Members News

Anatomy of a backlash in providing assistance and support to victims of violence against women in Estonia

[Article by the Estonian Women’s Association Roundtable, member of the EWL, July 2017] In 2017, the government changed the services rendered by the women’s support centres developed by NGOs into a government-funded service which is obtained via the competitive bidding process where the contract is granted to the cheapest bidder. In addition, in 2016 the government decreased the overall funding envisaged for women’s support centres.

Minister Jevgeni Ossinovski, leader of the Social Democratic Party, claimed in a TV talk show: “We have made use of foreign donor money, we have provided a broader spectrum of services than prescribed by law. Now that the government has taken over the service provision, we see that some have benefited and some have not because we move in the direction of harmonising the service. There is no way, however, that the quality of the service will be compromised.”

The reality, however, is that as of 1 January 2017, seven women’s organisations, which in 2016 provided a full range of services for abused women and their children in nine counties (out of the total of 15), discontinued the full service and closed women’s shelters because a cheaper service provider was found for the county by way of procurement. Closed were Järva County Women’s Support Centre (WSC), Lääne County WSC together with its Hiiu County branch; Rapla County WSC, Viljandi County WSC, Viru County WSC, WSC, Võru County WSC alongside with its Põlva County branch and Tallinn WSC, managed by the Estonian Women’s Shelters’ Union.

From January 2017, in four counties the services are provided by the NGO Eluliin (Lifeline), which has so far been focused on working with prostituted persons, drug addicts and victims of human trafficking and provided general psychological crisis counselling. In one of the counties, the contract was awarded to a business entity rendering services for the homeless. In three counties, a cheaper service is provided by a WSC from another county.

Only two WSCs in counties with smaller populations could continue providing the full service due to the failure to find a cheaper service provider; this concerns Valga and Jõgeva WSCs.

How it all happened

In 2013-2016, thanks to the Norway Grants programme “Domestic and gender-based violence”, complex services for victims of VAW were developed for WSCs. The latter included - on top of initial emergency crisis counselling, case-based counselling and temporary accommodation – also legal and psychological counselling by specially trained experienced professionals. Following the service description developed under the Norway Grant project, such complex services were expressly mentioned in the Victim Support Act, which was adopted by the Riigikogu in October 2016. The 2017 state budget envisaged for these services 620 000 euros – in excess of 100 000 euros less than state budget allocations for the support centres in 2016.

In November 2016, the Social Insurance Board announced a public tender to find providers of WSC centre services. Compared with 2016 funds allocated by the Ministry of Social Affairs for rendering the service, the maximum contract amounts had decreased in ten regions, including by 45% in Jõgeva County, by 43% in Järva County, by 58% in Lääne County (together with Hiiu County), by 25% in Lääne Viru County, by 44% in Valga County, by 44% in Võru County. The upper limit had grown in four regions, primarily in regions with bigger populations like Harju County and Ida-Viru County. Such a distribution meant that in counties with smaller populations, WSCs are in 2017 not capable of providing legal and psychological counselling and a support centre can employ only one member of staff paid the national average salary at which she/he has to guarantee 24/7 availability of service.

During the public procurement process, the requirements for service providers were weakened whereas training on violence against women was made equal to training on human trafficking.

The Social Insurance Board managed to find service providers offering a cheaper service for the majority of counties to replace the previously existing providers. The total value of the contracts awarded reached 641 000 euros (instead of the intended 620 000) which yet means 84 000 less than in 2016. The most drastic cuts concerned counties with smaller populations where abused women have practically no other option to access help.

Current situation

Reduced funding and thoughtless distribution of existing funds, treating assistance to abused women business as usual, procuring services as cheap as possible have in 2017 irreversibly destroyed the previously existing well-established and well-functioning system of WSC in Estonia.

At present, the availability and quality of services varies substantially across counties. The experience of the first four months of the operation of the new system demonstrates that there is a significant drop in the number of victims approaching women’s support centres compared to the previous years due to the lack of trust toward the new service provider. In some counties, not a single woman approached the centre during the first four months. At the same time, the NGOs providing the service before, have continued supporting women victims doing so on a voluntary basis not willing to leave them without professional help locally.

We are lagging behind many years in terms of the quality of services for abused women. Furthermore, the efforts made under the Norway Grant project in harmonising the services and improving their quality have consequently proved useless. Terminating the activities of the previously existing WSCs means loss of competence and experience more than 40 professionals and volunteers with specialist training in the field of violence against women.

Organised by the Ministry of Social Affairs, a crash course on violence against women took place at the beginning of this year even though the service procurement procedures stipulated that all new women’s shelters employees must have undergone relevant training prior to employing them.
We have lost trust in our government. Gone are trust and cooperation between WSCs which have turned into competing businesses on the market. We have lost trust in networking and clients’ trust in the system of support centres.


The solution, in the opinion of the Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable, would be taking a decisive step ahead – turning WSCs’ services into a public service and putting an end to buying cheap service with dubious quality on the market via public tendering.

The Social Insurance Board should hire for every county apart from a victim support worker professional(s), lawyers and psychologists or psycho-therapists providing services to victims of violence against women. These people should be specialised in providing assistance to victims of violence against women and should have undergone extensive training in the field.

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

Facebook Feed

Get Involved