An empowered woman can change and advance society—this is the vision of “Jona Association for the Empowerment of Women and Girls,” operating in Saranda, an Albanian non-governmental organization and a ReLOaD2 program partner. The association was established in 2001, and its focus is to provide support to women and girls when they need psychosocial assistance, employment mediation, legal assistance and court representation, or access to a social assistance scheme. Many women in Saranda claim that their lives have taken a turn for the better thanks to the support provided by the Jona Association.
Count Anita as one of those. Anita, 36, had been in an arranged marriage in her village since a young age. She lived with her husband and two small children. She worked hard and long hours in the fields, leaving her little time to take care of her two young children. Despite her hard work, she could not generate a decent income. Her family struggled to make ends meet in their little village. The tension started at that point. Her husband began beating her.
They decided to relocate to the tourist city of Saranda with the hope of finding a better job and a better life. She was so excited about this chance to change her life, but this is where her cavalry started instead. As a hard-working, energetic, and brave young woman, she believed that she could start a job to sustain her family, her children’s growth, and their schooling together with her husband. However, the move to the city with all its complications and the poverty exacerbated his hostility, fear, and control over his wife to the point where he wouldn’t let her work and frequently beat her. Physical abuse did not spare her daughter either.
Every day, her husband tightened his grip on her. She lived with him for many years before turning to “Jona,” seeking protection, legal counseling, and employment assistance. The psychotherapist at “Jona” offered her and her daughter emotional support and assistance. Furthermore, thanks to the legal services offered, Anita was able to access justice for her divorce and regain the strength she thought was lost.
She was able to take advantage of a “rent bonus” provided by the Municipality of Saranda for women victims of domestic violence. The strength to leave her violent and abusive spouse and live a quiet life with her children finally came back to her. “Jona” also helped her register as a jobseeker with the National Employment Services and prepared her for a job interview. Thanks to the support and mediation from the association, she was able to find a job she liked.
“Despite our poverty, my ex-husband prohibited me from leaving the house or working outside the home.” He continuously beat me for years. He threatened to kill me when I disagreed with him. When I first filed for divorce, I did not understand anything about the legal procedures. I wouldn’t have made it without the legal assistance and legal representation at court provided by Jona’s expert. I was humiliated in court; my husband attacked me, both verbally and physically. “Without the help of Jona, I would still be struggling in court to this day,” says Anita.
Anita works today, and her daughter is studying medicine. She was able to raise her son apart from his abusive father.
“Women who experience abuse tend to keep quiet because they assume that no one will support them or believe their experiences.” I received free legal and psychological assistance from Jona. The extensive therapy sessions made it easier for me to deal with the trauma. In the past, I felt insecure and frail. Now, I’m not only astonished by how far I’ve gone, but I also feel like I’ve been reborn. “I hope more women may take advantage of the same assistance and services,” says Anita.
Anita* is one of 140 women and girls who have received or will receive support from Jona between April 2022 and March 2023 through the project “Respect and Dignity for Women and Girls,” funded by RELOAD. The project provides psychological support services, legal aid and court representation, employment mediation, and preparation for an interview to all women in need, especially those coming from marginalized groups in Saranda who are victims of gender-based violence. Jona also conducted an awareness-raising campaign targeting schools to inform them about the services offered by them and encourage them to report gender-based violence.
The Regional Program for Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Program in Albania (UNDP Albania). Working across the region, ReLOaD2 aims to enhance the capacities of local governments and CSOs to engage in productive partnerships and contribute to improved service delivery and the realization of local priorities in line with development strategies. It strives to incite local governments to use public funding for CSOs in a transparent and development-oriented manner, recognizing local needs and embracing a project-based approach.
*The name has been changed to protect her identity.