In the words of Afërdita Prroni: “Advocacy is crucial in influencing correct law implementation”
Afërdita Prroni is the Founder and, since 2002, the Executive Director of the Human Rights in Democracy Center, a grassroot civil society organization involved in promoting and protecting human rights in Albania, with a special focus on protecting women’s rights and combating gender-based violence. The Center has been working to strengthen the implementation of the domestic violence law under UN Joint Programme on “Ending Violence Against Women in Albania” and UN Women’s project “Gender sensitive post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction” funded by the Swedish Government. She spoke to UN Women about the advocacy and lobbying initiatives the organization has carried through to improve access to services for survivors of violence in the municipalities hit by 2019 earthquake in Albania and the issues that these women are facing.
When we started training police inspectors about the new law on domestic violence more than 15 years ago, they would tell us that “women were never going to report their husbands”. But it did not take long and judges started to grant the first protection orders. Things have changed a lot since then and, yet the number of domestic violence cases actually reported in Albania only represents the tip of the iceberg. Many cases go unreported, especially in rural areas. Violence continues to be excused and women and girls continue to blame themselves. In addition, the majority of women and girls are not aware have no knowledge of the law on domestic violence, no information about protection measures and legal remedies, or an awareness that violence is a violation of human rights and a punishable crime.
Women should be informed about their rights and the services they are entitled to. The issuance of a police protection order unlocks multiple services (economic, social, and legal services) for women survivors of violence. In the municipalities we have monitored, currently only one per cent of women survivors of violence benefit from the free legal aid offered by the state. The rest are assisted by civil society organizations because women are not informed about this opportunity and because the procedures are so complicated that they require professional support. In the opinion of The Human Rights in Democracy Center, Legal Clinics should work more in this respect in order to become better known in the community, especially among vulnerable groups who are unable to access the justice system. As part of UN Women’s projects, last year we supported 928 victims of domestic violence in the municipalities affected by the earthquake. Of these, 209 cases were represented in court free of charge by our lawyers and were exempted from court fees, which can run up to one thousand US dollars.
As an accredited lobbying organization, our role is to monitor the practical implementation of primary and secondary legislation and to bring them to the attention of the responsible institutions, so that women are afforded easy access to and receive quality services (including access to legal aid, financial assistance schemes, Special Medical Certificates, etc.) For instance, we became aware that women survivors of violence were having difficulties in obtaining the financial assistance they are entitled to in accordance with the aligned legislation in force. Consequently, we notified or reported this fact to various governmental and human rights bodies, which addressed the issue and improved the access of victims of violence to financial assistance schemes. The same practice was also followed with regard to including children as beneficiaries of these schemes.
I believe, however, that it is crucial that all institutions and civil society organizations speak and act as one. If we support one woman and she is able to reintegrate into society, we have helped the entire society.”