Using strategic cooperation to achieve solidary work environment for women victims of violence

As a contribution to the global campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, SOLIDARNA – Foundation for Human Rights and Solidarity and its Fund #spasime (#saveme) and the Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development (HR PSOR), with the support of the European Parliament Office in Croatia, held an online open conversation “Solidary work environment with women who are victims of partner and domestic violence”.

You can watch the entire discussion HERE.

The open conversation started by agreeing that the labour market is the lifeblood of women’s economic emancipation and a fundamental precondition for a sustainable escape from the cycle of partner and domestic violence, as Marina Škrabalo, manager of the SOLIDARNA Foundation and moderator of this discussion, pointed out. On behalf of the European Parliament Office in Croatia, Violeta Simeonova Staničić pointed out that the terrible increase in violence against women across the EU is a burning issue of the current pandemic, which requires priority treatment in the policies of national governments and the EU. This primarily means the actual implementation of the overall spectrum of measures in the Istanbul Convention. Introductory speeches in the meeting were held by Marija Knežević-Kajari, Assistant Minister of Labour and President of the Managing Council of the Croatian Employment Service, Margereta Mađerić, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, and Iva Prpić on behalf of the City office for social protection and persons with disabilities of the City of Zagreb, while Nebojša Paunović concluded this part on behalf of the Office of the Gender Equality Ombudsman. Officials of the executive institutions reaffirmed their openness to proposals for improving the support system for women who are victims of partner and domestic violence.

The findings of the only research on the attitudes of the Women’s Room employers from 2018 “A step closer to employment”, which was presented by Anamaria Drođan-Kranjčec served as a starting point for an extremely important cross-sectoral discussion. Active participants of the open cross-sectoral conversation that followed were Kristina Fleicher from the Croatian Employment Service, Ana Miličević Pezelj from the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia, a member of the Managing Council of the Croatian Employment Service, Kristina Kulić on behalf of the Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, Ivan Janković on behalf of IKEA and Daria Mateljak from Hauska&Partner (both companies are members of the Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development), Ana Pecotić from the initiative #spasime (#saveme), Hrvoje Belobrk, head of the regional office of the Croatian Employment Service in Virovitica, and Desa Kolesarić, S.O.S. Virovitica.

In the discussion, participants underlined the urgent and essential needs of victims of gender-based violence – primarily women – in the workplace and the labour market in general. For women who are victims of violence, the basic needs are safety and quality of the workplace, accessibility to professional development and lifelong learning, financial support in crisis (for extraordinary legal expenses, rent, treatment, childcare, etc.) and certainly affordable and professional psychological support aimed at empowerment and emancipation. The openness of the employer toward a more flexible definition of working hours and current work tasks is especially important given the urgent needs of a woman in crisis who is currently fighting for her life and dignity, and most often for the safety of her children as well. An indispensable dimension of help for victims of violence is systematic and targeted support to employers and public professional services, especially in terms of their understanding of the issue of violence against women and the effectiveness of cooperation between various points in the system. A key resource in this is the cross-sectoral cooperation with women’s organisations that have been in the front line of support to women for decades, with the aim of providing them with better and faster employment. It is important for employers to recognise the support to their women workers in the turning points of their lives as an investment in people and the work environment, and thus in the satisfaction and productivity of all their workers. The support system for the employment of women who are victims of violence should be designed, improved and systematically financed through the National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality, the National Strategy for Combating All Forms of Violence against Women, the new ESF programme, and elaboration of the state budget, which are all urgent task that the Croatian Government is yet to carry out to justify the trust.

The participants concluded that the willingness of authorities, social partners, and civil society to act cooperatively and with awareness is the main strength of change. This is also testified by innovations in the internal policy of care for workers during the pandemic at IKEA, which has included experts from the Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb in the training of its human resources team on how to provide support at work to women who are victims of violence. Also, in response to the current crisis, it established the Solidarity Fund that provides financial support for rents, legal fees and psychological support for women workers who are victims of domestic violence and their families, primarily children.

After the round table, Mirjana Matešić from the Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development pointed out the way in which these problems need to be approached to adequately solve them in the long run: “The problem in the Republic of Croatia is that our companies are usually very small, relatively weak, and do not have the resources and capacities, so we usually find the best practice in companies that are part of some multinational organisations. What we can copy, what is good practice, is precisely this joint work where the approach to a victim of violence is not individual, does not depend only on the social welfare centre or a safe house, but a woman is monitored in cooperation with the both the employer and the school (if there are children who are victims of violence) – so the entire system provides joint support to help a woman out of a violent environment and get her on her feet, both psychologically and economically. Unfortunately, this synergy does not exist here and that is exactly the synergy advocated today. The synergy of the entire system is what we need to work on.”

After the discussion with authorities, Sanja Sarnavka, a long-time activist against violence against women and president of the SOLIDARNA Foundation, said: “Finally we have the ministry and labour and social policy together, so we can achieve much greater synergy and do many more things. We will request a meeting to say that the conclusions of today’s round table must be translated into active employment policy measures at the national level. Of course, these measures must be lowered to the local level and to smaller communities. We had an interlocutor from the Croatian Employment Service in Virovitica who talked about the problems of women from rural areas who cannot even reach the Employment Service because they do not have transportation, do not have the means, do not have knowledge… There is a lot of work ahead of us, and what is usually used as an excuse is that there is no money. There is! There is money, especially through the European Social Fund. If we develop projects well, and not just to get by, a lot can be done in this area, for the general benefit of the society and the state.”

Thanking the European Parliament Office in Zagreb for the support and the excellent response and openness of competent institutions and all stakeholders, the SOLIDARNA Foundation and the Croatian Business Council for Sustainable Development will send proposals to competent institutions for adapting the new package of measures for active employment and programming the European Social Fund for the benefit of women who are victims of violence in the labour market, with employers, trade unions, and support network for women in the community.

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