Until there’s gender equality, there will be violence against women as its most extreme manifestation. The statistics haven’t changed much: around the world, in developing and developed countries alike, one in three women experience some form of physical or sexual violence.

There has been progress when it comes to supporting survivors, working with men on prevention, on changing the laws and policies, but there is still much to be done globally.

This fight has become all the more personal and urgent for me now that I have two young daughters. They are growing up in a violent world, with new forms of violence also present, such as online sexual harassment and cyber bulling.

Importance of the topic of violence against women for the United Nations

Gender based violence is affecting the entire society, across generations, impacting children and whole families. The stories from women and girls show the destructive and pervasive impact of violence on women physically, emotionally and socially, on our ability to gain an education, earn a livelihood, develop personal relationships and enjoy the full rights we are entitled to.

The UN Secretary general Antonio Guterres has made violence against women his priority.  As an organisation calling upon governments and the private sector to ensure actions are taken to respond to women’s experiences of sexual harassment, we have to walk the talk. UNDP created a safe space for personnel to report allegations and find support, including an independent, free and externally managed 24-hour helpline for reporting sexual harassment, which is available in more than 250 languages.

Situation in Serbia

The prevalence of violence is still high with one woman murdered every 10 days in Serbia, on average. Another worrying fact is the occurrence of violence among the young people in Serbia. Sexual harassment, stalking and non-partner physical violence is highest among 18 to 29-year olds, according to research from OSCE.

The good news is that when it comes to legislation, Serbia is a leading country in the region. Since the new Law on Preventing Domestic Violence came into force, the number of reported cases of violence has increased, more cases were processed, and court procedures initiated.

I visited some of the UNDP partner civil society organisations in Novi Sad and Niš that provide SOS hotline services, shelter and support to women and children survivors of violence. Their staff has tremendous knowledge and skills that is making a difference between life and death. Still, in the majority of cases their work is not funded from the state budget, limiting their ability to provide these vital services.

Burning issues

In Serbia, 39 percent of women that died in domestic violence were killed by firearms. According to the Small Arms Survey, Serbia ranks third in the world in weapons per capita, with 95% of the gun owners being men. Research shows that the presence of weapons reinforces men’s dominance over women. To address this issue, we work with the Ministry of Interior to reduce the risks of weapons misuse.

Good practices from the developed countries

There are many examples of good practices to learn from. The Government of Sweden has adopted a national strategy that puts special emphasis on prevention and working with men on changing attitudes towards violence.  

Scotland also works with perpetrators. Men convicted of domestic abuse are required to undergo a programme that lasts at least two years. At the same time, the women and children are provided with specialized services that reduce the impact of domestic abuse on their lives. UNDP introduced the first programme working with perpetrators in Serbia back in 2011, that has globally reduced the reoccurrence of violence.

Responsibility for the change in behaviour and policies

Our 16 Days of Activism social media campaign, titled ‘Tiče me se’ (It concerns me, too) shows that people recognize that this is a societal, not an individual issue. We have just begun the campaign but have seen an overwhelming and positive response affirming that violence against women is a problem that concerns everyone.

This is very encouraging because it suggests that we may be witnessing a positive change in Serbia. It is still the case that too many women who report violence or harassment are not being believed. Over 60% of cases brought to the police in Serbia never reach the court, due to the lack of evidence. It is necessary to shift the burden of proving the violence from the victims to the competent institutions, because they have the responsibility to collect the evidence, prosecute the perpetrators, end violence and protect the victims.

Role of media in combating violence against women

The media was crucial here in exposing the case of violence in a local community and bringing it to the public attention. These high-profile cases are important as examples demonstrating the state’s protection of victims. Competent institutions should send a strong signal that no one is above the law, regardless of who they are, and that violence in any form and by anyone is unacceptable.

Media can play a transformational role in educating people about violence and what can be done to prevent it. You also have a responsibility to report accurately and in a way that protects the victim. A recent research shows that over 50 per cent of media have revealed the identity of victims and their families, and disclosed details of violence acts, putting them at further risk. UNDP helped establish the group “Journalists against violence” to remedy this. They have prepared guidelines on ethical media reporting to address these harmful practises and contribute to helping us end violence against women.

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