Combating violence against women

Only 10% of women exposed to violence decided to report it

The total prevalence rate in Central Serbia in domestic violence is 54.2%. The most common form of violence is violence against women (VAW) in family. In 75% of cases the perpetrator is current or former intimate partner. However, only slightly more than 10% of women exposed to violence reported it to state institutions (e.g. police or centers for social work).

“My husband used to batter me regularly, now it is rarer, because now he’s old and sick. A year ago my younger daughter got married. She didn’t even finish the high school, she was in fourth grade. That night he came back from the town and he started yelling “Your daughter married…”, he battered me with the stick on my ill leg and crashed my head to the floor. It was horrifying. I was full of bruises… I was silent all the time, didn’t have courage to speak a word, because he would have killed me” (anonymus testimony).

This is only one among many confessions of this kind that UNDP collected. In partnership with Gender Equality Directorate of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy UNDP started supporting the systematic approach for preventing and combating sexual and gender based violence. It did so by establishing prevention, protection and support measures for the victims of violence.


  • Adopted the National Strategy for Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women in the Family and in Intimate Partner Relationships in Serbia
  • Adopted a General Protocol of Cooperation and proceedings of institutions, organs and organizations in situations of violence against women in family and partner relationships
  • Developed three curricula on sexual and gender based violence for state institutions with competencies to provide expert trainings to professionals: the Judicial Academy, the Police Academy and Human Resources Agency of GoS.
  • In past three years the number of reported cases to institutions has progressively increased and almost tripled.


UNDP supported development of the National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Violence against Women in Family and in Intimate Partner Relationships as a first institutional policy framework which represents strong government commitment to adhere to the gender perspective in addressing domestic violence. The Strategy identifies four priority areas: prevention, improvement of legislative framework, multi-sectoral approach in offering services and improvement of protection and support measures.

Along to pursuing the institutionalization of the new approach to addressing GBV, the project invested significant efforts in raising awareness of general public about the unacceptability of violence as a behavioral pattern. Through continuous work with media professionals (trainings, analysis of media outlets, promotion of responsible reporting, awards to journalists, media houses, documentary movies tackling the issue in a professional and ethical way etc.) the project contributed to the notable increase of presence of the issue in public sphere and in media space. Total of 3762 articles on gender equality and VAW were published in 2010-2011. While the broad coverage of the issue represents a change in increased public interest and attention to this issue, remains the fact that the 80% of respective articles were published on the coverer pages of national dailies indicating the tendency towards sensationalistic reporting. The project aimed to tackle the local communities through the direct contact and people to people approach. Namely, for the first time in the country the project supported the local level institutional activities favoring the cooperation with the women’s grassroots NGOs within the global “16 days of activism against VaW campaign”. In a number of local level activities supported by the project (round tables, public discussions, street actions etc.), different local level stakeholders had a chance to exchange opinions and information on their work and understanding of VaW, often for the first time, as well as to organize joint events in order to reach out to as many citizens of their communities as possible. 

Protection and support measures

In order to increase the rate of reporting the violence the project has supported the establishment of 4 new hotlines for women with disabilities victims of violence, as well as 2 new hotlines for ethnic minority groups and Roma women. Furthermore, the project supported the work of 2 existing hotlines in Serbia, through which 1.500 SOS telephone consultations were offered. The project also mapped all women shelters in Serbia and SOS specialist service providers. In 2009, there were 9 safe houses in Serbia. Since then 4 new safe houses were opened, out of which 3 were opened by state funding and one funded by citizens’ donations collected through public campaign. Total capacities of safe houses thus increased by about 50% and can accommodate over 200 women. This is still below the Council of Europe standards which recommend one safe house per 10.000 inhabitants.

For the first time in Serbia the programme for work with perpetrators was institutionalized. Three centers for social work have been trained to work with perpetrators using the worldwide recognized Norwegian model “Alternative to Violence”. Besides, the line ministry pledged to introduce it as a standardized social protection service.

In order to strengthen institutional response to SGBV, project has introduced multi-sectoral approach for integrated service delivery. The general protocol on cooperation of relevant institutions in the cases of violence was developed and 550 public service providers in 11 towns in Serbia were educated on how to deliver integrated services at the local level. Integrated services approach will result in faster prosecution of perpetrators while the victim of violence will be more efficiently protected.  The trainees included judges, prosecutors, social workers, police officers, health workers, professors and pedagogues. Application of training resulted in development of 10 plans for protection of women victims of violence and 12 Action plans of the community. Furthermore, Police Academy, Judicial Academy and Human Resources Agency of GoS introduced specialized curricula on SGBV and gender equality in their regular educational programmes. The total of 361 police officers, 292  judges and prosecutors and 150 state officials were trained on gender equality and on how to deal with victims of SGBV without exposing them to secondary victimization through the project.

The previous institutional approach to domestic violence as socially-pathological behaviour is replaced with gender based discrimination approach, ensuring that targeted focus is given to women victims of violence instead of treating the problem as a private family matter. The Government is showing more commitment overall, but the cooperation of relevant institutions with the mandate to provide adequate prevention, protection and support to the victims of gender based violence needs to be further strengthened. The general public is more aware of the problem and the issue is discussed in public fora in more informed and knowledgeable way than before at various levels (national, provincial, local). Media are more involved in reporting on the issue. The public condemn of violence against women has significantly increased.

UNDP advocated and shaped a national notion of zero-tolerance towards violence against women, involving more than 15,000 persons in public events and campaigns. Through its support of the network of “Men against violence against women”, the initiative beginning in Serbia spread to the region sensitizing and engaging an increasing number of men and boys in this topic. The invested efforts resulted in increased UNDP presence in media, while the number of articles and TV-shows on gender based violence has tripled over 2 years. At the same time the general discourse on the subject has changed in favor of a less sensationalistic approach to reporting, which is evidence to UNDP’s successful investment in capacity development of journalists and editors (gender sensitive trainings, awards for gender sensitive reporting etc.). UNDP’s gender-related presentations distributed over ‘Slideshare’, together with results of programmatic interventions were explicitly recognized in the 2012 EU Progress Report on Serbia.

UNDP piloted the first ‘Work with Perpetrators’ programme in the country, and trained selected social service providers on specialized skills. After successful piloting, UNDP supported the preparation of a tailor-made large-scale ‘Work with Perpetrators’ programme with a formal accreditation process by the Institute for Social Protection of the Republic of Serbia. 

In past three years the number of reported cases to institutions has progressively increased and almost tripled.  

Gordana Petronijevic, social worker and therapist in the City Center for Social Work in Kragujevac: “With the UNDP support we had a possibility to learn new skills and acquire new expertise of work with perpetrators. That is another way of protecting women victims of violence. Perpetrators either return in the intimate relationship with their partners or start the new relationship with another woman. If we don’t manage to change their mindset and their understanding of violence, they will just repeat it. So far, we’ve worked closely with 37 of perpetrators and in 80% of cases they stopped using violence. We’ve worked also on their understanding of gender based violence, and we noticed that we managed to some extent to change their understanding of power relations. Now, many of these man have changed their behavior and understand they are not allowed to impose their will on their partners.”

The project opened a new policy chapter for the state authorities that recognized the relevance of the issue through the adoption of the policy documents. Nevertheless, the state budgetary allocations remain to be assigned. The project stimulated the wide public interest on the issue of GBV at the national, provincial and local levels. It also introduced new social service (work with perpetrators program) and built new capacities and skills of general service providers (social workers, police officers, judges and prosecutors, healthcare workers).