As part of Bank of Valletta’s commemoration of Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on 8th March, CFO Izabela Banas visited the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF), a voluntary organisation committed to championing women’s legal rights through education and empowerment.

She was greeted by Dr Lara Dimitrijevic, a member of the Board of Directors who gave an overview of the Foundation’s ongoing projects. They discussed the hardships some women are facing in today’s society, a reality that highlights the important role played by WRF in its efforts to ensure that women’s rights are protected through policy and law reform.

Dr Dimitrijevic commented that “our Foundation works closely with women who have experienced gender-based discrimination, including domestic violence or femicide. We focus on pushing for reform in policies aimed at protecting women and their rights, a role that is sometimes met with public backlash.” She went on to say that for the WRF, a success story is one where a woman walks away with her children, safe from harm and able to have a second chance at a healthy and full life. Whilst commending Dr Dimitrijevic for the Foundation’s work and success, Ms Banas said, “at times we forget that today we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, fighting for rights that we now tend to take for granted. As a society we need to continue pushing to narrow the gender gap.”

As part of BOV’s wider commemoration of Women’s Day, the bank put a spotlight on three non-profit making organisations that support vulnerable women. Ms Banas’ visit to WRF formed part of this initiative.

Charles Azzopardi who heads the Bank’s CSR function within the bank explained that BOV is an organisation employing over 2,000 employees, where almost 60 per cent of the workforce is female, and where most employees have daughters, wives and/or sisters they care deeply about. “In addition to supporting our people by ensuring equal opportunities, the bank also supports work-life balance, family-friendly measures and leadership courses.

“This year, we sought the support of female representatives from the Bank’s top management to shine a light on three NGOs that support vulnerable women in our communities, in spite of the challenging circumstances they would be facing. For us, this is as important as extending a helping hand through monetary donations to help them further their mission.”

The second organisation visited was Dar Merhba Bik, an organisation run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, who work with women who have fallen victim to domestic violence. Elaine Vassallo Pavia of Dar Merħba Bik welcomed Elena Dourou, BOV’s Group Chief Internal Auditor, at one of their shelters.

She said that “a family would normally spend around six months at Dar Merħba Bik, where those in need, whether adults, seniors or children, are provided with the psycho-social services they need, including counseling and therapeutical support to help them live their life beyond the trauma of domestic abuse.” She went on to explain that once this program is completed, the family moves to a 12-month program at Dar Santa Bakhita where it is given semi-independent accommodation as it is slowly reintegrated into the community, helping it find alternative accommodation and employment. The shelter has the capacity to accommodate up to 17 families.

“This experience was truly a reality check for me,” said Ms Dourou immediately after her visit. “It was overwhelming to see both the cruelty certain women are facing, as well as the level of altruism extended by this NGO. It may sound like a cliché, but it is a classic case of women pulling women to stand on their own two feet again, making a better life for themselves and their young families.”

The last NGO participating in this initiative was Fondazzjoni Sebħ, where Yvonne Mallia, Director of Fondazzjoni Sebħ and Kerry Hermitage, Family Services Senior Manager welcomed Charles Azzopardi at Il-Milja. This NGO provides residential services to female survivors of violence and their children, as well as a community service offering support to individuals and families. Mr Azzopardi was given a tour of the residential home that offers an element of independence to the families seeking refuge.

Ms Mallia explained that at the same time, these homes act as communities where vulnerable persons feel safe sharing their experiences and supporting one another. The financial support offered by the Bank as part of this initiative is earmarked to complete a spirituality room that residents can visit for reflection as spirituality is an integral part of the recovery process. The spirituality room will cater for different cultures and religious beliefs.

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