Official statistics reveal that one in two women in Albania have experienced some form of violence. Gender based and domestic violence is still viewed as a private matter not to be discussed outside the home. Sida supports a UN programme that assists the government to implement the national strategy on gender equality.
If you want to know how a woman feels when she is abused, if you want to hear of her sufferings, ask Tone. Her story is painful but also inspiring for many.
Tone, 33, is mother of three children who was living in a village in Puka, north Albania. Married for ten years, she experienced the daily violence caused by her husband even in the presence of her children.
"It was an arranged marriage", Tone says." This was not what I had dreamed of. Every day, in every way, I prayed to God that he changes his behaviour. I wanted to have a real family and this was the reason that I endured the long lasting physical, psychological and sexual violence which did not stop even when I was pregnant. Violence did not even spare the kids".
Tone says that she thought of leaving behind this abusive relationship and her violent home many times but she had no one to turn to for help.
She felt ashamed, abandoned, and hopeless. Her family advised her to stay with her family and 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, advising her to follow the legal procedures for getting a protection order and report the case. She did so. She 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 helped develop a support plan for all of them. The plan was discussed and agreed with her. The support included physiological counselling and life skills development for her and the children. They were assisted to overcome the trauma and start a new life free from violence.
Qualified staff help women return to normal life
The Centre is part of the state social services and a key element of the Coordinated Response Mechanism against gender based and domestic violence. The Centre was established in 2011 with support from Sida and it offers services to around 100 victims of domestic violence per year. It has qualified staff including a psychological counsellor, social workers, a medical doctor, and a legal adviser, to help many women and girls return to normal life. The staff is trained and coached by the UN gender programme, funded by Sida.
To respond to the widespread violence, the Government in partnership with UNDP and funding from Sida has made rapid progress in criminalizing violence against women, expanding a multi-disciplinary response in several municipalities across the country, strengthening law enforcement and establishing shelter services.
As of today, 27 out of 61 municipalities have established Coordinated Community Response mechanisms that extend multidisciplinary services to domestic and gender based violence victims. Actors involved include municipalities, local police, courts, prosecutor offices, bailiff offices, medical centres, educational and employment centres and civils society organisations specialized in providing adequate services to domestic violence survivors.
Sharp increase in reporting of domestic violence
To monitor and follow-up all the reported cases, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth has set up an innovative online system to track domestic violence cases nation-wide. In addition, a hotline encourages survivors to report their domestic violence cases. Around 4,000 cases of domestic violence were reported to the police in 2015 compared to only 95 cases in 2005.
The Minister of Social Welfare and Youth in Albania Blendi Klosi underlines:
"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 in this direction".
Recently, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth in partnership with UNDP, UN Women and UNFPA as part of the Sida supported programme, have launched a nation- wide public awareness and advocacy campaign called I chose to live without violence which calls for coordinated actions to bring an end to violence against women and girls.
Birgitta Jansson, Head of Development Cooperation in the Swedish Embassy in Tirana says:
"Having good laws on gender based violence is not enough. Prevention should have its starting point in the inequalities that exist in education, economic empowerment, political participation and influence".
Starting a new life without violence
Tone and her children have started a new life away from violence. Her children are now attending school and are enjoying a peaceful environment where they feel they are valued and supported by the people surrounding them. Tone has a full time job cleaning at a hotel. She has applied for municipal social entrepreneurship funding that supports, among others, gender based and domestic violence survivors. She feels her life has changed. She is clearly seeing its promising first signs.