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Woman selling socks in Albania's capital city, Tirana

Woman selling socks in Albania's capital city, Tirana. Image: Islaleal/Flickr

“The case in question raises serious doubts on local authorities endeavor to protect and ensure the welfare of children, and at the same time they should be more concerned about the shortcomings of the social institutions in the country,” continued Hazizaj.

As one of the poorest countries in Europe, Albania’s surge with internal migration in the 1990s brought rural farm families to live and seek jobs in urban cities. With it came many urban-based problems, including run-down ghettos located in city suburbs where severe forms of poverty has been rampant.

“The poorest of the poor, who comprise about 5 per cent of the population, struggle to put adequate food on the table each day,” says the IFRC.

Many of Albania’s resettled families are large, with seven or more family members, where husbands tell their wives they must stay at home without career training or advanced school to care for their children. The home climate that creates this kind of dominance can also create domestic abuse.

Over the past few years though the government of Albania, along with international partners, has moved to improve conditions. On June 1, 2007 the “On Measures Against Violence in Family Relations” Law in Albania has brought some relief encouraging many more women to make legal claims to protect themselves and their children from domestic abuse, but numerous claims for missing child support have never been fully brought to court as women fear reprisals from violent husbands.

In spite of gains much more legal protection and justice for women is still needed in Albania. “This incident (with Zana Xheka) calls for more legal changes in order to provide social services that would protect children,” said Director Hazizaj.

“The Ministry of Justice, for example, has failed to secure lawyers trained in domestic violence issues to provide free legal aid; in 2009 no victims were defended by a court appointed lawyer, and the 2008 law on legal aid is not yet in force.” said Amnesty International in March 2010.

According to the annual Mother’s Index report on women’s and children’s well being, Albania is still ranked among the bottom of the list by the United Nations latest HDI – Human Development Index report for Europe. Only one nation, the nation of Mondolva is listed below Albania at the very bottom.

Over the last few years, statistics point to the fact that conditions for women and children in Albania have not yet seen the degree of improvement that was hoped for and expected. At the very least the progress has been stagnant.

The problem lies in identifying families who should benefit from social assistance programs. Those in the greatest need are often also those who isolate the most and are hardest to access.

“Isolation is an incredible problem for the advancement or empowerment of rural women,” says Julie Vullnetari from Albania’s Sussez Migration Research Centre. “Development efforts need to come physically closer to the rural woman and her community. Most importantly, it has to give her the chance to express herself and identify what her needs are,” continued Vullnetari.

Tracking internal migration is part of the challenge. Numerous rural women migrating into urban regions go uncounted and without aide while others simultaneously, and wrongfully, benefit in two different regions. Lengthy procedures with numerous documents and certificates that need to be filled out to receive aid also contributes to problems.

In March 2010, Amnesty International formally asked the Albanian government to “provide adequate resources to programmes to ensure the economic independence of victims of domestic violence, including access to training and employment.” They also asked authorities to “ensure their eligibility for social assistance and social housing.”

Because many women in need do not receive free government sponsored legal-aid or adequate housing from any state sponsored program, Zana Xheka, and countless other women, have been left out of legal rights protections under the law. Many women are still reluctant to challenge their husbands in court. Other women cannot pay for even the basic fees involving their court process.

“Women who want to escape violence cannot afford the tax payable to the court to dissolve the marriage,” said the Counseling Centre at the Women’s Forum Elbasan, a counseling, shelter and legal advocacy center for women suffering from domestic violence.

“They even have to pay out of their own pockets for the psychologist who asks the children which parent they want to stay with,” continued the Women’s Counseling Centre at Elbasan. “Most of the time men do not pay the alimony set by the court.”

In spite of ongoing needs and challenges for rural women, like Zana Xheka, who have migrated for work to suburbs outside the cities of Albania, “The rural woman is the invisible pillar of Albanian Society,” says Julie Vullnetari.

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This searing 4:45 minute news report from News24 TV Albania shows the extreme decrepit conditions of the tragic hut where Zana Xheka and her children lived. It also shows the outside electric powerbox to the home that had been turned off by the utilities company when Zana could not pay her utility bills. If Zana and her children fell through the cracks in the Albanian advocacy system, what is happening to other ‘single-head-of-household’ rural women who have migrated to suburbs outside of Albania’s cities to try to obtain work?
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Women News Network – WNN Eastern Europe correspondent, Aida Dervishi, is a native of Albania, who holds a BA in International and European Studies from the University of Piraeus. She is a writer for Balkananalysis.com and is presently working with the NGO Vote Women in Politics, a non-partisan organization dedicated to helping women run for office and be elected in countries around the world; which also works to inspire young women to participate in politics. Her special focus on coverage includes women and justice, government and media outreach.
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Additional sources for this article include WikiGender, United Nations Albania, The Council of the European Union, Amnesty International, UNIFEM, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, European Heads of Mission to Albania, Women’s Forum Elbasan and UNDP – United Nations Development Programme.
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©2011 Women News Network – WNN
No part of this article release may be reproduced without prior permissions from WNN

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