Murders in Albania increased by 13% in 2021. Women and girls killed by their partner, ex-partner or family member made up close to one third of all cases. In most cases, victims had already been granted protection from the police, such as taking out restraining orders against their assailant.
The data reveals a disturbing lack of enforcement regarding domestic violence against women, and the insufficiency of Albania’s legal framework to deal with the issue.
Albania’s patriarchal society maintains strict gender roles, forcing many women to be financially dependent on men. Property is traditionally registered and inherited through husbands or their family’s name, and social infractions are policed by an honor-and-shame system.
More than half of Albanians surveyed in a 2019 United Nations report believe that women “should tolerate some violence to keep her family together.”
On average, a woman was murdered every three weeks in Albania last year. Thousands more women and girls reported assault, stalking, and other abuse to the police. Even then, the vast majority of incidents of domestic violence go unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the police.
In 2020, police received 12 cases of domestic violence every day. Of those cases, a mere 13% were prosecuted by police. No data is available regarding the number of convictions.
A recent United Nations Women survey found that more than one in three Albanian women feel unsafe at home due to the presence of physical violence. Some 80% of respondents said the risk of domestic violence had increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Women and children are the first to bear the brunt of the pandemic, the number of victims of domestic violence has increased considerably,” explains Iris Luarasi, who manages a group assisting domestic violence victims in Albania.
According to Luarasi, calls to her national help hotline increased by 60 percent from March to September 2020 compared to the same period the year before. Women typically prefer to share their experiences over the hotlines; obtaining a protection order from a court provides little assistance to those without the financial means to find a new home.
Those who do attempt to escape abuse via legal means are often forced into an equally desperate position. Semiha Xhani, mother of a 10-year-old boy, has fought for six years to claim rights to her house and child support after her 2013 divorce.
With no other options, Xhani lives with her in-laws, who routinely threaten to evict her and her son. Her salary from dishwashing is not enough to cover rent at a place of her own.
“It would have been better to endure violence than risk being thrown out like beaten dogs,” she told AFP in 2020.