COVID-19 CRISIS: Woman Forum Elbasan adapts quickly to protect women and girls in Albania
‘On social networks, WFE shares almost daily social and legal information for survivors of domestic violence.’
In response to COVID-19, staff at the Woman Forum Elbasan (WFE) in Albania immediately began to work from home and adapt their services for survivors of domestic violence, all too aware of the sharp increase in violence against women and girls worldwide occurring during the pandemic.
Supported by a small grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), WFE provides free social, psychological and legal services for survivors of violence, and works closely with health professionals and police in seven municipalities in the Elbasan Region of Albania to improve responses of local institutions to domestic violence.
In March and April 2020 alone, WFE provided 285 counselling sessions by telephone to survivors of violence. Its long experience facilitated the quick shift in working methods, explained Shpresa Banja, President of the WFE, “In 2020, due to coronavirus, we suddenly returned to the situation of 1999 when WFE first opened its services and women survivors of domestic violence only called and didn’t come to WFE facilities due to the outward mentality and stigma.”
Adaptations made by WFE to minimize risks while maintaining its crucial work include:
- providing telephone and hotline services to replace face-to-face counselling and psychological support for survivors of domestic violence and gender-based violence;
- using social media to raise awareness about COVID-19 prevention measures;
- providing personal protective equipment in WFE facilities for staff and survivors; and
- keeping WFE’s emergency shelter safe and disinfected.
During the pandemic, WFE has also increased its use of various forms of communication to disseminate crucial information. Shpresa Banja said, “On social networks, WFE shares almost daily social and legal information for survivors of domestic violence including children who are equally affected by all forms of violence.”
The health crisis created and exacerbated many challenges. WFE reports that women survivors of violence are struggling to access food and other basic necessities, and cannot afford rent to allow them to leave violent relationships.
As an immediate response to the pandemic, the UN Trust Fund is allowing the quick redirection of funds for COVID-19 response by projects. WFE is stepping in to respond to these new challenges by distributing food baskets that cover basic needs for women survivors of violence in Albania suffering from hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic with redirected funds.
“This type of quick and flexible financial support really makes a huge difference for first responders working with women survivors who do not know where else to turn for help. As a result of social distancing measures, many of these women have lost their job and find themselves in extremely dire situations. The support WFE offers, goes a long way in rehabilitating women’s hope and trust”, said Fiona Dalmier, the Portfolio Manager for this project at the UN Trust Fund.