Expert’s take: Civil society has the potential to play a major role in ending violence against women

Date: Friday, September 22, 2017

About the author

Albania Experts Take Agustela Nini 244x163
Agustela Nini-Pavli. Photo courtesy of Agustela Nini-Pavli.

Agustela Nini-Pavli is a Project Analyst at the UN Women office in Albania, focusing on efforts to end violence against women and girls as part of the regional ‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’ programme. She is a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in the integration of human rights, including women’s rights, in development programming. Prior to joining UN Women, Agustela worked as a consultant with various UN agencies and other development organizations.

On the morning of August 19, the first piece of news that grabbed my attention was that of a 53-year-old woman killed by her husband in the village of Fier, Albania. She was working their land when her husband hit her with the tool she was using. The next day, there was another case of domestic violence in Elbasan: the perpetrator happened to be a former Member of the Albanian Parliament, who threatened to kill his ex-partner. The following day, in the suburbs of Tirana, a man killed his wife before committing suicide. The lack of public reaction to this wave of violence against women was almost as disheartening as the violence itself. The regularity of the media coverage turned these events into a mundane fact of life, like the unrelenting heat of August.

But there was no end to the heartbreaking succession of news. Only a few days later, a 39-year-old judge was shot dead by her ex-husband in Tirana. This time, however, there was an immediate outcry in the mainstream and social media. There were strong statements from high-level politicians, public figures, civil society representatives and international organizations, condemning the violence against women in Albania. The case became prominent because it shed light on the problems in the Albanian justice system. The ex-husband had physically abused and threatened the judge on a previous occasion, and served time for domestic violence and the unlawful possession of weapons. He was, however, given a light sentence and was released early thanks to a general amnesty.

Normally, few cases of violence against women receive this kind of attention. Almost three out of five Albanian women aged 15 to 49 have experienced domestic violence: 58 per cent of women reported experiencing psychological violence at some point in their marriage and/or intimate relationship and 23.7 per cent reported being victims of physical violence.[1] In 2016, close to a quarter of people murdered in Albania were victims of domestic violence.[2] However, the number of cases reported to law enforcement agencies remains low. From January to June 2017, 2,035 cases of domestic violence were reported to the Albanian state police.[3] However, as a result of awareness-raising activities, the number of reported cases has increased over the years.[4]

While the Government has made efforts to address the problem, violence against women remains prevalent in Albania. Further legal changes are needed, as well as significant investment in human and financial resources in the justice, police, health and social services sectors. Women under protection orders need to feel safe and effectively protected. The impunity of perpetrators should end and violation of protection orders should not be tolerated. Government officials also need to understand that gender-based violence in Albania will not decrease without a strong civil society and should use the opportunity to benefit from both the technical support and oversight that civil society organizations can provide.

The implementation of laws and policies is key, but it is equally important to find ways to challenge traditional gender stereotypes and change sexist mentalities in Albanian society. Men need to understand that the way they treat their spouses, mothers, daughters or partners is not a private matter and has legal consequences. Women need to have a strong support system and trust the authorities so that they can feel confident in coming forward and put an end to violent situations. Girls and boys need to learn from a very early age at school and at home that violence should not be tolerated.

However, the Government cannot be the only actor. Civil society has the potential to play a major role in ending violence against women. Women’s organizations in Albania have traditionally been active in this field, particularly in influencing legislative processes[5] and providing services to survivors of violence. However, at times, their voice and presence is not as strong as it could be. Women’s organizations should be able to expand their outreach efforts across the country, pushing local and national authorities for greater accountability and transparency.

For these reasons, the three-year regional programme, ‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’ – implemented in the Western Balkans and Turkey by UN Women and the European Union – aims at combating violence against women by strengthening the capacity of women’s organizations to demand accountability and enhance their position as leaders of change. The programme is grounded in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) and the European Union acquis communautaire.

In Albania, the programme focuses on strengthening the capacity of women’s organizations to hold authorities to account, to advocate for effective implementation of international and national standards, and to monitor prevention of and response to violence against women. Organizations will also be supported in their efforts to address the structural causes of gender inequality through a transformation of gender discriminatory stereotypes, perceptions and beliefs, as well as advocate for the improvement of services for survivors of violence – focusing particularly on women from disadvantaged groups.

Civil society needs to be at the forefront of prevention policies, mobilizing the public at large to react when episodes of violence occur and offering support to all women who are trapped in violent situations. Public statements and posts on social media are not enough. Women’s organizations need to take the lead in fomenting public reaction and changing attitudes on violence against all women, regardless of race, language, religion or social status.

Notes

[1] Domestic Violence in Albania National population-based Survey, 2013. http://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/-/media/files/un%20women/vaw/vaw%20survey/albania%20vaw%20survey.pdf

[2] Women and men in Albania, 2016, INSTAT, 2017

[3] Administrative data from the Albanian State Police

[4] 4,163 cases were reported to the State Police in 2016 compared to 3,866 cases in 2015 and 94 cases in 2005.

[5] The approval of the Albanian Law on Domestic Violence in 2006 was the result the sustained advocacy efforts of civil society organizations