The COVID-19 pandemic poses many challenges to specialists responsible for preventing and combating domestic violence. From the interaction with the victims and the aggressors, to the meetings of the multidisciplinary team and the organization of information activities for community members, all these aspects required identification of alternative solutions, to ensure control of the spread of coronavirus. The multidisciplinary team from the village of Chirsova, a locality in ATU Gagauzia compactly populated by ethnic Bulgarians and Gagauzians, managed to adjust its activity, so that it remains one hundred percent connected to the problems of women and girls facing violence.
Evdokia Topal, a social worker in Chirsova, is an active member of the multidisciplinary team, who has been active in this community for two years already. The specialist says that the pandemic period means a difficult stage in the activity of the group to which she belongs. Solutions need to be identified on the go.
“It was an exceedingly difficult period, there were many requests, we tried to help everyone whenever it was possible. Starting with the declaration of the emergency state in the country, we worked remotely, but when there were requests, we personally received the inhabitants of the village, considering and respecting all safety rules, of course, such as wearing protective masks, disinfecting hands and rooms. There were also situations when we turned to a less common practice for us — we organized some consultations outside, in the open air, when the weather was good. We received the necessary documents from people, we tried to inform them thoroughly and to offer them help.”
The social worker acknowledges that during the pandemic the number of cases of violence increased. “Domestic violence, violence in society is a rather complicated subject and it is getting noticed more and more every day. Especially during the pandemic. Many residents lost their jobs and, of course, this affects the family budget, there are problems, tensions, and, as a result, violence.
Cases of violence, more difficult to monitor
Maria Boicova, the director of the “Mihail Tanasoglo” gymnasium in Chirsova, has been an active member of the multidisciplinary team from the very beginning. In the institution that she leads, the pandemic has dictated several changes in the rules, and the cases of violence that teachers could previously observe directly have now become more difficult to monitor.
“During the pandemic, like any school, we faced some challenges. Children went on to distance learning, but our multidisciplinary team of course continued to work. We focused more on remote work, we took care of logistics, we stayed connected with all those who need help,” says the director.
Ana Neicovcena, the director of kindergarten no. 2 “Licurici”, believes that the pandemic has further strengthened the multidisciplinary team in Chirsova.
“We worked side by side during this period. It was necessary to work remotely, but every time certain questions arose, we coordinated, we consulted with each other, we took certain decisions to be more efficient. The team members promptly reacted to signals of domestic violence. In general, the activity of the multidisciplinary team in our locality aims to improve the lives of the villagers, to have fewer acts of violence, misunderstandings between people. We aim to connect the community, we want our citizens to be friendly,” says Ana Neicovcena.
The Centre for assistance of victims of violence, a service expected at the regional level
The multidisciplinary team from Chirsova was established two years ago, with the support of UNDP, by the administrative decision of the mayor of the locality. This intervention group includes medical workers, directors of educational institutions, the police officer, social worker, mayor, etc.
The team’s activity is based on a local action plan for preventing and combating violence, which is developed in a participatory manner, with all residents having the opportunity to put forward their own visions or proposals for reducing violence. The action plan will allow local authorities to allocate and attract resources for the functioning of the services needed by the community. The action plan includes short-term and long-term activities in various areas of assistance: legal, social, educational, employment.
Serghei Sapunji, the mayor of the locality, highlights the important contribution of the multidisciplinary team, that reacted promptly to all cases of violence, before the pandemic started.
“Now, during this complicated period, unfortunately, there are more cases of gender-based violence in our village. Locals, women, mothers with many children come to us with the request to get involved in certain cases. We address each situation, some families were helped, we talked to each aggressor and victim. We hope that together with the multidisciplinary team and the villagers, we will be able to reduce this negative phenomenon. We work actively, we inform the population, we train using different methods, and we hope that the effects will appear in a short time,” says the mayor.
According to Serghei Sapunji, one of the biggest problems for the multidisciplinary team until recently was the identification of temporary housing that could be used as shelter for women suffering from violence. The problem was solved with the opening of the Regional Centre for Assistance to Victims of Domestic Violence in ATU Gagauzia, on 7December, this year.
All women from all localities of ATU Gagauzia will be able to use the services of the newly created institution.
“The beneficiaries or those who will access the services of the centre are people subject to domestic violence and human trafficking. These can be women, children, mothers with children. We will offer several services — legal, social, psychological consultations, employment assistance. Likewise, we will be able to temporarily accommodate our beneficiaries. It all depends on the severity of the case — some will stay at the centre for a month, others will stay here for half a year,” says the director of the centre, Svetlana Gheorghieva.
The centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence in ATU Gagauzia is in a building of about 500 square meters, with two floors, thoroughly renovated. The institution will be able to accommodate up to 20 people, women and children at the same time. Each woman will have a separate room, equipped with everything needed. A room where beneficiaries will be able to spend their time in some joint activities was arranged. At the same time, there is a children’s playroom in the institution.
The building has a universal design, being accessible for people with disabilities; at the entrance there is an access ramp, inside — adapted toilets, and access from one floor to another can be ensured with the help of a special device.
At the first floor there will also be a community centre for women and men from vulnerable groups and people who need counselling or support.
The opening of the centre for the rehabilitation of women suffering from violence and the formation of the multidisciplinary team in Chirsova is part of the project “Addressing violence against women in the Republic of Moldova: exploring and learning from local solutions”, implemented by UNDP in 2018–2020 with the support of the Republic of Korea. The initiative is part of a global UNDP project, which aims to address prevention of large-scale violence, involving new partners, strategies, and sources of funding. The project is implemented in seven countries in the world, Moldova being the only one in Europe.
According to the legislation of the Republic of Moldova, multidisciplinary teams, which are responsible, among other tasks, for the prevention of domestic violence, must exist under all town halls in the country. According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, 41 multidisciplinary teams operate at the district and municipal level in the Republic of Moldova.
Text: Natalia Porubin, PNUD Moldova
Foto: Ion Buga