With USAID Support, Local Governments Doing More to Address Domestic Violence

Speeches Shim

Friday, February 4, 2022

By Cherish Broker, Development Associate, USAID/Georgia

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in domestic violence in Georgia, with quarantine periods and rising economic insecurity putting more people, especially women, at risk of abuse. In 2021, USAID supported a gender assessment activity to help Georgia’s local governments better understand the problem and develop strategies for addressing it. After participating in the assessment, local governments in Batumi, Rustavi, and Ozurgeti conducted inclusive budgeting processes that allowed civil society organizations and citizens to provide input on policy measures to address the problem. As a result, the 2022 budgets in all three municipalities include more funding to support victims of violence, demonstrating the tangible impact of robust democracy at the local level.

As in many places around the world, COVID-19 has exposed and even worsened gender disparities in Georgian society. According to a USAID-supported gender assessment, women in Georgia were more likely to lose employment or income due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. Even worse, there was a considerable rise in domestic violence during quarantine periods, with women more vulnerable to abuse while confined at home. More women found themselves in need of psychological support and shelter services, but in many cases, existing public services were insufficient.

The majority of citizen interactions with government, especially those involving the use of public services, happen at the local level. Accordingly, local governments have a critical role to play supporting the women in their communities and developing policy solutions that can be brought to scale on the national level. 

In 2021, USAID’s Good Governance Initiative facilitated inclusive budgeting processes that brought together local government officials, civic leaders, and concerned citizens in three municipalities - Batumi, Rustavi, and Ozurgeti. With robust input from local citizens, local governments in each municipality prepared budgets that strengthen public services for victims of domestic violence, with the goal of helping them gain independence from their abusers and become less vulnerable to violence in the future. The initiatives, supported by USAID and led by citizens through a participatory budgeting process, demonstrate how local democracy can effectively address pressing social problems. 

Rustavi: Making Domestic Violence Victims Eligible for Assistance for the First Time

In Rustavi, the Mayor’s office re-classified victims of domestic violence as a vulnerable group, making them eligible for special social and healthcare benefits for the first time. Starting in 2022, victims of domestic violence will be eligible to receive up to GEL 1,000 to cover things like housing and family expenses, reducing vulnerability to repeat abuse. The gender-sensitive budgeting process in Rustavi also resulted in a new publicly-funded program that covers childcare for single mothers, victims of domestic violence, and people who meet other qualifying circumstances. 

“[We will make] victims of domestic violence eligible for all programs which are made available for socially-vulnerable groups in the 2022 municipal budget,” said David Ishkneli, who served as deputy mayor of Rustavi during the participatory budgeting activity. “In accordance, we will make victims of domestic violence eligible to access support under the social assistance programs of the Rustavi Mayor’s Office.” 

Batumi: New Assistance to Help Victims Gain Independence from Abusers

After consulting with civil society and receiving input from citizens, Batumi Sakrebulo established a new program to provide financial assistance of GEL 300 per month for victims of domestic violence. This funding, which is available to each beneficiary for up to one year, will in its first phase help 15 individuals cover housing, food, and childcare costs, helping them gain independence from their abusers. Victims of domestic violence in Batumi were also added to the list of vulnerable groups in the health category in Batumi, making them eligible for a one-time voucher for up to GEL 200 GEL to cover medical treatment.

“[This process] helped us mediate and expand services to victims of gender-based violence under the municipal budget,” said Beqa Machitadze, head of the Batumi Shelter and Crisis Center, a civil society organization. “Allocating financial support to victims of violence and adding them as a vulnerable category in the municipal budget will be of immense importance to helping victims during the resocialization process in our region.”

Ozurgeti: Vocational Training to Prevent Repeat Abuse

Following a participatory budgeting process that gathered input from local citizens, the Ozurgeti Sakrebulo designated victims of domestic violence as a vulnerable group, making them eligible for a housing stipend for up to one year. The Sakrebulo also took steps to address the gender gap in the long-term, launching a new program to finance vocational activities for women. This includes professional training and skills development, business networking, and information sharing - resources that can make women more independent and less vulnerable to abuse. 

“We have been able to re-classify a whole series of programs to make assistance equally accessible to the most vulnerable groups in our municipality,” said Lela Sajaia, then-chairwoman of Ozurgeti Sakrebulo’s Gender Equality Council. “We have ambitious plans to improve local legislative norms and approximate them with internationally-recognized human rights and gender equality standards.” 

Looking Toward Sustainable, Local Solutions for Combating Domestic Violence

These initiatives by local governments in Batumi, Rustavi, and Ozurgeti demonstrate what can be achieved when local officials respond to the needs of their communities. As the vast majority of public services are provided locally, local governments are at the frontline of efforts to address social problems, including domestic violence. By engaging directly with citizens, local governments build links between officials and the people they serve and create conditions for more participatory, citizen-centered governance in the future. 

USAID will continue to support municipalities around Georgia to strengthen local governance and create effective tools for responding to the needs of citizens, including the most vulnerable members of society such as victims of domestic violence. 

Last updated: February 04, 2022

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