The reality of violence against women in Albania
On June 16, female students at a local school organized a protest in front of the Police Directorate in Tirana, the capital of Albania. The high rate of violence against women in Albania, and the perception that neither the police nor the Albanian government are doing enough to guarantee a minimum level of security for women and girls, inspired dozens of people to gather to ask a seemingly simple question: What role do our government and police force serve, if not to protect us from, and ideally prevent, violence and crime?
Eight women and girls were killed in Albania last year, a rate that only seems to be rising, as six women were killed in the first six months of this year alone. Most recently, a woman in Durres, Albania, who was around the age of 30, was killed by her husband after a banal dispute: She hadn’t prepared the dinner on time.
In June, a 19-year-old student was shot dead the day of a final exam. The police said the victim had refused to date the perpetrator of the crime, who ended his own life after killing his target. Albanian media romanticized the crime by presenting it as a crime of “passion.” Some even compared the murder to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — especially since the victim’s name, Xhulieta Cuni, is so similar to Juliet’s. The media plays an important role in shaping public opinion, and in this case, a clear message was sent to women and girls who may have been, are, or will find themselves in a similar situation to Xhulieta’s: A man who could take her life might be forgiven for doing so out of “love” for her.
Even when someone takes legal steps against potential perpetrators, like getting a protection order against them in the court, they are all too often eventually murdered by them anyway. In January, a law student named Ariela Murati was executed in the middle of the day in Tirana by a man she had also turned down. After assassinating Murati, her murderer ended his own life, too; he died in the hospital after being in a coma for several days. Murati had been followed and harassed by this man for a long time and had even shared this fact with some friends. One friend published some of the messages Murati had sent her, proving that she was afraid and felt that not only was she in danger, but that her sister was, too, as the same man had pursued her as well. He told her that she would no longer see her sister alive if she denounced him. In fact, Murati was murdered on her way to report him to the police.
Last year, Fildes Hafizi, a judge, was killed in the middle of the city on a sunny day. The intellectual, personable woman had received a protection order against her ex-husband after he attempted to kill her — in front of their young son, no less. After her husband was released from jail for this murder attempt, he then returned to murder Hafizi again. This time he succeeded.
Even more disturbing than the Albanian femicide rate itself, though, is how socially normalized is the idea not only that women and girls who are threatened by sexually abusive partners will receive little state or police intervention, but that those supposed “intervening” forces can often compound the problem. I attended the protest on June 16, and while there I met an Australian woman who has lived in Albania for several years. In her hands, she held a banner featuring her own picture, accompanied by a description of how the police had treated her after she was violated by her husband and reported the violation to them. After the woman left the police station, she started receiving text messages from an unknown number with sexually suggestive messages. Reporting her husband to the police only resulted in her being sexually harassed by the policeman to whom she reported her experience.
Our society and government must denounce these macabre crimes and attempt to prevent them with adequate education, functioning women's care centers, and other resources for women who need assistance. Despite all of these murders, no organization or any other effort has organized a formal legal initiative to combat this violence. But there is hope a feminist uprising might occur: An unknown feminist group painted the walls of the city with graphics protesting the so-called “passion crime.” Hopefully their activity will raise awareness and encourage other Albanians to rise up in protest.
More articles by Category: Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Gender Based Violence, Sexual harassment