In Serbia the issue of domestic violence is rarely discussed in public, despite statistics and surveys showing that at least one half of all women in Serbia are subjected to some form of violence. The prevailing traditional patriarchal society considers it a taboo and tends to avoid it. Our analysis

19/05/2011 -  OWPSEE/OBC

Article also available in Macedonian and Albanian.

On April 1 2011 the Government of Serbia adopted the National Strategy for Prevention of Violence against Women in the Family and in Partner Relationships, the first strategy of this type adopted at the national level.

The Government spokesperson Milivoje Mihajlović stated that the document focuses on the coordination of all actors and institutions that work in the field and offers a number of recommendations to improve and strengthen the related legislation.

The document preparation activities were coordinated by the Gender Equality Council of the Government of Serbia. The drafting process was quite prolonged and the whole document has been disputed by several civil society organisations. Among these the Autonomous Women's Centre (AŽC), not satisfied with the process of preparation of the Strategy, requested that the Gender Equality Council delete its name from the list of participants in the preparation of the Strategy. The main points of disagreement referred to the principles promoted by the Strategy and the fact that the existing Strategy adopted by the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina was completely ignored. Moreover, the document was not synchronized with the National Strategy for Improved Status of Women and Gender Equality, which makes both documents devoid of any meaning.

The Autonomous Women's Centre thereafter prepared detailed comments to the Strategy which it submitted to the Gender Equality Council for consideration during the public debate on the draft Strategy. At a conference held in Belgrade on 21 April, the Autonomous Women’s Centre and the Network of the European Women’s Lobby in Serbia also launched an initiative for creation of the Observatory on Violence against Women, an independent expert body for monitoring of gender-based violence).

In Vojvodina it works

It is of course too early to make any assessment of the implementation of the new Strategy. We could, however, base our analysis on the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina that adopted its own Strategy for Prevention of Domestic Violence and All Forms of Gender-Based Violence back in 2008. Danica Kolarov, Deputy Provincial Ombudsman for Gender Equality, who was involved as consultant in the drafting process - says that the Strategy has been implemented in a satisfactory way.

“We have implemented the education programmes for professionals who work on the issue of violence in their respective institutions, we have completed a survey on gender-based violence in Vojvodina, and a unified database that will be tested by the competent institutions” Kolarov said. “The only problem remains the work with the media: education and training activities have not proceeded as planned, although a promotional campaign is about to be launched on the provincial public broadcasting service (RT Vojvodina)."

Despite sufficient institutional and financial support there are not sufficient human resources working on the implementation and training of the police, social work centres, etc., in the smaller municipalities. Continuous training, regular consultations and stimulation of synchronized activities is in fact necessary. However, the Government of Vojvodina has accepted the obligation to adopt a Strategy for integration of gender perspectives in all its policies and programmes and the Provincial Budget should secure suffient funding for programmes and measures in the area of prevention of domestic violence.

Furthermore, precisely in the Capital of Vojvodina, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been supporting the reinforcement of a network of local services aimed at contrasting violence against women. Only a few days ago, in fact, a Memoramdum of Understanding was signed among all the players involved: the community centre, a family planning unit, the police, the courts, the hospital emergency unit and some schools. At this point the training activities for these partners will continue within the SeeNet II Programme, a vast programme of decentralised italo-Balkan cooperation.

50% of women are subjected to domestic violence

A survey presented last December, conducted by the SeCon Group for the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies' Development Initiatives and funded by the UN, showed that 54.2% of women in Serbia suffer from some form of domestic violence, 90% of these cases perpetrated by men. The survey, conducted on a representative sample of 2500 women aged 18-75, showed that 31.8% of all women in Serbia were subjected to psychological violence and 10.1 percent were subjected to physical violence.

“Women of all age groups, geographic regions and social status can suffer from violence", Snežana Lakićević, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, said at the presentation of the survey's findings, adding that women outside the capital city of Belgrade were slightly more likely to keep silent about the violence.

Dragana Veljović from NGO 'Fenomena' based in Kraljevo, agrees with this point. She adds, however, that the experiences from the SOS Phone operated by the NGO show that women who have only completed secondary education are more likely to report the violence than those with university degrees, "who find it far more humiliating and "shameful" and would rather "maintain their public appearance of well-educated and independent women than report the violence they suffer“.

Veljović points out the problem of the lack of sufficient shelters for women victims of domestic violence, a significant number of which were shut down and decommissioned over the past several months. While pointing out the positive example of Vojvodina, where almost every municipality has a shelter facility operating under the auspices of the local Social Work Centre, she affirms that Central Serbia offers just half a dozen or so such facilities - three in Belgrade and one in Leskovac.

Fenomena has been working to establish its own safe house in Kraljevo. The safe-house was initially planned to be completed and running by the end of this year, but the earthquake that hit Kraljevo last November redirected the authorities' attention to emergency relief. With the support Fenomena receives from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the works are expected to start by the end of the year and Fenomena's safe-house should be up-and-running in two years' time.

At the moment the women from Kraljevo have to go to shelters in Belgrade and Kragujevac but they often hesitate because of their children and families back at home in Kraljevo. Moreover, social work centres have very complicated admission procedures, requiring witness statements, etc., thus it is quite difficult for women to seek shelter there.

The Penal Code

Since 2002 changes in Family Law and the Criminal Code include domestic violence on the list of criminal offenses. In 2006 further changes introduced new, stricter sanctions for offenses in the category of family violence. However, Veljović says that the implementation of the Law is too slow, especially in terms of prescribed actions by social work centres and judicial and prosecution authorities. A positive note is to be found in the experience with the police authorities whose work has been rationalised and is now much more suitable.

In Veljović's view, not enough is done by the State to raise the awareness about the problem of domestic violence, which gains prominence in the public only when a woman is murdered (in the first three months of this year, the Women Against Violence coalition reported 12 murders with an average of about 2,5 a month in 2010), or when a major media campaign is held.

Article produced by more than one author in collaboration with OWPSEE.

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