Simic: Protection of women’s rights and victims of violence in the north of Kosovo is now virtually non-existent

The director of the NGO Women’s Rights, Ruzica Simic, said in a statement for KoSSev that: “Although the struggle continues, women in the Balkans, Kosovo, and in the north are not satisfied with their position in society or extent to which their rights are respected. Everything is moving very slowly. It took at least a hundred years women to obtain the bare minimum of basic human rights. As things stands, it seems that we will have to wait he same amount of time for women to be equal with men, but everything will be the same here even then – one step forward, three steps back and everything goes in a circle.”

The coronavirus pandemic led to the introduction of epidemiological measures, which in turn resulted in an increased number of domestic violence cases.

Women dedicated themselves to protecting their children and family, and when everything was over, they began reporting domestic abuse cases more frequently, which led to an increase in trust in institutions and the institutional struggle for their rights.

Women’s position in society has deteriorated alongside a rise in the number of domestic violence cases reported: „Corona has set back the clock on women’s rights on a global level – it has set the debate back by 25%.“

The Serbs from the north of Kosovo left those same institutions in November. The police, the judiciary, and the prosecution – are now all operating with reduced capacities.

The security legal vacuum has set back attitudes and put a stop to reports of violence. Women have no one to turn to and are pre-occupied with protecting their families, Simic said in a KoSSev portal podcast marking International Women’s Day.

The level of development and protection of the rights of women and victims of violence in the north of Kosovo is now virtually zero

Simic, an activist dedicated to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and facilitating the provision of legal and psychological support to victims, states that through conversations with them, she concluded that the any institutional protection usually ends with a conversation.

„The police cannot go to the field, the Social Service Department does not have the support of the police, if the police initiate the procedure, the courts do not work. A woman realizes that she is running into a wall everywhere,“ said Simic.

She revealed that there are currently no KP officers in charge of domestic violence cases in the North of Kosovo.

Simic specifies that judges, prosecutors, and police officers who worked in the north before tendering their resignations attended a workshop on the topic of women’s rights.

When asked what will happen if Serbs who are new to these jobs were to enter the institutions, she states that everything would start from scratch.

According to Simic, the fact that there are fewer cases of domestic violence in police reports does not actually mean that such cases are on a decline – on the contrary.

„Greater trust in institutions actually increases the number of reports, and we still haven’t reached any general or absolute trust – we’re far from it, and a lot of work has been done. Both in the police and through the NGO sector, the awareness of women and citizens was raised, and we were able to make progress. Now we will have to start all over,” she emphasized.

The Women’s Rights NGO cooperated with the Kosovo Police in the past, however, this is not the case today.

Simic said that they are currently only able to provide support to the victims of violence and point them to the right addresses, including the Social Services Department operating within the Serbian system.

„They don’t find enough understanding there,“ she warned, adding that even there everything boils down to short conversation and counseling.

The most important thing is that the women who contact us become aware of their rights, Simic underscored. Most often, younger women, and pregnant women, who have one or more children, seek help after suffering domestic violence.

Simic added that it took quite a while for the women to gain courage and reach out to their organization.

„They come to us because of physical violence, and it is preceded by psychological violence – jealousy, isolation, humiliation – the woman suffers until severe physical violence occurs when she has to go to the hospital. The cases in which women step forward after one slap and immediately leave their partners are rare,“ she says, noting that the decision to report domestic violence is difficult and takes time.

„The woman puts up with it until physical or psychological escalation and when she can’t take it anymore, she leaves the family, sometimes she is even forced to leave her children behind.“

Simic stated that there is a „circle of violence.“

„From isolation, through flattery, buying flowers and gifts, and then it happens again – the reason is jealousy, ‘she’s not a good wife,’ ‘she’s not a good housewife,’ and then the abuse begins.“

Women usually leave their husbands, but after the husbands promise not to be abusive again, the women return home, and this cycle keeps repeating itself until they lose the trust of everyone around them.

In her words, women often believe that a child should have both parents, an opinion shared by some experts. This, however, has a harmful effect on the children, as well as on their mothers.

„The longer you prolong the decision to leave such a relationship, the more you burden yourself, and that especially has consequences for the children. When a woman makes the decision to leave, it is too late, because the children are lost, the abuser blackmails the children, but the woman should still set an example for the children that violence is unacceptable, that she made the right decision and that in the end, the children will realize that it is also good for them,“ says Simic.

Simic specified that Kosovo Serbs have to file for divorce in two systems and that the process of assigning custody of children also occurs in two places – in Leskovac and Mitrovica. She specifies that there were cases in which one court decided in favor of the mother, and another in favor of the father, which only further complicated the situation.

Simic underlines that it is never the case of „I hit you once and I won’t do it again“.

„Those who commit domestic violence should contact a psychologist and seek support… However, I think there is no cure when it comes to abusers,“ she warned.

Simic argued that „the bars support the abuser“, and that society remains silent, showing no response to the fact that violence against women is unacceptable.

Furthermore, those who fight to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as the victims themselves, are viewed negatively by the public, she added.

„The blame is placed on the victim, instead of the abuser. Changing this would be difficult, it would take years and long-term work in all spheres of society – from school to other institutions, and all with the aim of raising citizens’ awareness.“

The director of Women’s Rights says that she has hope in the younger generations and that she noticed a change in the behavior of husbands who seem to be making an effort to be more involved in the care of their children.

She advises women to react before it is too late, noting that relatives, neighbors and friends should help the victim and „knock on the door, bring a cookie to the children, ask her how she is doing and let her know that she has their support.“

Moreover, she also recommends that all women reach out to organizations that deal with the protection of women’s rights in order to obtain support – legal and psychological.

„She just needs to come to us, for us to understand her and to tell her that she should walk with her head held high, go fight in every institution and demand her rights,“ she said.

Simic also has a message for the abusers: “The moment the proceedings are initiated, all the support you had from the environment ceases, and the law is always on the side of the victim.”

Learn more about the position of women in Kosovo and their rights in our podcast above.

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