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As the world reacted to newly implemented health and safety measures, some families in Albania became more at-risk for a sadly familiar, insidious danger of domestic violence and abuse.

Once-bustling streets fell silent, and Albania’s lively café culture ground to a halt. Amidst the global pandemic, businesses, households, and society at large across the nation were required to operate under restrictions of time and movement. Although these measures are accepted as a best-practice to fight the spread of covid-19, unintended consequences negatively affected those at-risk for domestic violence. Orders to “shelter in place”, in effect, trap victims in close quarters with their abusers. Increased economic stress, coupled with the uncertainty of an indefinite period of isolation, further exacerbated situations leading to violence. In a country where domestic violence will statistically be experienced by over half of women, this is an alarming situation. Fortunately, reporting mechanisms are in place for domestic violence and violence against women. USAID’s Planning and Local Governance Project (PLGP) worked with our local partners to raise awareness of these issues and provide resources to those most at-risk, despite the social distancing faced. Recognizing that local governments must be vocal in their support of victims of domestic violence and condemnation of violence against women, PLGP worked with our Gender Expert and Gender Equality Officers (GEOs) at the local levels to prepare an awareness campaign, cautioning aggressors that violence will not be tolerated and providing information for reporting cases of abuse to those who may be at-risk. Using the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, the campaign urged women to reach out and report threatening or dangerous situations. It is more important now, in these continued times of imposed isolation, that women feel connected to resources and a community beyond the four walls of their homes. This message was immediately carried forward by four partner municipalities in Cerrik, Dibra, Kamza, and Pogradec and reached over 9500 people.

“Posting these messages is really important, especially in these days, and we thank USAID for their support,” stated one GEO. “We are all facing unexpected challenges.”

“For an abused person, the most difficult feelings to overcome are fear, isolation, and a lack of confidence that someone can hear, understand, and not judge their behavior. Under the conditions of isolation precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19, these feelings become more evident and block the ability to speak out and report the violence experienced. Conversely, the situation of isolation makes the perpetrator feel even stronger, believing that the victim is unprotected and completely “in his hands”. In these days of dealing with COVID-19, we all want to know that we are not alone and that we will win this situation together. This message is even more appreciated when addressed to those who have been/are being abused. The fight against domestic violence and the fight against COVID-19 are the fight for life. Life is precious and must be protected at all costs!”   Monika Kocaqi, PLGP Gender Expert. USAID continues to raise awareness and stand with women and those at risk of domestic violence, providing support and encouragement that we are in this fight together.

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