Making homes violence-free in Albania
If you want to know how a woman feels when she is being abused, ask Tone. Her story is painful but also inspiring for many.
Tone is 33 and a mother of three children. She used to live in a village in Puka, north Albania. Married for ten years, she experienced daily violence from her husband, sometimes even in the presence of their children.
“It was an arranged marriage,” Tone says. “It was not what I had dreamed of. Every day I prayed that he would change. I wanted to have a real family and this was the reason for enduring years of physical, psychological and even sexual violence which did not stop even when I was pregnant.”
Tone says that she thought of leaving her abusive marriage many times but she had no one to turn to for help. She felt ashamed, abandoned, hopeless. Her family advised her to stay with her husband no matter what.
One day, after having been beaten almost to death, she decided to seek help from the police.
The police acted very fast. They advised her to report the case and follow the legal procedures for getting a protection order. She did so and found protection and support at the National Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Domestic Abuse.
When Tone came to the centre, she and her children were traumatized. The staff developed a support plan for them. The plan was discussed and agreed with Tone and it included psychological counselling and life skills development for her and the children. Slowly, they started to overcome the trauma and began a new life free from violence.
The centre is part of a network of state social services and it’s a key component in the chain of actors included in the Coordinated Response Mechanism against domestic violence. The centre has been operational since 2011 and it offers services to around 100 victims of domestic violence per year. Its qualified staff including social workers, a psychological counsellor, a medical doctor and a legal adviser help the women and girls return to normal life.
Official statistics reveal that one in two women in Albania have experienced some form of violence. This situation is more severe in rural areas where women are also faced with stigma, isolation, lack of opportunities and social exclusion.
In response to this pandemic, the Government in partnership with UNDP made rapid progress in criminalizing violence against women, expanding a multi-disciplinary response approach in several municipalities across the country, strengthening law enforcement and establishing shelter services.
As of today, 27 municipalities have established Coordinated Community Response mechanisms that extend multi-disciplinary services to domestic violence victims. With UNDP support, 10 other municipalities will soon establish them as well. The mechanisms create a network between municipalities, the local police, courts and prosecutor offices, bailiff offices, medical centres, educational and employment centres, and civils society organizations in order to provide comprehensive and optimal services to survivors of domestic violence.
Efforts are also being made to raise more awareness about the issue. The Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth in partnership with UNDP have set up an innovative online system to track domestic violence cases nation-wide and a helpline that encourages survivors to report domestic violence cases. Around 4000 cases of domestic violence were reported to the police in 2015 compared to only 95 cases in 2005.
In addition, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth in partnership with UNDP, UN Women and UNFPA have launched a nation-wide public awareness and advocacy campaign called “I choose to live without violence” which calls for coordinated action to bring an end to violence against women and girls.
These interventions are only one component of a UN programme on gender equality supported by the Government of Sweden. The programme is implemented by UNDP, UN Women, IOM, UNFPA and UNICEF as they assist the government to implement the national strategy on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“Advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Albania is one of the priorities of our government and we are happy to see Swedish support going to this direction”, said Blendi Klosi, the Minister of Social Welfare and Youth in Albania.
Brian Williams, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Albania underlines: “UNDP and other UN Agencies in Albania stay committed to upholding women’s empowerment, gender equality principles, non-discrimination and elimination of domestic violence everywhere in Albania.”
Tone and her children have started a new life away from violence. Her children are now attending school and are enjoying a nurturing environment where they feel they are valued and supported by the people surrounding them. Tone now has a full time job as a cleaning lady at a hotel. She has applied for a municipal social entrepreneurship funding scheme that supports domestic violence survivors among others. She feels her life has changed and can clearly see the first promising signs of that change.