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    • Safety on the local level: Are women less safe than men?

    • Date: 22 November 2011
      What are the most important security issues in cities and municipalities in eastern, southern and central Serbia? Do they differently affect women and men? How can the local authorities contribute to their solution? How can the local gender equality mechanisms (GEMs) and local safety bodies cooperate? These are only some of the topics discussed by representatives of the local GEMs and safety bodies, police and judiciary in Zaječar (10.11.2011.), Niš (11.11.2011.), and Kraljevo (15.11.2011.), as a part of expert consultations organized by the BCSP and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities (SCTM) in cooperation with ODIHR.

      In Serbia, there exists over 70 local bodies for gender equality and around 100 different bodies that work on improving local safety. Their cooperation and coordination is weak, apart from municipalities where the special bodies that tackle domestic violence have been formed. The main reason for that is the lack of information on the connection between gender and security. Local gender equality bodies are not integrated enough in tackling the security issues of women on a local level, so the security issues, seen from the gender perspective, are rarely taken into consideration when defining the priorities for enhancing the level of local safety.

      These are the reasons why BCSP, in cooperation with SCTM, has organized consultations with the representatives of local bodies for gender equality and security, representatives of the police and the judiciary in three towns. The main goal of the consultations was to encourage the representatives of those bodies to talk more about security problems in their municipalities from a gender perspective, as well as to discuss potential solutions to the problem.

      Why are gender and security important?

      Andreea Vesa, the representative of the OSCE office for democracy and human rights, spoke about the gender and security connection, and why it is important to tackle these issues. She noted that there are two main principles to which attention should be paid that contribute to the creation of an effective, accountable and representative security sector: greater participation of women in the security sector, promotion of their employment in security sector institutions, and gender sensitive provision in security. These principles' goal is the creation of a security sector, which will adequately respond to different security problems that affect women, men, boys and girls.

      Ms. Vesa also presented the goals of the UNSC Resolution 1235 on Women, Peace and Security, indicating their significance for the increase of the number of women in the security sector institutions, as well as sensitization of the members of the security sector for security issues that influence women. She also noted that it is important that all local institutions tackling security and gender equality work together, so problems like domestic violence and violence against women can be solved.


      Community policing is a successful model of police work

      Participants of the consultations in Zaječar, noted domestic violence, bullying and poverty as the main security issues in their municipalities (Zaječar, Negotin, Paraćin, Jagodina, Knjaževac, Majdanpek). When it comes down to domestic violence, the participants have agreed that the most affected are women, and then children. It has been noted that in the past few years, conduct of police in these cases was adequate, but that problems occur later, when a victim is supposed to testify in court, and when they are supposed to be provided with psychological and social help. The main obstacles to a more efficient solution are slow trials, mild penalty policies, and incomplete system of providing the victims with the required help. It all leads to loss of belief in institutions, and thus victims are afraid to report the perpetuators. The victims can also be helped with the creation of a municipality agency for free legal assistance, but that requires the budgets of municipalities to become developmental and social. It was also noted that it is necessary to increase the number of women in the police force.

      When analyzing bullying, the participants have noted that the girls are more often those that commit violence, but both boys and girls are equally exposed to this type of violence. The threat to the safety of youth is also drug addiction and alcoholism, which both boys and girls are equally exposed to. This is why it is necessary for local authorities to be included in activities such as peer education and the media campaign against violence, while the police have to work on building the youth. The model of community policing (which exists in Zaječar), based on building partnership with citizens, is therefore noted as a good model that can help solving this problem.

      Local gender equality and safety bodies should also be more active in tackling this problem. Gender equality mechanisms could gather the data from the centres for social work, police and prosecutor’s office, about the cases of domestic violence, and thus make analyses and proposals, for activities directed towards the prevention of violence, but they can also demand part of the municipality budget to be separated for that purpose. That is why the development of a cooperation mechanism of local institutions and bodies: police, centres for social work, prosecutor’s office, municipality council, gender equality bodies, schools, and health institutions is needed.

      The last panel was dedicated to successful models of cooperation for solving the problems on the local level. On that occasion Danica Todorov, the deputy of the Provincial Ombudsperson for gender equality spoke. She presented the model of inter-sectoral cooperation in Vojvodina for fighting the domestic violence.

      Municipal safety council in Knjazevac was established in 2009, and in April 2011 in Negotin. One of the goals of the council in Negotin will be formation of working groups in the council, so the working groups for technical regulation of traffic, public peace and order, fighting against domestic violence and drug abuse can be created. In Zaječar and Jagodina this body isn’t formed yet, while in Majdanpek the decision for its creation was made, but the body hasn’t started working.


      Human trafficking is a security issue that people are not familiar enough with

      Participants of the consultations in Niš (representatives of the municipality bodies from Paraćin, Arandjelovac, Vranje and Niš) identified human trafficking, domestic violence, bullying and discrimination (especially women from minority groups) as main security issues in their municipalities. Apart from these, they also identified drug abuse, hooliganism, street violence and stray dogs as security issues.

      Human trafficking was particularly noted as a security issue in Vranje and surrounding municipalities that are close to the administrative line with Kosovo. Increasingly, the victims of human trafficking are children, especially those from marginalized groups. On the other hand, on the local level among citizens, there is a low level of awareness about these problems, so more work has to be done on education, both of parents, and children in schools, in cooperation with police, centres for social work, local media and organisations of civil society. The participants have, as a potential solution to the problem, suggested the creation of a special local team that would consist of representatives of all these institutions.

      The form of human trafficking little known in the public is girls working in restaurants and boutiques illegally, who aren’t paid even after months of working. Their “Bosses” then blackmail them, promising them the money if they agree to have sexual relationship with them. Since those girls often come from poor families, they agree. After few months of exploitation, the “Boss” informs the girl that she isn’t needed anymore, but how he has some “friends” that might find her useful, and thus the girl is forced into prostitute.

      This example was noted by one participant of the consultations, noting that even if the victim has enough courage to report the perpetuator to the police, the girl has to testify in the police station, prosecutor’s office and centre for social work. In the end, the victims have to face the violators in court, which is why the victims often drop the charges, but there is also the fear that her local community will find out about the case.

      In the second part of the consultations, participants had the chance to hear more about the National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the UNSC resolution 1235 in Serbia. Although this document was adopted in December 2010, there is little knowledge about it and its implementation on the local level. This is one of the ways in which the local gender equality mechanisms can be included in campaigns for the higher representation of women in security sector institutions, greater inclusion of women in the decision making process, and formulation of priorities of the security policy, protection from all forms of violence, and media support for the activities in the implementation of the NAP.

      Discussing the mechanisms of the protection of women against violence, participants suggested establishing a multidisciplinary team for the struggle against violence against women, which would consist of representatives of all relevant institutions and bodies (police, prosecutor’s office, centers for social work, commission for gender equality, etc). It is also important to work on educating the media that often reports in a tabloid manner about the cases of domestic violence, without any care for the protection of the victims.

      Marija Srdić, Director of the Center for Support for Women from Kikinda spoke on the panel on successful models of cooperation for solving the security problems on the local level. She presented models of cooperation of municipality bodies for gender equality, local safety bodies and security institutions, which were established in a few municipalities in Vojvodina. She especially noted the example of inter-municipality cooperation in fighting domestic violence established between six municipalities in Vojvodina.


      Domestic violence is the biggest security issue

      The positive example of media reports regarding the topics of gender inequality is presented by the private TV station in Kruševac, which broadcasts the promotional video of the administration for the gender equality, about the equality of men and women nine times a day. In Trstenik, the commission for gender equality has in cooperation with one editor of the local media house arranged that one term per week be dedicated to topics regarding gender equality.

      Similarly to Zaječar, participants of consultations in Kraljevo (representatives of municipality bodies from Užice, Čačak, Ivanjica, Trstenik, Kragujevac, Tutin, Kruševac, Rača and Kraljevo) identified domestic violence and bullying as the biggest security issues in their municipalities.

      Women are mostly affected by domestic violence, especially those from marginalized social groups. Coordination of activities directed towards the solution of this problem should be pursued by municipal safety council, but if that body hasn’t been formed yet, that role can be overtaken by the local gender equality body. However, most active in solving this problem so far have been civil society organizations, so municipal bodies should take a bigger initiative.

      When it comes down to greater inclusion of women in the decision-making process, the participants agreed that gender equality mechanisms need to become more active in developing local strategies and decisions. Therefore the establishment of the cooperation with the rest of the local actors is needed, in order to gather more information.

      Report prepared by Gorana Odanovic

      Translated by Nikola Veselinovic

      Related topics:safety, women, local, Serbia, GEM, Kraljevo, Zajecar, Nis
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