Staying home is vital to halting the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic from spreading. For many of us, it has never been easier to do our part to help.
In Albania, as in many countries around the world, the pandemic has only intensified gender-based violence. The lockdown is creating fertile ground for gender inequalities to be exposed at their worst.
One in two women in Albania have been subjected to sexual, physical or psychological violence, according to a survey supported by the Swedish Government, UNDP and UN Women. For nearly half, that violence has come from a partner.
Albanian police reported 245 cases of domestic violence in March. But the numbers may be higher, since many women remain in self-isolation with the perpetrators of violence.
“The domestic violence that women and girls experience during emergencies can result in profound physical and psycho-social harm,” says women’s rights activist Marsela Allmuca. “The trends previously identified in the country indicate that during the COVID-19 outbreak, incidents of domestic violence — although not reported — are silently on the rise, given the fact that movement restrictions are put in place. At the same time, however, when many girls and women need specialized support services more than ever before, practice shows that services provided by Coordinated Referral Mechanisms at municipal level are likely to decrease, due to resources being diverted to dealing with the [COVID-19] crisis.”
Many women reached out to UNDP Albania’s social media. They said lack of work, money, security, safety, and even the freedom to go out, were the main reasons for violence
Remzie (not her real name) and her children were forced to sleep in the shop where she works as a dressmaker “I am happy the owners have allowed me to sleep here. I cannot go back to my house, as my husband has become more violent than usual,” she says. “Not a day passed without him beating me and the kids. So, I left.”
Anila (not her real name) said her husband became violent when he lost his job in a bar “I come home and find him frustrated, shouting, sometimes he gets violent. I’m not as worried for myself as I am for leaving my children alone with him all day now that they don’t go to school. But what other choice do I have?” she says.
Most women request anonymity. “My children are there, so is my mother from time to time, but none of us can stop my husband from releasing his anger on us. The first week of the quarantine was slightly better, we were all optimistic things would go back to the way they were in no time. But with each passing day, no end seems to be in sight and my husband’s mood swings only get worse. I have nowhere to go.”
These stories come from women living in Tirana. It is worrisome to imagine what happens in remote rural areas, where help is even more scarce.
With UNDP support 15 municipalities are immediately seeing how to best use the specialized support services provided by the state and civic organizations. Municipalities use social media to share legal remedies, as well as providing emergency local and national hotline numbers.
To maximize public outreach and advocate for a violence-free society, municipalities launched online contests asking to convey messages against violence against girls and women through art.
The Ministries of Health and Social Protection and Interior and General Directorate of State Police welcomed UNDP’s recommendations on a number of issues. The General Directorate of Police issued special instructions to all local police on how to give adequate attention to sexual and domestic violence cases and how to take action in cooperation with local domestic violence coordinators.
Supported by UNDP, LILIUM Centre is developing internal procedural guidelines to adequately handle these cases in the COVID-19 context. Easy to read materials on sexual abuse, its consequences and how to report it are also provided through social media platforms. Sexual violence survivors can also benefit from online psycho-social assistance. In partnership with the Government of Sweden, UNDP supports the government to improve protection and services for survivors, strengthen laws, and address the root causes of violence by challenging social norms and behaviors and tackling the wider gender inequalities.
This pandemic is challenging and staying at home can be a nightmare for domestic violence survivors. But there is good news. And when women call, there will be someone on the other end, waiting to help.
Fighting COVID-19 takes a whole of society approach. UNDP is working across the region to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Find out more about our work.