The 16 days of Activism on ending violence against women is now over, but that does not mean that the topic should fade from public discourse for another year. Recently I was in Albania, contributing to the planning of the next phase of the RisiAlbania project (Risi for short). Risi works to promote youth employment, aiming for an equal number of jobs for young women as young men to be created through its activities. According to an external review conducted in the summer, it has been successful in reaching this target – something that is not surprising given that Risi deliberately chose the sectors in which it works as ones that have potential for women. However, the review noted that the project could do more to focus on employment opportunities for truly disadvantaged women.
This sparked an idea linking back to the work done on drawing out lessons learned from the experiences of SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) in addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), mentioned in a previous blog. SGBV rates in Albania are high; a UNDP survey in 2013 found that over half of all women in Albania reported experiencing some sort of domestic violence (including psychological violence) at some stage in their lives, with 23.7% reporting physical violence. Reasons for this can be traced to a strong patriarchal culture that sits uneasily with aspirations of equality. The current government recognises the problem, and services are reportedly improving. For many years, however, the main source of support for women victims of violence was from a variety of local women’s groups cum NGOs.
One of the conclusions drawn about SDC’s work on addressing SGBV was that economic independence is needed for women to escape violent relationships, but that this is difficult for projects specialising in psycho-social support to provide. Developing income generation and employment opportunities, requires, after all, a different set of expertise.
With my colleague Elena Camaj, I spent a week meeting NGO and government staff who are involved in addressing SGBV. In this we were fortunate to be able to link with the Swiss NGO Iamaneh, which has a network of NGO partners in Albania and has done much to channel expertise and funds to women survivors, as well as increasingly working on behavioural change with male perpetrators. All those we met affirmed the importance of paid employment for SGBV, as summed up by Majlinda Angoni, of the NGO Women to Women in Shkodra,
“The economic empowerment of women is essentially the main gap in supporting victims of violence. There have been initiatives to help women set up their own businesses but just doing this without proper training only puts them in more difficulty and debt.”
What emerged as one of the main constraints faced by women seeking a job was child care. This was considered the case both for the relatively small number of women who have taken refuge in shelters, and for the far greater number who struggle on in abusive relationships. Where family relationships have broken down there are likely to be fewer options for child care within the family; furthermore, children are often traumatised, and it may be particularly hard for mothers to leave them. A stable, constructive and reassuring social environment is needed, in which such children can mix with non-traumatised peers. During the communist era, child care was fully covered by the State, and there is still a certain expectation that the State should provide. However, places are limited – and most have hours that are too short to allow a woman other than a State employee to hold down a job at the same time.
Child care services have recently devolved to municipal level, and some municipalities, such as the one in Shkodra that we visited, are taking steps to improve provision. Yet opening hours remain an issue. So how could Risi intervene constructively in what is effectively the market for child care? Two options will be further investigated. One is the possibility of public-private partnerships to lengthen the hours of available child care, using the existing State infrastructure. Another would be to trial the system of childminders or “day parents” that is common in other parts of Europe. Both systems would probably need to be controlled through the local municipality, and both would need to involve subsidised care for children of single and low income mothers – possibly through charging more to parents with good incomes, as is quite commonly the case in other countries.
Supporting women to work not only helps those currently experiencing domestic violence to escape, but also potentially reduces further violence. As Sulka Kastrot, former Deputy, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare observed,
“If women are considered as one of the family members who earns, who contributes to putting food on the table, then they will be valued and not beaten. But if they don’t contribute economically, they will continue to be considered of lesser worth, and the children will also learn that the mother is not to be respected.”
The photo is used with the kind permission of the EU Info Network Albania, and the Regional Education Directorate and Woman to Woman in Shkodra, which organised a demonstration during the 16 days of Activism on ending violence against women.