"People often mix up domestic violence and a family squabble, but every conflict that may end up physical is not domestic violence," Minister of Population Riina Solman (Isamaa) told a group of pregnant women at Pelgulinna Maternity Hospital, only to be interrupted by West-Tallinn Central Hospital Women's Clinic director Piret Veerus, who stressed that physical conflict is always domestic violence.
In the days to follow, Solman followed up by saying that domestic violence is in no way justified, that all members of a family must put effort into maintaining positive relations but nobody should have to put up with domestic violence, and that she apologized if anyone thought she had justified domestic violence with her previous comment, daily Postimees writes (link in Estonian).
Several representatives of women's shelters in Estonia, including the directors of shelters in Valga County and Pärnu, found that despite any apologies and explanations to follow, the damage was already done by Solman's Monday statement, noting that while the issue of domestic violence is a complicated one, language is important, and Solman's statement reinforced abusers' behavior while also reinforcing victims' understanding that domestic violence is normal and okay in Estonian society.
Others, however, defended the minister's statement, including representatives of women's shelters in Tallinn and Viljandi, saying that it is indeed important to distinguish between family squabbles and domestic violence, and adding that Solman's comment indicated awareness of the specifics of the field.
In an editorial criticizing Solman's statement (link in Estonian), Postimees did concede one positive aspect of this week's "regrettable incident" — that society's painful reaction and sharp criticism of Solman indicate that efforts to raise awareness regarding domestic violence have begun bearing fruit, and that domestic violence has finally become an issue demanding actual attention in Estonia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla