Interview: “Every positive change in each woman survivor is a success in itself”
Magdalena Chadinoska Kuzmanoski, a social mentor who works with five women survivors of violence on economic empowerment and reintegration into the labour market, shares how women have become psychologically and financially resilient thanks to the social mentoring programme. The social mentoring model, which combines key elements of mentoring with individual professional action plans, was adapted to the needs of survivors of violence and piloted in North Macedonia by the Association for Research, Communications and Development through their “Public” project, within the EU-funded regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.”
How does social mentoring help women survivors integrate into the labour market?
Social mentoring includes support in building skills and improving employability, as well as thorough assessment, proper referral, comprehensive support, reinforcement and encouragement in the employment integration process. Through social mentoring, participants become aware of their qualities and skills, and they are proud of themselves for having the courage to leave a violent environment and succeed on their own. Once the mentoring is completed, potential jobs are mapped for participants, and they get access to external training for additional qualifications based on their needs and capacities. Soft skills development and professional training help them become more competitive in the labour market. Once they are employed, we continue to work directly with the woman and the employer to ensure job retention or advancement. Social mentoring not only leads to employment, but also provides financial security and improved quality of life for survivors and their dependents.
What does it take to be a social mentor for survivors of violence on their journey to employment?
Direct work with vulnerable women requires immense commitment as well as empathy and the ability to establish and maintain professional boundaries. Working with survivors also requires sensitivity and at times adaptation from what the methodology suggests because each woman has a unique history and a unique set of needs. The incidents that women share with us are not stories, but truths they have faced. These women face additional burdens on their journey, as they are almost always assigned primary custody of any children – often sole custody. They rarely have a supportive environment or sufficient finances to pay for childcare, and the educational system in kindergarten and primary school does not offer any exemptions from fees for those services.
The project included direct support to help women gain employment. What have been the reactions of these businesses and institutions who have employed women within this project?
“Do you have any more women like this who need employment?” is the most common question I receive from the companies that have employed women mentees. We suggest women for employment opportunities only when we are certain that they will be able to cope with the demands of the job and the working atmosphere. This approach is respected by businesses and state institutions alike, and it has resulted in the employment of at least eight women [out of 15] so far. There are clear benefits for employers – they demonstrate that they are inclusive employers, and they benefit from hiring a dedicated employee.
What can we count as success when working with women who have survived violence?
The most significant change is when a woman starts gaining confidence and believing in herself and her abilities. In the beginning, survivors are often confused and scared because the financial burden and responsibility falls on them. We also focus on empowering them to deal with any shame imposed on them by society. Every positive change in each woman survivor is a success in itself – when a person walks more boldly and confidently, responds more readily to new challenges and moves more decisively towards new solutions, this is a core achievement that enables them to succeed in both getting and remaining employed. Some of them outgrow their original job and look for a new one because they are properly supported to do so. Finally, the most important success is becoming psychologically and financially strong enough to decide to never to return to a violent environment.