Free legal aid helps women forge ahead in Albania

Anila, a married woman with three children, had lived in the neighboring Greece for around ten years.

 After the heavy financial crisis, her family no longer had a stable job. When they returned home, Anila discovered their hard-earned savings from Greece had been lost to her husband’s gambling habits.By the time she filed for divorce, she had no money left to hire a lawyer.

 “I was browsing through Facebook when I saw a centre offering free legal aid to women in my situation. Immediately I decided to ask for help,” says Anila.

 At the Civic and Legal Initiatives Centre, Anila consulted with a young lawyer who helped to walk her through the different steps of the case. The lawyer also informed her about her rights and the legal consequences of the divorce for her and children.

 Aurela Anastasi, a well-known constitutionalist in Albania and Director of the Centre, represented her during the court hearings, allowing her to successfully obtain custody of her children. Anila was also able to secure child alimony benefits to be financed by her husband.

 Anila is one of 700 women who has received free legal aid and counselling services from the Civic and Legal Initiatives Centre. Each year, this centre provides free legal aid and representation in courts to around 120 vulnerable women across the country.

Aurela Anastasi says: “Our mission is to help disadvantaged women in Albania and to provide free legal aid services to them. We represent them free of charge in courts, and when need arises, refer cases to the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination.”

 The centre also provides support to survivors of domestic violence. In monitoring court decisions in civil cases, to ensure that the law is well implemented by law enforcement agencies, the centre is making a progress towards advancing women’s rights.

 Recently, the centre reviewed 655 decisions of the Tirana District Court on divorce proceedings. The review showed that in 70 percent of the cases, it was not guaranteed that court orders on child alimony would be enforced, with no alternative solutions provided. This added to the burden of many women-headed households.  

 “These reviews provide insights into the unequal distribution of benefits among men and women in divorce cases, calling for improvements in the legislation,” Anastasi explains.

 “Alternative solutions need to be explored for state compensation of child alimony in divorce cases, especially for mothers and survivors of domestic violence. Our centre has presented concrete recommendations to relevant state authorities to push for law reform.”

 The centre is supported by UNDP with financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and in partnership with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth.This good practice has served as a good base for scaling up free legal aid to women who need it most.

 Anila is now trying hard to rebuild her future and secure a decent life for her and the children. The way ahead may look tough, but she has got company to follow her through.