Informative sessions with parents

Gender-based violence in the poorest county of European Union - Vaslui County in Romania

By Eliza Drob, Communications Officer, World Vision Romania

Gender-based violence phenomena are widely spread in Romania, in rural regions especially. According to the study of the National Institute for Public Health, in 2018, 30% of Romanian women said that they were affected by physical or sexual violence at some point in their life, after 15 years old. 24% admitted that they suffered violence from their partner, and 14% suffered violence from another person. And 77% of women in Romania believe that violence against women is spread or widespread. 

ith these statistics in mind, I approached the local operational team that has been working in the rural communities from Vaslui county for more than 10 years, with several questions in mind. Before we get into their answers I need to explain the affirmation from the title. Yes, Vaslui county, located in North-Eastern Romania, is considered to be the poorest county in Romania and European Union. According to the National Prognosis Commission, the GDP per capita is only 4,3 EUR. High unemployment, lack of education, few opportunities. With these numbers, one can only think that gender-based violence is common. 

I asked three of my specialist colleagues to answer four questions. Remus Ifrim is the program manager, Diana Bizgan is child protection specialist, Florentina Cretu is a psychologist.

1.     Is gender-based violence spread in the communities where World Vision is present in Vaslui county? – 10 rural communities with 79 villages in total.

GBV is widespread in our communities in Vaslui county, especially because of alcohol consumption, economical problems, lack of jobs, and poor education. As a personal perception, during the COVID19 pandemic, domestic violence has been growing. Men that were day laborers didn’t have where to go, people working in factories (example of Delphi company) had staff restructured and many lost their jobs. Statistically proven, in Romania, the cases of GBV grow when the abuser spends more time at home. 

There are two explanations of why women in rural Romania struggle and stay with an abusive partner. One of them is explained by Remus. He says that in Orthodoxism is important for women to listen and obey their husbands. But this was misinterpreted by many rural communities. This should only be respected when the husbands act for the well-being of the family and their children. Otherwise, a woman with children should have the strength and possibility to protect herself and the children from an abusive father. 

On the other hand, our child protection specialist, Diana, says that many of them don’t have anywhere else to go and aren’t usually supported by their families. And if they complain to the police, the fee will be paid from the same family budget, and ultimately the children will suffer. Many women in rural Romania endure insults, humiliations, debasements. But because of a lack of specialized social services and legal security, many decide to stay. 

Together with the Community Consultative Structures (social assistant, doctors, mayors, school principal, priest, World Vision specialist), there are many gender-based violence cases, but many of them are not denounced to the police by the victim.   

2.     What are the secondary effects of GBV in the family? How are the children affected?

Our colleague Florentina Cretu, the psychologist, told us more about the negative effects of GBV in our communities. 

·       GBV has physical effects that may require medical assistance, and in serious cases can have long-term effects that could result in infirmities, partial loss of ability to work, or death of the victim. 

·       Mental health is affected, many victims develop acute or chronic emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD.

·       Professional and/or economical situations can be affected. In many cases, the wives are financially dependent on their husbands, they are the ones that work and provide for the family.

·       Socially, many women are isolated from friends and family because of restrictions imposed by their husbands. This is usually the primary reason why women fail to save themselves and escape the abuse. 

Regardless of all this trauma, children are the ones to suffer the most. Firstly, they can also be victims of abuse that subsequently can transform into ugly secondary effects. Usually, boys become abusers and develop violent behavior in school. It’s essential that children are supported through these experiences, says Florentina.

Remus remembers a case from Pungesti community of a girl that couldn’t focus at all during classes and she was often falling asleep. Children would laugh at her and teachers would scold her for not paying attention. After a while, the teachers found out that the girl was assisting in huge fights and beating between her parents every evening and night. 

Diana confirms that signs of family violence can affect the efficiency of children in school, children can become apathetic, anxious, don’t have an interest in anything. 

That’s why the collaboration between school – social assistance – city hall – priest – doctor is vital because everyone has only a piece of the puzzle. Diana says that there are cases in the communities we work in where the mayor and the priest are involved in cases of violence and abuse. Diana remembers that in one community, the mayor received a phone call in the middle of the night that in a family the husband was having a huge fight with the wife. He immediately went to see what’s going on and tried to cool things off. Also, the priest took care to stop by several times to see if everything is OK, to talk it out, and give advice. Even if they don’t have the specialized experience, a good word from the authorities may be taken into consideration. 

3.     How does World Vision locally combats GBV?

Locally, the team constantly tries to combat GBV in the families of registered children  through Parents’ School activities, through case management with the help of Community Consultative Structures and organize parents-children activities. 

Remus told us about a success story that resulted in a course for parents called “Celebrating family” implemented by a priest. The parents were separated because of several domestic violence situations, the mother and child moved to another village. With the help of this course, the priest managed to bring the parents together again and to infuse the values of understanding, respect, and love in a couple. The parents got back together and now they have a good relationship and the child can also live peacefully with both parents. 

But the Parents’ School is the most constant activity and is organized in the education sector, child protection sector, and the health sector. All the colleagues I talked with that were trainers said that more than 90% of participants are women. 

Remus is a trainer in Parents’ School activity for more than 10 years now and he talks with hundreds of parents, most of them mothers. With his personal experience of constantly being surrounded by girls in school, in his group of friends, in university, he managed to understand better how to talk to and understand women. He succeeded in creating a safe space for all Parents’ School meetings where he found out most sad stories about GBV. Even if it’s incredibly hard for the mothers to relate their personal experiences, they are assured about confidentiality and about the benefits of healing through storytelling. He was shocked when a mother confessed to the group that her husband ran after her with an axe around the house screaming insults at her, while the children were inside the house watching. 

The main goal of this activity is to share experiences and to gain the trust of the women dominated group, Remus starts with the ground rules of confidentiality and secureness. Then, as the conversations begin, he shares his own experiences as a father and husband. And he never forgets to admit his mistakes when it comes to being a partner for his wife. 

These kinds of activities can transform into support groups because many of the women in rural Romania don’t have anyone else to talk to about this, except the priest.

Diana explains that the number of men participating in Parents’ School is so low because they are the ones that work and the mothers are the ones that raise the children. Culturally, in rural Romania, fathers are usually not very involved when it comes to the relationship with the school, teachers, and activities regarding the wellbeing of the children. 

4.     What professional experiences can you share regarding GBV?

Our psychologist, Florentina, constantly approaches this subject when she has group counseling with the children, parents, and teachers. She wants to make sure they know the complexity of GBV and that it’s not only limited to physical violence. Like Remus and other World Vision specialists, she promotes security, love, and understanding in a family regardless of the needs. She explains what are the short and long-term negative effects to prevent as much as she can GBV.

During hundreds of hours of Parents’ School activities, Remus wants to gain the trust of the participants to open urgent discussions on the most serious problems. He tries to break the theoretical lecture and share his personal experience as a father and husband. He understood that many women in rural Romania need someone to trust and understand them, and need someone to listen to their stories. Also, he wanted to valorize them, he wanted to make them feel good during the activity because many of them have low self-esteem. He remembers one activity talking about the qualities of each participant. Many women weren’t able to recognize their qualities and one of them said: “I don’t know what are you talking about. My husband tells me I am not good at anything, he says that I am not even good at cooking, that I don’t even take care of the children wel enough and that I am not even beautiful anymore.”. This is a frequent attitude among women in rural Romania.   

When it comes to fighting against GBV, our local team is doing the best to inform children, parents, and teachers about the prevention, negative effects, and what one can do if one is in this situation. The team organizes Parents’ School where constantly topics such as domestic violence and child protection are talked about. And with the help of Community Consultative Structures, the team tries to identify and intervene if possible for the well-being of children.