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Connecting and Empowerging Women CSOs in the Western Balkans Working on Women's Rights and Gender Equality

Workshop for women activists from Novi Pazar and Bujanovac

April 28-29, 2012


The two-day capacity-building workshop organized in Belgrade by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, assembled 20 women representatives of the civil sector in the municipalities of Bujanovac and Novi Pazar.

The workshop was an integral part of the project realized by the Brussels-seated Partners for Democratic Change International /PDCI/ with the assistance of the European Commission in Brussels and in partnership with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights /Serbia/, Partners Kosova - Center for Conflict Management and ANTICO - Women Civic Initiative /Macedonia/.

The overall objective of the project is to increase awareness among municipal authorities and marginalized women leaders of gender equality and women's rights and build women leaders' capacity to develop initiatives and engage in transnational partnerships with other women's CSOs. Within the scope of Specific Objective 1, which is to "enhance municipal, CSO and public awareness of gender equality, anti-discrimination and equal opportunity policies and legislation, with particular emphasis on women's civic and human rights, through targeted training", Partners Kosova (Kosovo), Helsinki Committee (Serbia) and ANTICO (Macedonia), each host a 2-day capacity-building workshop in each of the 2 target municipalities in their country with the aim of building the skills of local CSOs concerned with women's rights.

Copies of the manual developed by PDCI, the leading organization, were distributed to participants well in advance to be used as referential literature.

Women participating in the workshop were activists of the following organizations: Women Forum - Bujanovac, NGO Prosperity, Committee for Human Rights - Bujanovac, and Association of Single Mothers and Horizon from Novi Pazar. The workshop helped them to upgrade their skills in planning and writing the projects focused on gender equality and women's rights. Experienced trainers Jarmila Bujak-Stanko and Slavoljupka Pavlovic were in charge of daily trainings. Among other things, they elaborated domestic and international legislation dealing with gender equality and answered questioned from the participants. Further, they provided more information about the institutions civil sector women activists can turn to for assistance and cooperation.

The data collected by the Helsinki Committee indicate that women's rights in South Serbia and Sandzak were seriously endangered. Earlier meetings with women activists and relevant municipal authorities in the two regions pointed to the following problems:

- Lack of support to SOS services for women victims of violence (for instance, NGO Cultural Center Damad has been providing SOS phone services for years on volunteer basis);

- The government does not subsidize these services;

- Judiciary - inefficient, corrupted and obstructed by local "big wigs:"

- Inadequate attitude of police officers (insensitive to victims of domestic violence they further discriminate them);

- The article of the Family Law providing restraint order against abusers is not implemented;

- Victims of domestic violence have to pay from their own pockets for medical certificates testifying of their physical injuries;

- Extremely traditional communities - women victims of domestic violence are often allowed in their primary families on condition to bring not their children (therefore, women have to choose between saving their own lives and motherhood);

- Communities are more often than not indulgent to abusers (male relatives of abusers also threaten and ill-treat women victims);

- Women are generally uninformed about their rights or legal remedies are not available to them;

- Lack of free legal aid (establishment of a team of women lawyers to assist victims of domestic violence was recommended);

- Non-existent safe houses; social workers and police officers, therefore, often resort to "mediation" - they try to "convince" abusers to stop abusing his victim;

- Not even basic mechanisms against domestic violence are in place in the municipality of Bujanovac (the police and relevant authorities do not respond at frequent incidents in which women are beaten up). ***


The participants in the workshop testified of these problems, saying, among other things, "Turning to the police for help is a taboo;" "Prejudice against women is the core problem we have to cope with;" "Neither municipal authorities nor social care centers would support us;" "Whenever we turned to local social care center it turned us down." "Women's extreme financial dependence /on their partners/ discriminates them additionally."

The following statements by the participants may illustrate the problems of organizational capacities or activists' abilities: "Women do not collect all the necessary information;" Women activists are sufficiently capacitated but lack mechanisms for realization of their ideas;" "The police either ignore the cases of domestic violence or show up two hours after being called in;" "We have to wait for five months sometimes for institutions to respond to our requests (for instance, the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues)."


Conclusions deriving from the workshop:

- Networking of women organizations dealing with women's rights is of major importance for the two regions (but also for the entire Serbia);

- Capacity-building of women organizations is among crucial steps towards improvement of their position and exercise of rights;













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