Group aids domestic violence victims in Albania

12/05/2011

Family life turns into a nightmare for many Albanian women, human rights defenders warn.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 12/05/11

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Domestic violence takes women's lives in Albania. [Ana Pekmezi/SETimes]

Many Albanian women live under a constant threat of beatings and other abuse, sociologists and rights advocates say. A Tirana-based organisation, Useful to Albanian Women (UAW) is attempting to raise public awareness about the problem.

According to the centre, 11 women were killed by domestic violence in Albania last year and the number keeps rising. In a tragic irony, five cases of murdered women were registered this year on May 8th, observed as International Women's Day around the world.

"They are not numbers for me. They are lives, histories, human beings," Migena Mollanji of UAW told SETimes.

UAW representatives recently visited women in Tirana's largest prison. After examining the various cases, they concluded that 90% of the women incarcerated there had been sentenced for killing their husbands.

"What they had done was for self-protection and self-justice," said UAW General Director Fabiola Egro. She added, however, that she does not condone such actions.

UAW was founded in 1993, in Tirana. The centre gets six to eight calls for help every week and handles 12 cases per week involving women who seek psychological treatment. It has branches in different areas of Albania. A well-organised UAW network against domestic violence co-operates with the police, municipalities, different NGOs, courts and hospitals. The network is supported by the UNDP.

Egro has been working 18 years now for UAW. She remembers the case of a woman with five children living in Durres, on the western coast of Albania, who denounced her husband and got an order of protection. The woman was able to rebuild her life, Egro said. She managed to learn tailoring, get a job and started making enough money to support her kids.

"We helped 33 women, only in Durres, to get the order of protection," Egro added.

UAW psychotherapist Migena Ismailati recounts a similar story in Tirana. A woman with eight children, abused by her husband, brought her case to the UAW. The centre finally resolved her problem by involving police. According to the order issued by Tirana police, the woman's husband is not allowed to come more than 300m from her house.

"She made it," Ismailati said. "I had a feeling of relief, like I, myself, had got dropped that burden from my own shoulders."

Victims usually ask for assistance when the situation is already extreme and hard to address, Egro said. That's why UAW has established a Women's Club, where victims of domestic violence can come, familiarise themselves with the organisation and grow more open to talking about their problems.

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Egro believes providing shelters for domestic violence victims is not a solution. During their stay at a shelter, she says, women can lose connections with families and children. They can even lose their home.

"The victim should not leave the house, the violent person should leave," she said.

To help abused women make a new life, the centre offers professional training courses that help them acquire skills and earn a living. UAW also helps them to find jobs through the Agency of Employment.

The centre also continues to investigate three cases of murder. UAW lawyers are now collecting evidence suggesting that in all these cases, women died as a result of family violence. It plans to argue the cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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