The Serbian province of Vojvodina has an established history of active support for gender equality. While there is not yet a national policy on violence against women, the province has moved ahead with its own strategy for protecting women. A grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women will help local authorities build a foundation to implement the strategy, including by better linking and improving the quality of existing local services.
“Every first step is the hardest,” says Marina Iles of the Provincial Secretariat for Labour, Employment and Gender Equality (PSLEGE). “The UN Trust Fund has given us a tremendous boost in creating the environment to make the strategy a success.”
Serbia is a transition country facing high rates of unemployment and poverty, factors that can increase violence against women, still commonly viewed as a private rather than a social issue. When it occurs, women in Vojvodina do have services to turn to — from police, legal professionals, social services and local governments — but they often lack specialized expertise and coordination. These factors help explain why police in the province received 4,284 requests for intervention in domestic violence situations in 2006, but in the end, criminal charges were brought in only one percent of the cases.
The province also has some positive experiences on which to build. Non-governmental organizations have pioneered free legal and psychological support services in some municipalities, along with a handful of help lines. Twenty municipalities have set up “life without violence networks” to draw together domestic violence professionals. The Centre for Social Welfare in Sombor has a holistic model for inter-sectoral cooperation that provides access to assistance 24 hours a day, which has been integrated into a national social welfare reform strategy. “We have a base of knowledge and experience that we want to use,” says Iles. The UN Trust Fund grant will help PSLEGE scale up initiatives, like the Sombor model, that have a proven track record.
Project activities will combine public outreach, action-oriented research, capacity development and coalition building. In 45 municipalities, nearly 1,000 social service professionals will be trained on how to respond to domestic violence, along with 300 legal professionals and police officers. Protocols will be developed to define how different institutions should collaborate to prevent domestic violence and protect victims. New software will ensure universal and standardized records on reported cases, while a statistical database will support routine monitoring of measures to end violence against women.
Regular public information dissemination will include media campaigns, training for members of the provincial Assembly and violence prevention sessions for schoolchildren. Across its activities, PSLEGE will make a special push for reaching women who have been socially excluded, including rural, Roma, refugee and internally displaced women, as well as women with disabilities and women living in poverty.
“Our ultimate goal is changing behaviour and making people understand that violence against women cannot be justified; it is a criminal act and a violation of human rights,” Iles says. By plugging gaps in awareness, prevention and protection, the PSLEGE project should take the province of Vojvodina closer to that objective.
The Provincial Secretariat for Labour, Employment and Gender Equality (Vojvodina Province, Serbia) received a grant in 2008 from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for the 3-year project titled “Towards a Comprehensive System to End Violence Against Women in Vojvodina.” For more information, please contact UN Trust Fund staff.
(Story Date: 24 November 2008)