Fifth Report on Women’s Rights in the Western Balkans published

The Fifth Report “Women’s Rights in the Western Balkans”, like the previous years, monitors the situation with women’s rights in six countries in the region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia). The report has served as a tool for monitoring and advancement of women’s rights over the years.

Priority areas covered in the report are: the presence of women in politics, gender-based violence, and women’s rights advocates, all three of which are a priority in the work of the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

In addition, you will read more about the situation with gender-based violence in Macedonia, the ways to protect victims and the fight against all forms of violence against women.

Since December 2019, the number of specialized services for victims of gender-based and domestic violence has increased in North Macedonia to a total of eight shelters and three crisis centres. Three of these 11 specialized services are run by women’s CSOs, while the rest are run by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy through the Centres for Social Work. However, the increase in the number of services did not mean improving the quality of the protection offered to victims, nor allocating sufficient funds for their sustainability.

At the national level, most shelters are located in several major cities and are often inaccessible to rural women.

There are three centres for sheltering rape victims which are part of the gynaecology and obstetrics departments in the clinics in Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo and they are run by the Ministry of Health. They offer protection and medical care for victims, as well as gathering evidence and preparing medical reports, so that victims are prepared when they make a report to the police. However, victims rarely report these cases due to the lack of coordination between the procedures of these centres and the police. The number of women who have called these centres since they were established in 2018 remains small, which clearly shows that they have no knowledge of their existence. This is a cause for serious concern, as victims of gender-based violence do not know what opportunities for help and support they have at their disposal.

North Macedonia also has three SOS lines that provide free assistance to victims of domestic violence. There is also a separate line dedicated to victims of trafficking. For these lines, as Kvinna till Kvinna notes in their previous report, there is no clear indication of whether they operate at full capacity. One of these lines also offers limited services in Albanian, but there are no such lines in other community languages, such as Romani and Turkish. These services are not fully accessible to victims with different types of disabilities.

Allocation of funds for combating gender-based violence

The Istanbul Convention calls for relocation of state resources and human resources to implement integrated policies, measures and programs to combat all forms of gender-based violence. Without adequate funding, the recommendations of the Istanbul Convention cannot be implemented or monitored. This is a major obstacle to the elimination of this type of violence, and the role of women’s civil society organizations in all six countries covered by this report is to monitor and implement the necessary activities and counteract the challenges in this field.

The Government of North Macedonia adopted the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention 2018-2023 in October 2018, shortly after the ratification of the Convention in December 2017. The document outlines the responsibilities of each relevant institution, with no indication of whether and how much they should contribute financially to the fight against gender-based violence.

In order to meet the recommendations of the Action Plan, the Ministry of Justice drafted a Law on Compensation to Victims of Crime. The new Law on Free Legal Aid was adopted in May 2019, and in the reporting period, the process of finalizing the Criminal Code and the Law on Criminal Procedure began.

It is especially important to know that the funding of the legal structures leads to improved protection of victims of gender-based violence. At the request of the KTK for information to the Ministry of Justice on allocated funds for prevention and protection against gender-based and domestic violence, the necessary data were not obtained, which indicates that the laws do not categorize victims, so the costs for their protection can not to be estimated and calculated. The Ministry of Justice confirmed that specific activities were also funded by donors, as a supplement to their budgets.

In 2019, the MLSP allocated 5,346,000 denars (87,014 euros) for six civil society organizations working with victims of violence. In 2020, this support was reduced to 4,000,000 denars (65,106 euros) for only four organizations. The proceeds come from sale of lottery tickets and other games of chance. The MLSP emphasizes that they have allocated funds to support various areas of intervention, prevention, and protection from gender-based and domestic violence but have not provided information on the amounts.

Although state funding for CSOs has increased over the years, women’s CSOs receive about 73% less compared to other NGOs and this gives a clear picture of the level of government commitment to the problem of prevention and protection from gender-based and domestic violence as the most specialized services for help and support of women victims of violence are provided by women’s CSOs.

Number of sanctioned cases of gender-based violence

Sanctions in cases of gender-based violence is one of the key requirements of the Istanbul Convention. The countries of the Western Balkans have shown visible progress in adopting legal measures against domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. However, the general impression is that more needs to be done on this issue in each of the six countries surveyed.

The biggest challenges in implementing these legal measures generally relate to inappropriate reactions of police officers, as well as inadequate sanctioning of perpetrators. At the regional level, there are obvious cases of victim-blaming by the police, ignoring various forms of violence and refusing to issue a restraining order against the perpetrator. Because of this, victims distrust the institutions and are hesitant to make reports because  they fear the outcome.

Although there is not enough data on sanctioned cases in these countries, it is still a clear indicator that in all Western Balkan countries this field is a major challenge. However, the lack of sanctions and reported cases does not indicate that gender-based violence is not prevalent, but that victims are not always able to report it because they face obstacles in the process or do not feel safe enough, and that they do not have sufficient trust in the police and the institutions enough. If cases were reported, we would get a clearer picture of the number of cases of gender-based and domestic violence in these countries.

When it comes to femicides, these countries do not recognize them as a separate form of homicide. In almost all countries covered by this report, women’s CSOs are the ones collecting data on homicides as a result of gender-based violence. North Macedonia continues to face major challenges in its institutional approach to gender-based violence. In the period from January to the summer of 2020, three femicides occurred and in all those cases violence was previously reported, but there was no adequate response for protection. In the reporting period in the country, according to the data of the Ministry of Interior, there is a decrease in the number of reported cases of domestic violence, namely:

-In 2019, a total of 989 cases related to domestic violence were reported, of which 588 with physical injuries, 23 with minor injuries, 366 for endangering safety and five femicides.

-In 2020 (from January to March) there were 241 cases, in 207 of which there were women victims.

The fact that there are fewer reported cases in the curfew and quarantine period, compared to the same months in 2019, indicates that many victims of domestic violence did not have the time and space to report. During curfew, two women were killed by their partners. In the period from April to June 2020, the Ministry of Interior received 193 reports of criminal acts related to domestic violence, which is less than the 226 in the same period in 2019.

But, on the other hand, in 2019, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy registered 1555 new cases of domestic violence, in 1135 of which the victims were women and in 173 there were children among the victims. From January 1 to May 15, 2020, there were 505 new cases of domestic violence. Psychological (in 1275 cases) and physical violence (in 787 cases) are the most recognized forms of domestic violence.

The full report in English is available here.

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