Women living in rural areas are more likely to be affected by unemployment and precarity than those living in cities. For women experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV), the rural environment presents specific challenges to their ability to access services and maintain their economic independence. Indeed, after separating from their abusive partner, IPVs survivors sometimes find themselves without economic resources or housing.
Socio-professional reintegration of IPV survivors in rural areas presents challenges specific to the environment: not only are there fewer employment opportunities, but without access to a vehicle, women can find themselves dependent on poor public transport services. With fewer places available in creches, finding affordable childcare can be difficult in rural areas. Women who contact socio-professional (re)integration structures may not receive the support they require because, workers in these centres are often unaware of the specific issues survivors of IPV face and lack the appropriate resources to effectively meet their needs.
Public services, particularly health professionals are particularly in short supply in rural areas. Equally, specialist services and networks of charities are often less developed or difficult to access, thus the identification and support of victims of IPV can be challenging. Where these services exist, they are generally unknown to the general public. Indeed, a study conducted in the Île-de-France showed that only 9.7% of the population access their local advice services. Furthermore, woman may be reluctant to go to AVC since they will be "stigmatised" as victims of violence.
In an attempt to respond to these issues, the Fondation Agir Contre l’Exclusion (FACE) developed a local trial in Allier, a rural department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. The aim of the project was two-fold: firstly, the project wanted to improve women's ability to access support by developing their awareness of the support structures that exist in their local area. Secondly, the project aimed to improve the socio-professional reintegration process of IPV survivors’ by delivering awareness-raising sessions to the actors involved in the process.
After consulting with a variety of local actors, it was decided that staff at local public services information centres should be trained in recognising and responding to cases of domestic violence. The choice of the Maisons France Services (MFS) was strategic: they are informal spaces open to everyone. Thus, women accessing theses centres are not identified as IPV victims. Moreover, women experiencing IPV are often already in contact with these services regarding finance or housing issues. Finally, when starting a socio-professional reintegration programme, the job-seeking or rights access structures are often the first structures victims are in contact with.
Training the staff of these organisations was therefore essential so that they were able to signpost survivors to specialist AVCs and adapt the socio-professional reintegration programmes to the specific needs of survivors. In addition to training staff, the local centres also displayed information on domestic violence, national helplines, and local AVCs so that women accessing the centres were able to obtain information on the services available to them.
During the local trial, awareness-raising sessions were also delivered to local businesses. This part of the project, initially unforeseen, developed when it was understood that employers are the last step in the reinsertion process and therefore need to understand their role in reinsertion process and, more largely, the fight against IPV. Training employers to understand IPV, the consequences on the victim, and the impact it can have on survivors' return to employment was an essential part of the project.
The local trial has shown that to improve the support for IPV survivors in socio-professional (re)insertion process, local actors must collaborate and cooperate. This is especially true in rural areas where geographical isolation negatively impacts survivors of IPV. The project has shown that all organisations (employers, employment structures, AVCs, etc.) have a specific and essential role to play in the fight to end IPV. When organisations are trained on domestic violence, they know how to best respond to a woman's needs.