The goal of the Local Communities in Central Serbia against Gender-based Violence project is increasing safety of women survivors of domestic violence in 6 towns of the Rasina District by improving institutional response to violence against women, increasing availability of psychosocial and legal aid to survivors, including women facing multiple marginalization, and by more gender-sensitive media reporting on violence against women.
In partnership with the NGOs Romani Cikna (Kruševac), the Forum of Young People with Disabilities (Trstenik) and W as in Woman (Aleksandrovac), informal women’s groups from Varvarin, Ćićevac and Brus, the Rasina District Women’s Network and the Women against Violence Network, we continually worked on improving public policies in the District, which is prerequisite for efficient protection of human rights, including the right to a life without violence. The number of towns which signed the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life in 2016 was 4, twice as high as that of in 2015 (2); moreover, the process of establishing gender equality bodies was completed, so now this mechanism exists in all the six towns in the District.
We organized 4 seminars and 6 panel discussions on informing representatives of the Rasina District institutions about violence against women. The multisectoral teams for combating this type of violence in all the towns of the District established; these teams meet more or less regularly, and Women’s organizations providing support to women survivors of violence take part in the activities of these teams. We adopted the practice of individual meetings and exchange of information with institutions, e.g. centers for social work and the police in Aleksandrovac, Brus and Kruševac and the public prosecutor’s office in Kruševac, and/or joint public appearances, like it was the case at a public discussion in Trstenik, where we appeared together with representatives from the local center for social work and police station. Was the increased activity of institutions of any use to women survivors of violence and to what extent? The answer depends on what is measured and in what way. For example, in 2011, the family court issued only one protective measure for a victim, while in 2015 and 2016 that number was significantly higher (4 and 5, respectively), but it still made up less than 5% of the total number of reports (according to the data obtained by the Center for Social Work, in 2015, 196 women reported violence to the center.) The longest sentence for violence issued so far in the Rasina District is a three-year prison sentence, issued in 2013. (The court of original jurisdiction passed a four-year sentence, but the Appeal Court reduced it after the defendant had filed an appeal).
The project helped us renew resources of the consultant team providing support to women survivors of violence. The team now has 14 consultants: 10 at the SOS hotline, 2 in Romani Cikna, and 2 in W as Woman. “In the beginning, I was frightened when a client would call and not say anything. To be honest, I was frightened when she talked, too. But now I am confident and I know how to talk to her.” “Thanks to the project, I now have more knowledge about the procedures, laws, and the legal field in general.”
Within the project, in cooperation with Romani Cikna, SOS helpline support in Roma language was introduced for the first time. We believe that the support in Roma language has encouraged Roma women to ask for help. In 2014, only one SOS hotline client stated she was Roma; in the last two years, there have been 25. Likewise, 12 women with disability reported violence during the period of 2015-2016, compared to 4 in 2014. The total number of women survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence reached by the project was nearly 500: 227 women contacted one or more service points in the District, while at 18 workshops and 3 meetings nearly 300 women got information about where they can report domestic or intimate partner violence and get support. We organized workshops in Roma settlements and villages within the District, and we had meetings with 5 organizations dealing with the protection of rights of people with disability. We improved the support to clients in 2016 organizing workshops, designing and facilitating by psychotherapists, for 8 clients; these workshops resulted in individual safety plans for 5 clients.
The Local Communities in Central Serbia against Gender-based Violence project also contributed to an increased visibility of the problem of violence of against women in the Rasina District. We provided the public with more than 100 pieces of information about our activities, through the media, Facebook and our website in 2016; these were also shared by our consultants, clients and associates in their networks. Grad, local monthly paper, which also has an online version, published nearly 30 articles in 2015-2016, meaning there was no issue without information about Pescanik. Trstenik TV made 16 reports on the activities we carried out together with our associates from Trstenik, and Brus TV regularly covered the events we organized in cooperation with the activists from Brus. Pescanik’s activities, including the seminar on reporting on violence against women conducted within this project, inspired a considerable number of media reports, as well as media projects. We signed a cooperation agreement with the Grad newspaper. Pescanik’ activities also caught the interest of some national media, such as TV N1, Radio Free Europe, Al Jazeera, Politika, Danas, Beta News Agency…
The project has given a lot to our partner organizations. Romani Cikna and W as in Woman activists say: “We have extender our knowledge, broadened the scope of our activities with a new topic (violence against women and domestic violence), learned a lot about advocacy, the organization of activities and procedures, partnership and shared responsibility.” We have carried out numerous joint activities; we have encouraged women’s self-organization – a new NGO (Women’s Association Kaliopa in Brus) in the District has been formed, so now we have 3 organizations in Kruševac, 1 in Aleksandrovac and 1 in Brus, and a group in Ćićevac (establidhed in meantime). Rasina District Women’s Network for Women’s Rights held 2 meetings in 2016, established procedures and was visible in public because of their reactions to social issues. At the end of 2016, we held a conference on violence against women gathering around 80 participants, including the Ombudsman and the Coordination Body for Gender Equality. The following examples speak of the increased credibility of our organization: a representative of Pescanik has talked about women’s rights at a local primary school and high school; we have had a panelist at public discussions at regional (organized by UNDP, in Montenegro), national (organized by the OSCE Mission to Serbia in the Serbian Parliament) and local level (in Sombor, Niš, and Vrnjačka Banja). We have enlarged our team and hired one more person (a lawyer), so now we have 4 full-time employees.