New home gives hope to domestic violence survivors in Kosovo*


Photo: UN Women/Armenda Filipaj  Sakibe Doli, the Director of a refuge called Safe House, chats with Arta** who is a survivor of domestic violence.
Sakibe Doli, the Director of a refuge called Safe House, chats with Arta** who is a survivor of domestic violence. Photo: UN Women/Armenda Filipaj

Married at sixteen, Arta** began experiencing domestic violence early in life. As a young mother, she moved to Germany with her husband. During the five years that she spent there, she repeatedly reported his violence to the police. This led to his deportation from Germany three times. Finally, pregnant with her third child, Arta became so hopeless that she attempted suicide. Thankfully, she survived and found the courage to leave her husband.

Determined to provide a safe and healthy environment for her three children, Arta moved back to Kosovo and divorced her husband in 2015. She found temporary refuge at the Safe House of Gjakova, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. But, like many survivors of domestic violence in Kosovo, one of the main challenges facing Arta now was finding long-term housing for her family.

As part of the United Nation’s Joint Programme on Domestic Violence, since 2011, UN Women has been working with seven municipalities across Kosovo, including Gjakova, to help address the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence. This involves building the capabilities of key service providers and fostering greater collaboration between them.

“UN Women worked very hard with its partners to shatter the stigma of gender-based violence and break the taboo surrounding domestic violence. UN Women will continue to support municipalities in Kosovo and encourage them to follow the example of Gjakova's municipality in providing quality and sustainable services to domestic violence survivors,’’ said Flora Macula, Head of the UN Women Office in Kosovo.

UN Women has helped set-up Domestic Violence Coordination Mechanisms in seven municipalities to bring together local-level representatives from shelters, survivors’ advocates, police, health, judiciary, education, employment offices, and civil society organizations. One of the main issues to emerge from the regular meetings between members of the Mechanism was the need for more sustainable housing solutions for survivors like Arta.

In response, UN Women coordinated actions between the shelter, the municipality and the Directory of Spatial and Urban Planning to set up a special Social Housing Commission. The Commission identified those domestic violence survivors most in need of support to access long-term housing and matching them with apartments available through the municipality.

Arta is one of five women who have gained an apartment though this new scheme and it is anticipated that, with the support of UN Women, three more survivors of domestic violence and their children will benefit from this initiative each year.

For Arta, her family’s new apartment is more than a roof over their heads. It provides a safe haven for them and has been an essential first step to starting a new life together, free from violence.

She can now focus on providing financial stability for her family. “All women need to be financially independent if they want to stop relying on anyone else to take care of their children, especially on their ex-husband,’’ she affirms. At the moment she is making ends meet by working as a cleaner and with the social subsidies of the Ministry of Social Welfare, but she is also looking for opportunities to start her own business and to increase her income.

Reflecting on her experience, Arta encourages others in similar circumstances to avoid waiting for a third party or the authorities to intervene. “You need to act yourself. If you continue to forgive the one who is beating you it will only get worse,’’ she said.

Eventually, Arta hopes to move back to Germany with her children to get away from her ex-husband for good. “As long as I have my kids with me, I have everything. They are my priority,’’ she says.

*All references to Kosovo in this article shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. 

** Names have been changed to protect their identity.