Economic Violence as Domestic Violence
On June 25th, 2018, UNWOMEN supported, and other UN entities attended the event “How to Prevent Economic Violence,” hosted by INJECT- a newly established initiative for justice and equality.
Among many attendees, INJECT’s founder Luljeta Aliu, the president of the Women’s Caucus- Mexhide Mjaku-Topalli and the Swiss Deputy Head of the Embassy of Switzerland- Anita Schlüchter Roth, held their opening remarks. Ms. Aliu initially established the organisation following her own struggles in realising her constitutional rights of fair divorce in front of a court. From this experience, she discovered embedded institutional and structural violence hindering her proceedings as a woman, where her case was refused to be reviewed by the local police officers and courts. Throughout the process, her documentation and confessions were manipulated. As such, she experienced first-hand, the immense downfall of the Kosovar legislative system, in which the laws are well-drafted but often are not implemented sufficiently.
According to the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the European Institute for Gender Equality, economic violence is defined as “Acts of control and monitoring of the behaviour of an individual in terms of the use and distribution of money, and the constant threat of denying economic resources.1” In the case of Ms. Aliu and many others, economic violence has particularly unravelled in cases of domestic abuse and later, divorce, where economic violence manifests itself in forms of denying access to shared funds as well as deceiving assets and blackmailing through threatening measures. Economic violence does not only influence women, but as well particularly affects minorities and minors, causing societal stagnation for the disadvantaged groups fuelled by both corruption and nepotism.
Through discussion it was found that the wives’ household work and efforts for the family are difficult to quantify and are not recognised as work, making it difficult to produce proof of their input to the family as a whole. This concept of invisible labour then influences the wives’ rights in declaring their legal 50% share of the household and its goods upon divorce. Moreover, alimony poses an issue where the court decides on its monetary amount that is largely the same in all divorces. This is problematic where living standards vary among Kosovar families and lesser alimony can lead to degrading these standards. The victims’ protection representative from the Pristina general court, Saranda Keqekolla, emphasised that the lack of resources and investigation in alimony cases, ultimately leads to many unfair results. Following, Adelina Berisha from the Kosovo Women’s Network added that in divorce cases custody over children is often given to the wealthier parent. This can undermine the child’s well-being where economic violence and cases of abuse are present and go understudied by social workers that lack awareness of the current situation.
The recently established fund for domestic violence victims has only compensated two victims out of 50 applications, where nine are currently under investigation. Yet, courts and investigators seemingly believe that the plausible victims falsify evidence in search for benefits. Therefore, the fund structures are not seen as supportive nor allowing for the necessary support for domestic violence issues.
Overall, it was highlighted that preventative measures are lacking, where women are not informed to a necessary level about their economic rights, shared property and goods to be able to defend themselves and seek support when needed. This is made more difficult by non-compliant investigators, social workers and courts avoiding their duty. Economic violence does not only affect women in cases of divorce, but they can also be deprived of access to their shared assets and are largely discriminated in heritage matters that stem from unequal treatment of boys and girls ingrained in societal and cultural practices.
Coming to the end of the conference, small groups broke off to discuss possible solutions to implicit and explicit sexism within the Kosovar legal frameworks, institutions and society. The proposed recommendations were taken by the organisers to be further discussed in the assembly. In the discussion, recommendations varied between including lawyers for domestic violence to be present in all cases of divorce and property sharing in order to safeguard the disadvantaged side, to setting up a new court mechanism that specifically studies economic violence to allow for complaints to be followed through in an appropriate manner. Domestic violence is not only an issue enacted by men but is also conducted by women towards men and adults towards children. Moreover, the phenomenon takes place among all ethnic communities in Kosovo; crime crosses all ethnic borders and it is crucial to build a society that fosters support between these communities. It is counterproductive to stereotype beneficiary structures and victims, as these situations that can only be overcome by a thorough investigation of each individual case. However, first and foremost, economic violence needs to be defined under the Kosovar law and concrete actors must be in place to successfully pursue investigations.
Written by Charlotta Lahnalahti, Nirosha Balakumar, and Sarah Tenus, Communication and Parliamentary Interns.