56] An impartial and fully functioning judiciary is critical to the outcome of a successful adjudication of a case of domestic violence brought before the bench. To that end, Armenia reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council during its 2015 Universal Periodic Review that it had developed a Strategic Programme for Legal and Judicial Reforms, 2012 to 2016.[57] However, several HRC members encouraged Armenia to continue to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and address systemic corruption.[58]

Policy and Legislative Efforts

In May 2013, the Armenian government rejected a comprehensive domestic violence bill after years of coordinated drafting between NGOs, representatives of the Armenian government and Parliament.[59] The law would have established comprehensive civil protective measures, assistance for victims, and criminal penalties for perpetrators.[60] The drafting process began in 2007 and accelerated in 2011 after two high-profile cases of women killed by their husbands put pressure on the government to act.[61] However, the Armenian government abruptly pulled its support in 2013, stating that the draft law was not enforceable and in some cases, questioning whether domestic violence was a serious enough problem to warrant special legislation.[62] The government has said that proposed revisions to the country’s criminal laws, scheduled for enactment in 2016, will adequately address domestic violence in Armenia.[63] However, many Armenian women’s groups remain skeptical that the important victim protection and support provisions contained in the draft law will be included in the government’s proposed criminal law reforms.[64]

Armenia has adopted a 2011-2015 Strategic Action Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence.[65] The Plan establishes a number of major and sub goals. The major goals are the prevention of gender based violence; provision of comprehensive support and protection to victims of gender-based violence and prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence. Specific activities include “better monitoring of the prevalence of domestic violence, information campaigns to increase awareness about domestic violence and how to combat it, and the provision of social services.”[66] The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are delegated the authority to oversee the implementation of the Strategic Plan and the integration of domestic violence concerns in other proposed legal and judicial reforms.”[67]

The Strategic Action Plan is also intended to ensure “implementation” and “fulfillment” of Armenia’s international obligations on violence against women, including under CEDAW.[68] However one of the plan’s main goals, “to improve the system of legal protection of persons subjected to gender-based violence,”[69] was undermined when the government failed to enact any comprehensive legal protections for victims of domestic violence in 2013.[70]

The National Assembly is currently considering a draft law on “social assistance” that defines domestic violence and will regulate the provision of social assistance and support services for victims of domestic violence and trafficking.[71] 

Shelter and support for victims

According to Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) and the OSCE, Armenia provides no government funding for shelter or other services for domestic violence victims, or women victims of other forms of violence.[72] The country has two privately (foundation) funded shelters serving women victims of violence, including domestic violence.[73] These shelters offer a total of 14 shelter spaces to women and their children.[74] Based on Council of Europe recommendations on minimum standards for victim support services, Armenia requires at least 283 additional shelter spaces to adequately serve women victims of violence.[75] Armenia has one women’s crisis center in Yerevan that is run by the Women’s Rights Center.[76] The Women’s Rights Center also operates a toll-free women’s helpline offering support and counseling to women victims of domestic violence twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.[77] At least one other national helpline is also available in Armenia.[78] Four women’s counseling centers and one women’s shelter closed in May 2013 due to lack of funding.[79]  

The government’s 2011-2015 Strategic Action Plan on Gender Based Violence anticipates government support for shelters and other victim services. However, according to the OSCE, the government has yet to propose any plans to provide such services.[80]

Sexual Assault

The Armenian Criminal Code prohibits rape in Article 138 and violent sexual acts in Article 139.[81] Rape is defined as, “sexual intercourse of a man with a woman against her will, using violence against the latter or some other person, with threat thereof, or taking advantage of the woman’s helpless situation.”[82] Article 139 also requires a showing of force or other threats by the perpetrator, rather than lack of consent of the victim.[83] Article 141 prohibits statutory rape of a minor under age 16.[84] Armenia amended article 138 in 2013 to increase penalties for the rape of a minor less than 18 years of age, and for the rape of a child under 14 years of age.[85] Under Articles 138 and 139 of the Criminal Code, punishment for convicted offenders ranges from three to fifteen years, depending on the nature of the crime and whether the victim was a minor.[86]

The Criminal Code does not explicitly prohibit spousal or intimate partner rape. However, the provisions covering rape and other forms of sexual assault also do not contain any exceptions for sexual violence against a spouse or partner. In theory these provisions of the criminal code may be used to prosecute such crimes. Marital rape is a serious problem in Armenia; one NGO reported that all clients it assisted through its hotline and shelter services reported rape by their spouse.[87]

Sexual Harassment

Article 6 of the Equal Rights Act of 2013 prohibits sexual harassment as a form of direct discrimination.[88] This prohibition applies to all areas of public life, including employment.[89] Sexual harassment is defined under Article 3 as: “verbal or physical act, or any situation of sexual acts that are aimed at humiliating the dignity of the person, intimidation, hostility, humiliation, or similar situations.”[90]

The Armenian Criminal Code does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The law does prohibit lewd acts and indecent behavior.[91] Article 140 also criminalizes "forced violent acts,” which are defined as:

Forcing a person to engage in sexual intercourse, homosexuality, lesbianism or other sexual actions, by means of black mail, threats to destroy, damage or seize property, or using financial dependence or other dependence of the aggrieved, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 300 minimal salaries, correctional labor for up to two years, or imprisonment for the term of up to one year.[92]

Trafficking in Women

Armenia is a transit and source country for victims of trafficking. Armenian victims of trafficking are commonly trafficked into Turkey, the United Arab Emirates or Russia, although some victims are also trafficked to Greece and other European countries.[93] The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) reported in 2012 that Armenian authorities identified a minimum of 13 and a maximum of 60 trafficking victims each year during the years 2008 to 2011.[94] The majority of identified victims were women and most were victims of sexual exploitation.[95] Relative to other countries, Armenia has made progress in addressing trafficking of women. The United States Department of State has included Armenia on the list of “Tier 1” countries in its 2012, 2013 and 2014 Trafficking in Persons Reports.[96] Tier 1 countries are fully compliant with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.

Armenia ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) in July 2003.[97] Also in 2003, Armenia amended Article 132 to specifically prohibit human trafficking, defining it as the “sale of human beings.” Armenia amended Article 132 in 2006 to “incorporate” the definition of human trafficking as outlined in the Palermo Protocol.[98] Article 132 of the Armenian Criminal Code now defines human trafficking as:

recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person with the purpose of exploitation, as well as exploitation of a person or putting or keeping him or her in a condition of exploitation, by means of threat or use of force not dangerous for the life or health or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of deception, of abuse of trust (fraud), abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, or of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person.[99]

“Exploitation” as used in Article 132 is defined to include sexual exploitation and prostitution, forced labor, slavery (and practices similar to slavery), and organ trafficking.[100] Article 132.2 specifically prohibits trafficking in children and persons with a mental disorder, and does not require a showing of any “means” such as force or coercion.[101] Article 132.3 makes it a crime to knowingly use or purchase the services of a trafficked person.[102] While Armenian law does not explicitly say that the consent of the victim is irrelevant to establishing the crime of trafficking, regulations governing the country’s National Referral Mechanism for Trafficked Persons (NRM) make this clear, stating “[t]he consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation . . . shall not matter where any of the means [such as force or coercion] set forth [in the regulation] have been used.”[103] GRETA has requested that Armenia harmonize Article 132 with the NRM regulation.[104]

Penalties for persons convicted of trafficking related offenses increase depending on the degree of organization of the trafficking group, the violence with which the victims are trafficked and the age of the persons trafficked.[105] Amendments to the Criminal Code published in 2011 strengthened penalties for trafficking offenses, including increasing maximum criminal penalties for trafficking or kidnapping to 15 years in prison (in the presence of aggravating factors such as causing the death of the victim).[106] Courts may also “apply additional sanctions in the form of confiscation of property, revocation of the right to hold certain positions and engaging in certain activities for a maximum of three years.”[107]

Armenia has developed and adopted four National Action Plans (NAP); the most recent NAP is the National Action Plan on Fight Against Trafficking in Persons During 2013-2015 In The Republic Of Armenia.[108] According to the government, the main goal of the fourth NAP is to “further concentrate the government’s efforts on improving the identification of and support to victims of trafficking in persons by means of implementing the necessary sub-legislative reforms, creating a financial foundation, and building the capacity of the relevant stakeholders.”[109] The government developed a draft law on victim identification and assistance in 2013, however, according the U.S. State Department, “the lack of formal victim-witness protection continued to be a concern.”[110]

Armenia has established an anti-trafficking council to coordinate the various anti-trafficking efforts of several different government agencies in Armenia.[111] As noted above, Armenia has also established an NRM by government decree along with a “Regulation for the functioning of the NRM, “ which “prescribes the roles of relevant State bodies and local authorities in identifying and assisting victims of trafficking, the principles of co-operation among them, victim identification and types of assistance to victims.”[112] The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs monitors the activities of the NRM.[113]

Armenia has conducted a variety of professional training courses for law enforcement, the judiciary and prosecutors in preventing and combatting human trafficking.[114] This includes training hundreds of police and civil servants in 2013.[115] The country has pursued “robust” public awareness and prevention efforts, through state sponsored media and trainings for NGOs, labor inspectors, and other professionals who might come into contact with victims of trafficking.[116]

Victim services and support

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report for Armenia, the Armenian government, on its own initiative or in cooperation with NGOs, provided or funded health care, counseling, housing and other support for all identified victims of human trafficking.[117] However, GRETA noted that the method by which Armenia identifies trafficking victims dictates the level of support and care they receive from the government.[118] Armenia has three stages of victim identification, as defined in the NRM; according to GRETA, only victims who reach the intermediate or final identification stage are entitled to the full range of government assistance and protection.[119] Generally, a higher level of identification is dependent on the victim’s cooperation with law enforcement in the prosecution of traffickers.[120] GRETA noted that identification of victims of labor trafficking was particularly poor.[121] The 2013-2015 NAP is focused on improving the government’s efforts to identify and assist victims of trafficking, which includes revising the NRM (first established in 2008).[122]

Victims in theory also qualify as “injured parties” or aggrieved persons under Armenia’s Civil Procedure Code, which would entitle them to seek compensation from their trafficker in the course of a criminal proceeding; however no victim has been awarded any compensation under this procedure, to date.[123]

Armenia has at least two shelters for victims of trafficking run by the NGOs Hope and Help and UMCOR.