Violence Against Women In Serbia

Violence is usually defined as a way of expressing aggressive behavior, with the conscious intent of causing pain or injury. However, violence should be viewed more broadly, including everything that inhibits and limits the realization and development of positive human capabilities. This understanding of violence includes all of its types (physical and psychological, rational and irrational, direct and indirect, individual and social, one-time and long-lasting, mass and singular, manifest and latent, rough and refined), all of its manifestations (on the micro, mezzo and macro levels) and all of its carriers and perpetuators.

Violence, as one form of behavior, is a very old social phenomenon that has existed almost as long as mankind, and is in no way accidental or temporary, or an occasional accompaniment to man, society and culture, but is one of their structural properties. Many social analyses confirm that violence doesn’t have a stronghold so much in man’s instinctive basis as it does in historically structured socio-cultural frameworks of man’s life and work. The position of man in contemporary developed society in which ruthless competition, failure and the feelings that inevitably accompany it are a good basis for the ever growing expression of various forms of violence best shows this.

One form of behavior which we could say is one of the most widely spread forms of violence is violence against women. As the expert public has awakened to this problem relatively late, we consider that this field is not investigated enough. Most studies concentrate on family violence, so many other forms of violence against women remain hidden (such as violence in the workplace, for example).

A consensual definition of family violence as a social phenomenon does not exist, but the expert public considers it as mainly psychological, physical and sexual violence committed against adult female persons by their husbands or partners, current or previous, or members of the family, whether or not they live in the same household or not, as well as persons that share the same household, that is to say living space, as the victim, whether they are related to the victim or not.

This type of violence against women is not a new or unknown phenomenon, but a common form of behavior in almost all historical societies around the world that appeared as the result of traditional female inequality, most of all material inequality. Economically dependent throughout history, women have been forced to bear various forms of violence from men in their family so as not to jeopardize their existence, and this situation has allowed men to behave violently towards women in the boundaries of objective superiority. Throughout history this has been widely accepted, and often condoned by the law. It can be said that domestic violence became the object of public attention in the middle of the twentieth century with the creation of a social setting that favored women’s equality. Equality was established primarily in the material domain, and that created the preconditions necessary for women to gain the right to a dignified existence outside the direct control of the men in their family.

The traditionally hard position of women in this region was made even harder by the strong economic crisis and civil wars that tended towards the destruction of society. Social crises, economic, cultural, social, as well as political, the call for traditionalism and the support of patriarchy as its leading component caused the level of violence against women to remain the same. It should be mentioned that as part of the social system before 2002, and historically throughout the whole previous century, this system has justified itself with the “sufficient” role of women in society, and the very structure of society relied on men and the submission of women. In this context, social studies present statistics that show a constant level of violence against women, and in no way does its prevalence decline. The latest research done on this topic in Serbia in 2006 shows that 17.3% of women have not been exposed to active violent behavior, and the same studies done ten years ago show an almost identical result: 18.34%. This means that, according to the latest studies, 82.7% of all women are victims of some form of violence. This overwhelming number points to the fact that patriarchy has been highly preserved and has remained very stable and continuous, which can be a block to the development of civil society and the transformation of values.

We have before us a table obtained as a result of the mentioned studies, which shows the prevalence of specific forms of active violent behavior (AVB in further test) in the family. According to the data we can conclude that the prevalence of individual forms of AVB in the sample declines with the ascent of the intensity of the AVB. However, we should have in mind the fact that violence never appears separately in reality, but in specific clusters with one form attached to others.

Types of AVB Prevalence(in%)
Yelling, insulting 62.5
Denial of attention 29.1
Denial of money 23.4
Restricting freedom of movement 21.8
Throwing and breaking 20.7
Threats 10.8
Hitting 4.5

By analyzing the internal structure and dynamics of AVB in the family, the author of the study comes to conclusions that can be considered specific for our region. The results that deal with relations in conducting AVB in the family show that the main committer of violence is the husband/father. He is dominant as the perpetrator of violence in any behavior, but this domination is especially intense with the sharpest forms of AVB such as threats and hitting. Also, a common initiator of AVB is the son/brother (which can be ascribed to learning from example). However, the interesting fact is that many non-family members contribute to AVB in the family, especially the husband’s parents as committers of heavy forms of AVB (threats, throwing, hitting). Here we come to the specificity of violence against women, because a vertically expanded family was a very widespread form of community in this area. Returning to this form of family in contemporary society (that is to say in the transition period here) can be ascribed to the incapability to solve problems of obtaining a separate living space for a young family in a hard economic situation and this form of community becomes necessary. This way we can explain the influence of living space on violence in the family, where living space is an indirect factor. As two family units are living in one household and the size and structure of the living space is not in accord with the various and dynamic needs of a community formed in this way, this double inadequacy weighs on the female population and the young family.

The first criminal law of the Republic of Serbia to recognize the existence of violence against women and to regulate it in clause 118 was adopted only in 2002. This legal act partially regulates violence against women, while some segments remain legally undefined or even unnoticed by legislature. The law has allowed a solution to the problem or an active involvement in it, encouraging organized professional departments and personnel to help women who have been victims of violence. Also, our public has only recently become aware and sensitive to the problem and has started to recognize the urgent need of its efficient solution, which can foremost be ascribed to the civil sector. The only solution, safe houses, is temporary and unfortunately can only be applied after the violence has already been committed. Prevention is something that is barely worked upon. One way of giving help to women who are in danger is the help of civil society in the form of call centers and help with writing criminal complaints. One-sided and one-time help is not a sustainable solution, but it is a current goal. With the development of society, women becoming active economically and more and more economically independent the status of women changes and the system is subjected to new kinds of violence. What makes women’s status even more difficult is the fact that they retain their previous role in the household (taking care of elderly family members and children, housework) that is a given part of a traditional way of life. It should be mentioned that Serbia has recently been facing a new form of violence, mobbing, that has only now been recognized as an existing problem, but is a legally regulated part of the legislature of capitalistic countries.

What can we do?

The importance of actively taking part is crucial. NGOs should be active in the question of actualization and solution of the problem. We consider that it is our role to influence the cause of the problem and to prevent violence. It can be accomplished through education, advice, advocacy for creating a special law to register all types of violence against women and through the enforcement of that law. What the SGY calls for is that the police enforce the law responsibly in accordance with all its changes. One way of action is an increase in the media coverage of the topic as well as nurturing discussion, not just a brief declaration of the facts. What our organization is going to work on through its human rights working group is networking with other organizations that deal with this topic, organizing common activities as well as conducting educational workshops in rural areas. We will also write projects that ask for financial aid for safe houses as well and make the houses more perceivable and available.