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Project Harmony Domestic Violence

Online Conference

March 14-20, 2002

Conference Overview - Polina Makievsky Country Director Project Harmony - Georgia

Introduction: Online Conference Brings Together Domestic Violence Professionals from

Caucasus, Russia and Ukraine

(Full report at Project Harmony Domestic Violence Online Conference March 14-20, 2002, Conference Overview

The problem of Domestic Violence (DV), long explored as a societal problem in many western countries, is now being shown the attention it deserves in the countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Diverse initiatives in the FSU have brought about change in legislation, social services, medical services and public awareness of the problem of DV. Today, numerous organizations work towards researching the scope and nature of DV in their countries, opening women's shelters and DV crisis centers, professionals are being trained to screen and treat DV victims and activist groups have organized effective lobbying campaigns to create legislation that gives women unprecedented rights to protect themselves from abuse. These initiatives are indicative of important steps being taken in the FSU to adequately address, however, the level of development has thus far been unequal in the various countries throughout the FSU. One primary challenge that has been noted by professionals working in this field is the overall lack of coordination of activities happening within countries. Experience of western counterparts has shown that the community coordinated response model, a multi-sector strategy for combating DV, has been the most effective – however – this approach clearly necessitates coordinated action and the work of coalition based initiatives.

To begin the process of action coordination and the development of loose professional coalitions that advocate for social change in relation to the problem of DV, Project Harmony, a US-based non-profit organization (www.projectharmony.ge) organized an Online Conference that gathered over 50 professionals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine to participate in a 5-day conference on DV.

This conference was a part of Project Harmony's Domestic Violence Community Partnership Program (DVCPP), which has worked to promote a community-coordinated response to DV in seven cities throughout Russia, Ukraine and Georgia through training with international DV specialists, organization of professional coalitions, and development of public awareness campaigns to elevate the general public's knowledge about DV.

The Domestic Violence Online Conference and the Domestic Violence Community Partnership Program are sponsored by the US Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Conference Goals

The primary objective of the Online Conference was to bring together diverse professionals from several FSU countries to communicate about the progress of their DV prevention work and explore avenues for future collaboration. This conference was intended to be a pilot event that would demonstrate to international and local organizations the need for continued DV activities as well as the priority areas for training, outreach and advocacy development.

The three main goals of the conference, as presented to the conference participants on the invitation and conference space were:

Conference Participants

While Project Harmony staff initially had modest expectations for conference participation and set the participants' list at a limit of 20 participants from only the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), news of the conference was quickly disseminated through listservs and word-of-mouth and interest in participation immediately grew. By the conclusion of the conference, 56 participants from the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine were registered on the conference space.

The conference participants represented a wide-cross section of professionals that are currently working on the issue of DV full-time or as part of larger initiatives. The participants included NGO professionals, legal experts, social service providers, public health workers, psychologists, educators, members of international NGOs and agencies and former Project Harmony DVCPP staff and coalition members.

In addition to the conference participants, Project Harmony invited Andrea Bernard and Diane Coffey, two DV specialists from the United States, who shared their expertise with the conference participants for a one-day question and answer panel. Ms. Bernard is Director of Operations and Communications for the Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence. As a clinician, Ms Bernard worked with the Child Witness to Violence
Project at Boston Medical Center, providing therapeutic intervention, parent education and support to families with children ages 0-8 who have been affected by witnessing violence. Ms. Coffey is the Chief of the Victim Witness Assistance Program of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. She is responsible for the coordination of victim services in the DV Unit, the supervision of Victim Witness Advocates, the development of protocols, training and outreach initiatives.

For a full contact list of conference participants, please refer to Appendix II.

Conference Format

The online conference was hosted on a web-based software platform called Webcrossing, which was designed in such a way as to allow participants the opportunity to communicate ideas, hold discussions, exchange professional documents, meet one another and participate in a question and answer panel with US experts all in one space. The conference space is structured like a virtual message board that allowed participants to post messages, ask questions and post documents in different folders or "rooms" of the conference hall.

In no way is this on-line interactive forum intended to be seen as a replacement for human communication, however, as professionals working in an international setting, we cannot always have the luxury of meeting face-to-face. There are several distinct advantages to this kind of approach in organizing meetings and conferences:

  • Participants from different countries, separated by different time zones have the opportunity to meet and have professional discussions with one another and post documents and materials
  • Since all communication on online conferences consists of series of messages, the conference leaves behind written documentation of the discussions that took place – no ideas are lost
  • Since online conferencing software are asynchronous tools (meaning they can be used by people communicating in different places at different times), this allowed participants to enter and leave conference discussions at a time convenient to them unlike live conferences which necessitate that people must meet with one another at fixed hours
  • Online conferences are cost efficient – apart from the cost of staff time needed to organize this conference, the cost of this 50+-person conference was under $150 (costs accrued due to giving participants with no internet access small stipends to go to Internet cafes.)
  • Unlike email, which can be impersonal, this software would automatically post participants' pictures along with their messages, allowing participants to recognize one another and create a direct bond with other participants
  • A screen shot from the Online Conference Introductions and Greetings Space. Participants Narbat Mursagulova (Azerbaijan) and Yuliana Melkumyan (Armenia) introduce themselves.


    An important thing to stress is that this is a very NEW technology and the field of on-line interaction is developing everyday. To ensure that participants felt comfortable using the software and communicating online, Project Harmony staff in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia conducted orientations for registered participants prior to the conference where they had the opportunity to demonstrate the online tools and allow participants to ask questions.

    The conference space was divided up into several rooms or "discussion areas" which included the following:

    • Introductions and Greetings: This space is where participants and Project Harmony conference facilitators introduced themselves and their work
    • Caucasus Café: This was an informal space that allowed conference participants to socialize with each other in a relaxed informal atmosphere.
    • Backstage Planning: This served as a planning space for Project Harmony staff only. It enabled staff to plan, provide feedback and discuss the progress of the conference. This space was not visible to conference participants.
    • Conference Hall: This was the main "workspace" where daily thematic discussions were introduced. In total, there were 5 unique discussion topics as well as one space dedicated to the Questions and Answers session with the US DV specialists.


    A screen shot of the Online Conference Main Page, which provided an introduction to the conference, an agenda and daily announcements about current discussions. On the left scrollbar, participants could see who was logged into the conference space at the same time and send them "Instant Messages."


    Conference Overview

    The Domestic Violence Conference aimed to create a venue for professionals to discuss issues relevant to DV in their respective countries and learn from one another's experience. This was done through daily thematic discussions, summarized below, as well as a one day Question and Answer Session with DV professionals from the United States.

    Day 1: Strategies of raising the public awareness on the issues of domestic violence

    The topic of raising public awareness was a very popular topic of the on-line conference. In total, 58 postings were posted on this discussion. The participants were asked some guiding questions to initiate the discussion:

    Highlights of discussion that emerged / divided by country





    1. Highlight the problem through producing several films and showing them on TV; there is a special course on DV for students at the Pedagogical University; there is a special program "DOM" in some secondary schools of Karelia aimed at detecting and preventing DV cases.
    2. Disseminate information about DV victim services. The hotline and shelter numbers are advertised in newspapers and directories. The leaflets and posters are attached at the stands of the schools, are available in other education institutions and transport. Police gives DV information leaflets to victims; many students of secondary schools received safety plans and numbers for assistance in case of need.


    Professional Challenges





    Day 2: Domestic Violence Victim Services for Women and Children

    The discussion about victim services was the most popular topic of the on-line conference. In total, 46 participants made 65 postings on the on-line conference space. The participants were asked the following guiding questions to initiate discussion:


    Highlights of discussion that emerged / divided by country






    Professional Challenges





    Day 3: Legal advocacy and working with law enforcement structures

    The facilitator opened the third day of the on-line conference with the following guiding questions for consideration to the participants:

    There were 35 postings made by the participants.

    Highlights of discussion that emerged / divided by country



    1. Participation in the debates of parliament about youth policy
    2. Seminars for young women and men with involvement of several experts in the field of women's rights and prevention of DV against women.
    3. Articles in the newspapers about violation of women's rights
    4. Talk show on DV and women rights with collaboration with private TV channel "Space"




    Professional Challenges





    Day 4: Questions and Answers with US experts - Diane Coffey and Andrea Bernard

    Diane Coffey and Andrea Bernard, two professionals working with DV victims, appeared on the online conference for a one-day Question and Answer Session. Participants addressed questions to the two specialists concerning the US experience of dealing with DV.

    National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. www.nccev.org

    Unite for Kids was developed by the Child Witness to Violence Project at Boston Medical Center. www.uniteforkids.org

    The American Academy of Pediatrics or Zero to Three. www.aap.org/www.zerotothree.org

    The most important protection tool we have here is called a restraining order or abuse prevention order. The implementation of this protection order took many years. It required the support of the battered women's movement, law enforcement and officials who write our laws.

    Day 4: Research Projects on Domestic Violence

    Research conducted about DV and exploring its nature are very important elements for raising public awareness. Participants were asked to present information about research projects and/or findings in their country.

    Highlights of discussion that emerged / divided by country



    The methods applied in the research helped to reveal the structure of DV against women define specific qualities of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, which women experience at home, at work or in society in general. The research embraced all regions of Azerbaijan, thus enabling to reflect specific peculiarities of different regions with different social-economic and cultural development.

    Here are some interesting figures: According to the results:

    As for law enforcement bodies women do not go for help there and keep their problems "inside." As the results show only 1,9% of women in case of violence go to court and 2,2% to police.


    Here are some figures from the research:

    1. No 13%
    2. Sometimes 54%
    3. Often 22%
    4. Hard to answer 10%
    1. Name Calling 17%
    2. Physical abuse 12%
    3. Psychological abuse 81%
    1. Name Calling 47%
    2. Physical abuse 28%
    3. Psychological abuse 33%

    As you can see from the above-mentioned figures the respondents avoid sincere dialogue about DV facts in their own families.

    Families in Georgia are multi-generation. It turned out that the conflicts more often happen between:

    1. Daughter-in-law and mother-in law 39%
    2. Husband and wife 35%
    3. Son-in-law and mother-in-law 8%

    The reason of conflicts between husband and wife is

    1. Economical need 29%
    2. Unemployment 21%
    3. Different values 12%
    4. Early age marriages 10%


    Lessons Learned

    This conference was a very innovative project for two main reasons – it was conducted by means of online communication tools and for the first time ever, it brought together a critical mass of DV professionals from the FSU to discuss their work on this topic. The results that have become evident as a result of this 5-day event are a good foundation for gathering knowledge and strategies for future professional events related to DV.

    Lessons Learned

    Lessons learned from the conference can be divided up into two categories – Lessons Learned about Conducting Online Events and Lessons Learned about DV Activities in the FSU.

    While the Online Conference was not intended to be a comprehensive survey of the work being done to combat DV throughout the FSU, the information collected over the course of the 5-day event has yielded some important lessons that can impact future programs and activities dedicated to the issue of DV prevention, intervention and awareness raising work.

    Lessons Learned about DV Activities in the FSU

    Lessons Learned about Conducting Online Events


    Next Steps

    The Online Conference generated many ideas and a sense of common purpose for the professionals that have been working on the issue of DV. This is a unique opportunity for partnerships and creative collaborative work to unify resources and yield more effective results. In the fifth day of the conference, participants were asked to generate their own ideas about useful ways to follow-up to the conference. The following is a list of possible follow-up events and steps to the online conference:




    The Domestic Violence Online Conference organized by Project Harmony proved to be a very effective medium for bringing together professionals dedicated to the issue of DV who are separated by time zones and countries for a period of five days to discuss professional developments in this very important social sphere. The advantage of this online conference is that it enabled the organizers to do what is often very challenging in live conferences: bringing together a large, international audience for a period of 5+ days to discuss an issue of critical importance for a cost of under $1000. While the initial goals of the conference were modest, the apparent outcomes exceeded initial expectations of the conference organizers. From participant feedback, it is clear that the conference served some additional goals in helping to establish a rapport between professionals that was non-existent prior to the conference (even amongst professionals working in the same country) and enabled DV professionals in the conference to quickly assess the progress of activities directed at preventing DV. This final conference report also serves as an important "roadmap" to the accomplishments and challenges of work in the field of DV in the NIS and points out priority areas for future funding and program activities. It is the hope of the program organizers that this conference report will serve as a resource for organizations interested in developing DV initiatives that will compliment existing initiatives.

    For more information about the DV Online Conference as well as the Project Harmony DV Community Partnership Program, please contact:

    Project Harmony




    Appendix I. Evaluation Results

    Project Harmony staff conducted a final evaluation of the conference using questionnaires that participants were requested to submit electronically. Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of the participants submitted questionnaires. The following is a summary of the evaluation results based on the responses received from the four main sections of the evaluation form.

    Technical issues

    Questions here aimed to assess how well the participants became acquainted with the online tools and made use of them during the conference and what technical problems they encountered.

    For the majority of the participants, this was the first opportunity to participate in an online conference. In spite of this, it was quite easy for them to orientate in the space and use all the tools offered by Internet. Some of them admitted the advantage of "live messages" to establish closer relationships, though most preferred the "Caucasus Café" as the optimal space for informal meetings. The lack of participants' experience in using such tools did not impede in the level of participation. Several participants noted that limited access to Internet was, however, an impediment to active participation. According to participants, the overall format of the online conference and the environment was easy-to-navigate.


    Questions here aimed to assess how well the discussion topics and time for the conference were chosen as well as the level of facilitation of the conference.

    All respondents noted that all of the discussion topics were interesting and crucial and that the duration of the conference was appropriate. Several participants underlined the importance of the topic of Public Awareness Strategies and Victims' Rehabilitation. The fact that participants could make their postings any time of the day and enter the space even on the weekend was very convenient. Some of them even suggested that they could discuss a new topic on the weekend, because they had more free time. Participants noted that they never felt alone during the conference because there was always somebody in the space, which facilitated the discussion and they assess the level of facilitation as "high" due to facilitators' professionalism and high sense of responsibility. Daily summaries of the conference were considered to be extremely useful. As far as they could make postings on previous topics, it was sometimes hard to catch up with the all of the information in different discussion rooms. The summaries gave a clear picture what was talked about in each room.

    Future Plans

    Participants were asked whether they would like to participate/assist in organizing such conferences in the future and do they consider it as an effective medium of communication.


    The majority of the participants expressed their desire to participate in future online conferences dedicated to DV, because they had perfect opportunity to exchange information and simultaneously learn about the working strategies in other countries, talk about cultural approaches to the issue of DV, and "meet" old friends.

    Spheres of improvement and difficulties

    Participants were asked to suggest what could be improved/changed for the next conference and what difficulties they came across during the conference.

    The first area of improvement according to submitted evaluations is character use. Some of the participants used Latin characters to type Russian words, which made it difficult to read by other participants. One participant suggested choosing one or two topics and engaging in more in-depth discussions. Alternatively, a workshop or training designed around one topic would be useful as follow-up.


    Participant List Omitted


    Appendix III.

    Resources – links related to DV








    http:// www.nccev.org




    Shared with permission from Polina Makievsky
    Copyright 2002 Project Harmony