After Bulgaria passed its Law on Protection against Domestic Violence in 2005, the courts in Sofia, the capital, were soon busy processing hundreds of cases. As is true in many countries, violence against women had long been a hidden issue. But in recent years women’s groups, energized by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, have publicly campaigned for better legal protection of women’s human rights. Before spearheading the drive for the domestic violence law, they successfully advocated for the passage of legislation against trafficking in human beings.
The Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF) is one of the leading forces for change. An independent NGO that promotes gender equality and human rights through research and advocacy, it is now using a grant by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women to help make the domestic violence law a standard legal practice.
“With the legislation in place, there needs to be a push to implement it,” says the group’s Genoveva Tisheva. “We must activate all the people who can ensure that women can actually use the law.”
The project will initially work in eight pilot municipalities to train judges, social workers, the police, lawyers and municipal officials. Part of this effort will involve bringing people up to date on new ways of working. For instance, the domestic violence law allows civil court judges to offer orders of protection, which can be a critical first line of defence in domestic abuse cases. The quickness and urgency of this procedure will be different for many judges, however, who are used to slower, more deliberate processes. Education will help them understand why they need to immediately respond.
Another part of the project will emphasize putting in place the infrastructure to sustain work to stop domestic violence. Training for municipal authorities in particular will help convince them to come on board by endorsing new programmes, facilities and budget allocations. “The municipalities need to be responsible for providing services to help victims of violence,” says Tisheva. “If the right structures are not in place, officials won’t think about the issue, and women won’t get the support they need.”
To bolster its education efforts and lay the groundwork for new services, the project will draw together experts to identify indicators to measure the nature and prevalence of domestic violence. They will establish a data collection system, and assess progress made so far by reviewing police files, speaking to judges and polling NGOs. Combined, these efforts will begin to paint a picture of what works — and doesn’t — in keeping women safe.
Tisheva hopes that the Trust Fund project will eventually serve as a model for activism on other issues. Bulgaria’s progressive new anti-trafficking law, for example, extends provisions to everyone, not just women. But little has been done to assign adequate resources or develop infrastructure, even as trafficking remains a serious problem.
The domestic violence law is itself a partial step forward as it is only a civil statute. Bulgaria currently has no law making domestic violence a distinct crime. But Tisheva believes that momentum behind criminalizing it is gathering. Surveys already find that 60 per cent of Bulgarians favour taking this step.
“We are putting the pieces together and moving forward,” Tisheva says. “We will make much more progress as awareness continues to grow.”
The Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation received a grant in 2006 from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for the project titled "Coordinated Efforts towards Building an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Effective Implementation of the Bulgarian Law on Protection against Domestic Violence."
(Story Date: 22 November 2006)