Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, the ACTIV project’s – for “Acting and collaborating to tackle intimate violence” – main objective is to improve the socio-professional (re)integration of women facing domestic violence.

Through the various products developed within the framework of the project, the ACTIV partnership strives to improve synergies between the actors, raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence and improve the conditions for a better pathway to socio-professional (re)integration. The overall result of these resources is to improve the support, guidance and integration that the different actors offer to the women concerned.

Firstly, the project developed a guidebook putting into perspective the definitions, the national and European contexts, and the legal frameworks (Belgium, France, Romania, Spain); identifying the limits and positive initiatives that can help the socio-professional (re)integration of women facing domestic violence and proposing a framework of common indicators facilitating mutual understanding between the actors involved in the return-to-work process.

This second outcome is a learning toolkit for the structures involved in the latter process. Based on its experience, the ACTIV partnership has identified the lack of collaboration between actors when it comes to providing effective help, assistance and support to women. Thus, this paper focuses specifically on two groups: field workers and enterprises, both of which are considered fundamental in the pathway to socio-professional (re)integration. The latter is because ACTIV strongly believes that guidance structures and enterprises should work hand in hand and not separately as is, unfortunately, most often the case at present.

The third publication is a white paper for policymakers, business actors and all organisations working on the subject with concrete recommendations to improve the support of women in their pathway.

A tailor-made pathway to ensure the socio-professional (re)integration of women confronted with domestic violence

1. Socio-professional (re)integration and job retention are essential

The countries of the ACTIV partnership used different methodologies with different groups of actors, including women survivors of domestic violence 2 , field workers and companies, to discuss issues related to the socio-professional (re)integration of women facing this type of violence. Although each country takes into account the specificities of its context, the general results are transversal and raise key points such as the lack of investment and support for care structures and the lack of interest of companies in this issue. For example, socio-professional (re)integration was highlighted as an essential step for the recovery and empowerment of women.

On the one hand, the professionals working with survivors of domestic violence are considered the only ones to have enough knowledge about gender politics, which causes them to be left to deal with every issue that has to do with gender. Thus, the lack of gender-focused trained professionals causes specialists to be overworked, making it impossible to tend to all the victims that need their services. They ask for more trained professionals or a more significant economic investment to coach more people in gender-related issues.

On the other hand, empowering survivors of domestic violence and giving them back their agency and independence was stated as fundamental. To accomplish this, women need to find ways to support themselves, and the best way is for them to get training in specific areas in which they can work, which brings the following issue: companies are not aware enough of it. Most companies only want to employ survivors of domestic violence for a certain amount of time to get economic benefits – if there are – but don’t care enough about them to build a healthy and lasting employment relationship. For this reason, companies and employers must be sensitised and trained in gender and violence topics to understand the situation in which women have been, and are still, going through.

Lastly, since this type of violence affects women in different ways and there is not a specific and defined profile of a woman who has suffered it, there is no linear path to follow to help them in their socio-professional (re)integration.

Plus, most policies focus on survivors of domestic violence (re)integration but don’t account for external factors such as mental health issues or children. For instance, employers and companies need to give women the flexibility to recover and sort out their lives (e.g. without needing to still keep up with a regular work schedule, for instance). Specific needs might arise depending on every situation. For this reason, it is vital to create tools and resources that might contribute to empathising, understanding, and offering better conditions, putting women at the centre.

The socio-professional (re)integration and job retention are essential for the holistic recovery of women confronted with domestic violence.

As mentioned above, field workers facing many difficulties and companies lacking knowledge and resources in the socio-professional (re)integration of women confronted with domestic violence persist. However, as stated during the ACTIV case studies and focus groups developed, for women confronted with this type of violence, access to employment and job retention is one of the steps that might help them to stop the circle of violence they are embedded in, and it is needed for their holistic recovery.

For women confronted with domestic violence, the possibility of having a job helps them to achieve financial, social, psychological, and emotional independence. It permits them economic independence and gives them agency and strength so they can stop their link with the aggressor. It also helps them in their emotional, psychological, and physical recuperation. Besides, leaving their house permits them to enhance personal relations and promote self-esteem, security, and stability. For their recovery, the support, autonomy, and income provided by labour reinsertion are essential. Thus, labour (re)insertion and job retention are key factors in their life and relation normalisation. However, this is a difficult process they have to go through. It is a non-linear and intermittent pathway women must face.

2. Companies are key players

Companies are fundamental actors on this path as they are key players in achieving justice, equity and better conditions for women facing domestic violence. In order to combat domestic violence, it is vital to create a support network where every stakeholder is involved. Furthermore, it must be understood that domestic violence is not a private issue but a public and state issue of collective responsibility and that everyone must participate in improving the conditions of this population of women. Thus, the role of society, especially in the business sector, in achieving justice and equity is fundamental. Sustainability, social cohesion and a type of management that responds to this issue in accordance with an ethical commitment and national, European and international legal requirements and frameworks should be the objective.

Companies have great potential to raise social awareness and can strengthen internally, within their organisation, and externally, with customers and suppliers, a healthier ecosystem that promotes and continues to build a society free of domestic violence. In addition, women survivors have developed emotional capacities to cope with reality and overcome many obstacles. This last point is a great strength as they show great resilience and strength to face the professional market.