Take Five: "We have come a long way in fighting gender based violence but the struggle continues"

Date: Friday, August 9, 2019

Mirela Arqimandriti. Photo: UN Women/Yllka Parllaku
Mirela Arqimandriti. Photo: UN Women/Yllka Parllaku

Mirela Arqimandriti is an Albanian activist for gender equality and the advancement of women’s rights and the Executive Director of the Gender Alliance for Development Centre (GADC). GADC, in collaboration with local civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Albanian Women Empowerment Network (AWEN), is implementing the project “Building capacities of CSOs to monitor the implementation of activities related to the reduction of gender-based violence and domestic violence of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Gender Equality 2016-2020” in six municipalities of Albania. The project is part of the EU-UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey, “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union.

What lessons have you learned from combating violence against women in Albania during these years?

While the fight against gender-based violence has come a long way in Albania, we cannot claim the struggle has been won. There are plenty of remaining challenges, as also identified in recent studies, such as the UN and INSTAT publication “Violence against Women and Girls in Albania” and the OSCE-led survey “Well-being and Safety of Women.” However, we can say that gender-based violence is no longer kept a secret inside the walls of the home; the number of reported cases has increased, as well as the awareness that it is not a matter of a single-family but of the whole society. Unfortunately, harassment and sexual violence remain taboo subjects that are difficult to report and even more difficult to seek treatment for.

We have learned many lessons during the two decades of ongoing efforts against gender-based violence as a serious issue of human rights, public health, and development. One of the most important lessons that we have learned is that although cooperation with law enforcement, the drafting of strategies, and strengthening of anti-discrimination policies are all essential to ensuring access to justice and protection from gender-based violence against women and girls in Albania, these have shown to be only some of the first steps in reducing gender-based violence in our country. Experience has also shown us that awareness campaigns are somewhat effective in changing people's attitudes or behaviors. Yet, considering this, real societal change requires a long-term and systematic engagement of communities, institutions, and decision-makers.

What do you think is the most immediate action that needs to be taken to respond to the issue of gender-based and domestic violence in Albania?

A properly functioning institutional mechanism against gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, as well as a greater collaboration between state institutions and active NGOs that offer professional services at the local level are some of the main steps towards responding to the issue of gender-based and domestic violence in Albania. NGOs currently offer the majority of specialized services and are highly dependent on external funding. Thus, proper budgeting and/or the outsourcing of services for survivors of violence are essential moving forward. For example, the implementation of the National Strategy on Gender Equality 2016-2020, together with the action plans and other strategies that will follow it, will have a greater impact if they recognize and support the role of NGOs in efforts to end violence against women. Personalized action plans for each municipality for the advancement of gender equality and against GBV at the local level must be a priority of the referral mechanism.

How should civil society in Albania contribute to preventing gender-based and domestic violence, and how can they hold the government accountable in its obligations to end violence against women?

In fact, many achievements thus far were primarily due to the actions of CSOs. However, CSOs should be more engaged in the monitoring processes. Through monitoring actions, civil society organizations should develop the methodologies to hold government institutions accountable. I emphasize that the monitoring reports must have the contribution of local CSOs. They have all the potential and can be coached to do the monitoring themselves. This will help them to ensure that local institutions are held accountable for the implementation of the country’s legal framework against GBV.

What has been one of the biggest challenges when working with local CSOs in monitoring one of the four objectives of the Albanian National Strategy and Action Plan for Gender Equality 2016-2020?

Working with these organizations inspired us, and we understood that with some training and mentorship programs and through a well-structured methodology, local CSOs could do a fantastic job in monitoring and holding institutions accountable in their actions against GBV in their local communities. The reports produced[1], with findings and recommendations presented by local CSOs in round tables or in the media, increased the activity and accountability of the referral mechanism in the targeted municipalities. At the same time, they also increased the visibility of local CSOs and their valuable role in the community.

However, some challenges were encountered. Firstly, coaching took longer than foreseen in terms of writing the reports after each monitoring session. Secondly, data collection was not always possible due to either a complete lack of data gathering or because the data was not user-friendly or was not shared on a regular basis. Finally, the low presence of important institutions such as the Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office heavily affected the work of the referral mechanism and thus continues to be a challenge.

Since the start of the monitoring work at the local level, what do you think has been the most significant achievement or impact that you have observed?

The adoption of a consolidated methodology based on the objectives of the strategy, with the ownership of the local CSOs, was the most important part of this project. Local experts and grassroots organizations increased their capacities and voices through monitoring at the local level. In addition, a significant achievement is related to the relevant findings and recommendations, some of which were adopted by the referral mechanism in each municipality and promoted by the Parliamentary subcommittee on Gender Equality and Ending Violence against Women by increasing the accountability of the responsible institutions.

[1] The Monitoring report can be found at www.gadc.org.al