By Monika Kocaqi and Dolly Wittberger
Violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights. Its different forms, including domestic violence, cause serious short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems. They also affect children, and lead to high social and economic costs for women, families, and communities. The cycle of violence is recurrent and enslaving. It leaves marks on minds, bodies, and spirits. It strikes at autonomy, destroys self-esteem, and reduces quality of life, with negative consequences for personal, family, and social relations. Committed aggressions are threatening and generally associated with social problems, unemployment, marginalization, social inequalities, loss of quality of life, increased health care costs, etc. The prevalence of violence against women is high: more than half of Albanian women (52.9 per cent) experience one or several of five types of violence (intimate partner violence, dating violence, non-partner violence, sexual harassment, and/or stalking) during their lifetime. Despite local government efforts to provide support to victims and survivors of domestic violence, the vast majority of cases remain unreported, and to openly address violence within family relations is still a taboo.
Considering the root causes of violence against women and domestic violence, and the impact on women and communities, this issue must be highlighted at the highest public levels, through continuous awareness-raising, informational, and educational activities. In order to support victims/survivors and prevent violence, it is extremely important to speak openly about the various forms of violence against women, including domestic violence. Society must recognize them as what they are; accept that they exist; discuss their signs, causes, and consequences; and ensure effective protection and prevention measures are in place. Given the long-lasting negatives effects on communities and societies at large, domestic violence cannot be considered as a private matter any longer. Communities should be supported to adequately respond to violence against women and cases of domestic violence. This is particularly true for communities in areas where outreach is limited due to geographical location, i.e. small villages or administrative units further away from the city where the Municipality is located.
Within this context, in November 2019, PLGP’s partner Municipality of Cërrik organized a kick-off event in the framework of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign against Gender-Based Violence in the Administrative Unit of Mollas. The activity was an integral part of the Mayor’s ongoing “One Month – One Community” initiative, aimed to enhance much-needed outreach to thus-far underserved Administrative Units. More than 52 participants including women, men, girls, and boys of different age groups (ranging from adolescents to elderly) participated in this activity. It was the first time that such a public activity happened in their village. For the members of this small rural community, the Mayor’s presence, as well as the presence of PLGP’s Chief of Party, sent a clear signal that they were important and considered citizens beyond the election time.
Information was provided on gender-based and domestic violence, their various forms, the protection provided by Albanian legislation, and relevant services that exist in the country and specifically in the municipality of Cërrik. Addressing violence against women and domestic violence requires responsible state institutions and involved actors to coordinate their actions and resources.
In his speech, Mayor of Cërrik highlighted the need to apply the multi-sectorial response, the significance of specialist support-services, and the importance of protecting women and family members from violence.
“I am very grateful to all women, men, girls and boys who participated in today’s meeting. I feel good that together we are trying to challenge those harmful gender stereotypes, which until recently have been considered as women’s issues only. Together we must say NO to violence against women and girls, because every violated woman is a daughter, a sister, a wife in a family. So, the family must be her shelter of happiness and not a place of violence,” said Andis Salla, the Mayor of Cërrik.
PLGP’s Chief of Party underlined the need to show zero tolerance to violence against women and domestic violence, as a precondition for building healthy families and peaceful societies.
Supported by PLGP, a considerable number of informative leaflets were produced and distributed during the event. They covered a brief description of the different forms of domestic violence, key elements of Albanian legislation on protection orders, and information on the services the Municipality of Cërrik offers, together with the respective help-line number which can be used to report violence and seek support.
“We are so happy that this activity is organized here in our village, and we really need similar outreach activities to be continuously organized in schools, with youth, teachers, and women of the community,” said Ms. Erona Gjini, a woman of this community and member of the Cërrik Municipal Council. The event was covered by the Municipality in social media, included in the calendar of activities shared among key national institutions and international agencies, and was also linked by hashtags to related global campaigns such as “Orange the World”, “Generation Equality”, and “16 Days”.