Combating violence against women and girls all along the frontline

Integrated Response to Violence against Women and Girls in Serbia II
by United Nations Country Team and the Government of Serbia
Project Info: March 2019

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Violence against women is a formidable foe. The fight in Serbia shows that winning demands attention from every part of the complex social frontline.

Domestic violence and violence in intimate partner relations is a complex issue. The causes are large/plentiful in numbers, difficult in nature and slow to overcome. It demands nothing less than a coordinated and comprehensive deployment of prevention, protection, prosecution and adequate policy measures all across the complex landscape of this phenomenon. Thanks to the support from SIDA, instances of domestic violence in Serbia are slowly emerging from being classed as „somebody’s private business“, and being put under the public light and scrutiny.

First things first: closing our ranks!

Integrated Response to Violence against Women and Girls in Serbia II is a joint project of the United Nations Country Team in Serbia and the Government of Serbia, headed by its Coordination Body for Gender Equality and implemented with the support of the Swedish government. The key word is „Integrated“: together with civil society organizations we prevent violence against women and girls. And when it does occur – our close alliance provides victims with timely and effective protection and support.

Together, state actors such as those in social protection, judiciary, police, education, health and youth with non-governmental organizations, the media and other actors at the national, provincial and local levels, are closing ranks to build a society intolerant to violence against women, an issue so uniquely detrimental to development.

Accurate and timely reconnaissance

Men are the main perpetrators of violence against women in Serbia and account for nine out of 10 cases of physical violence. Women are mostly threatened by their husbands and partners. Half of the economic, 58% of psychological and 71.7% of physical violence is committed by current or former partners. The most severe cases of physical violence against women are almost entirely committed by men (96% of cases) and mostly by husbands and partners (81% of cases).

«IMAGES Serbia – Men: changes and challenges» is a study conducted in 2018 to examine key issues affecting men and gender equality. It showed that older generations of men were more violent to women and less accepting of gender equality. Yet, there are positive changes too, mostly in matters related to equal share of parenting responsibilities, activities around the home, health and attitudes to gender equality.

There is some reason for concern, however, about the conservative attitudes to gender equality held by the youngest men, namely those aged 18 to 24, who are lagging behind the next and the most egalitarian group of all, those from 25 to 30 years of age. This appears to be a problem that cannot be expected to simply age out of existence.

Improving rules of engagement

To support the implementation of the Istanbul Convention by preventing and protecting victims from domestic violence, the Serbian Law on Preventing Domestic Violence was adopted, with accompanying amendments in 2017 to the Criminal Code:
The police are enabled to effect urgent measures as of June 1, 2017 immediately after the occurrence of violence or even prior to it, if the risk assessment shows high likelihood of violence. Such measures include ordering the perpetrator to temporarily move out of the household or issuing a temporary restraining order valid with immediate effect for the period of 48 hours.

During the first year alone of implementing this Law the total of 44,727 domestic violence reports were filed. Police issued 8,751 barring orders and 19,275 restraining orders. In 15,617 cases, the courts extended the emergency orders to 30 days. Local-level task-forces, groups made-up of several agencies such as social protection service, police and public prosecutor office, developed 10,503 individual victim protection plans. In 2017, police filed 7106 criminal reports, an 88% increase compared to 2014.

Training the first responders

The programme of our alliance in Serbia also trained 360 police officers on first responses to reported violence. Local multisector teams were supported by our programme in conducting risk assessments and development of individual victim protection plans.

Nevertheless, capacities of service providers to recognize and respond to gender-based violence continue to vary. For instance, a visit to a doctor is the first and sometimes the only way for victims to access support and care. Yet, data indicates that as many as 82% of health care professionals in Serbia did not attend any education or training on gender-based violence. Such opportunities are almost non-existent or too few during undergraduate and postgraduate education.
A total of 140 health-care workers from six regions across Serbia were trained to recognize and document gender-based violence and to provide adequate support to women who experienced domestic violence.


No woman left behind!

Roma women, women with disabilities and rural women belong to vulnerable groups who report violence disproportionally less than other women. During 2018 activists from women’s civil society organisations, who belong to or represent women from these vulnerable groups, trained 200 professionals about unique vulnerabilities of these groups and ways of improving their access to institutions and support services. Two specialized training programmes (curricula) were introduced highlighting the similarities and divergences within the system of protection of violence against women that impact the effectiveness and quality of the work of service providers at the local level (social prevention, police, healthcare, education, prosecutor’s office, judiciary and non-governmental sector), focusing on working with women victims of violence from marginalized groups, working on specific forms of violence as specified in Istanbul Convention: stalking, sexual violence (including rape), forced marriage and sexual harassment.

No child left behind!

Domestic violence is damaging not only to women but also to their children. Survey data reveal that in 76.5% of cases, children witnessed the violence against their mothers. The most common reaction of children was physical or verbal confrontation with the father or other perpetrator (42.9%). This exposes the children to the risk of direct violence. Other responses include hiding (39.4%) and seeking help (24.7%).

Violence experienced in childhood affects social relations and behaviour at later stage of life and it is transferred from one generation to another. Research found that exposure to violence in the family during early childhood increases the probability of violent criminal behaviour in later life as well as violent behaviour in intimate partner relationships.

Despite the fact that children witnessing domestic violence should also be considered as its direct victims, institutions do not consider them as such, do not inform other agencies and do not conduct appropriate measures to protect them. To save and protect women AND children, local-level inter-sectoral teams from 12 municipalities have been trained and armed with better understanding of gender and transgenerational models of domestic violence, and equipped to identify, refer and coordinate responses to violence against children and women. We are reinforcing this work with efforts to improve the monitoring and flow of data between various branches of the institutional forces amassed against domestic violence and violence against women and children.

Winning hearts and minds for prevention

Citizens who are informed about violence and its consequences on the lives the sufferers are key to the success of the campaign in Serbia.  Two thirds of primary and just over a half of all secondary school students agree that „A girl wearing short skirts and tight shirts is to be blamed if she is attacked“. 37% of primary and half of secondary school students agree that „At home, man should always have the last word“!
Our programme, therefore, delivered training for 200 teachers with a view to implementing gender-based violence prevention models in schools. In addition, more than 2500 boys and girls were mobilized through a variety of activities designed to address gender equality and gender-based violence.

Strong media reporting lines
With the power to transform public opinion and drive social change, the media are key to prevention efforts in combating violence against women. They shape attitudes towards roles of women and have been mobilized to illuminate the violence they suffer, spur debate, raise awareness and jump-start change.
The network of women reporters of violence against women has been a key new reinforcement to our overall effort. The informal group is made up of 31 editors and journalists committed to improving media reporting on violence against women and to changing old-fashioned patterns and attitudes conducive to violence against women.

Strategy and tactical review

Last year was also the first opportunity to take stock of progress by means of the first National Report on the Implementation of the Istanbul Convention submitted to GREVIO. The report confirms the mobilization of Serbian government in enforcing relevant laws and in prevention, elimination and sanction of discrimination and violence.  A total of 260 institutions and organizations at the national, provincial and local levels participated in the development of the report, a process coordinated by the Coordination Body for Gender Equality (CBGE) and supported by our project.  An alliance this strong has every chance of making our wins irreversible.

The joint project Integrated Response to Violence against Women and Girls in Serbia II works towards changing the normative framework, institutional practices and behaviors pertaining to violence against women and girls at national, community and individual levels. 

Funding Source: The Government of Sweden
Project Duration: September 2016-December 2019
Participating UN Agencies: UNDP (lead agency), UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA
Participating Government Partners: Coordination Body for Gender Equality (lead entity), Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth and Sports and Provincial Secretariat for Social Policy, Demography and Gender Equality 
Contact Person, Maja Brankovic Dundic, Joint Project Coordinator,

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