“Violence against women” is understood as a violation of human rights and a
form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender‐based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts,” state Article 3 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention (2011), that Macedonia signed on the 8th of July 2011. It entered into force on the 1st of July 2018.
In North Macedonia, there is still high level of violence against women and girls, despite the enactment of the Law on prevention of violence against women and domestic violence (2021); but also the rigid articles in the Law on social protection and the Istanbul Convention. In a period when thousands of photographs of women and girls are being shared publicly without their permission (Public Room – Telegram) and the whole process has been going on for years, neither the physical nor the sexual violence unfortunately aren’t absent from today’s modern way of living.
Apart from the criticism in the Annual Report of Amnesty International for North Macedonia, the scope of violence against women is confirmed by the institutions that are obliged to solve the cases of gender-based and domestic violence.
“More often we have reports by women – victims of domestic violence than men ,and they are often at the age between 30 and 45, but there are younger and more adult girls and women who have reported different forms of harassment,” stated the Public Institution Inter-municipal Center for Social Work (PIICSW) in Tetovo.
The Center stated that at the moment, the inter-institutional cooperation with other competent authorities – the police, the court and Prosecutor’s Office – is functioning properly.
“We are cooperating 24/7 with the services and the hotlines. We receive reports at any time, the police then sends an officer and the process of providing help to the victim starts. At the moment of intervention, we are looking for ways to help the victim and get her protected. The victim needs refuge in a place where it will feel safe the same day when the incident was reported. The victims that are reporting violence to the Center for Social Work in Tetovo are being accompanied by a social worker and after being provided with legal assistance, they are being sent to a shelter center in Skopje or Intervention center, where they can stay for three days,” explained the Center.
During those three days, the social worker, in cooperation with other institutions and shelter centers in the country, will be working on finding a solution for safe accommodation of the victim at a shelter center for a longer time period i.e. mostly for 6 months, and during that period through counseling, a addition skills acquisition is provided for the victim so she can qualification become financially independent.
“We had cases when the victim didn’t want to be accommodated in a shelter and, of course, the victim has the right to request that. Firstly, she has to be moved to the capital and then to one of the several centers in Macedonia. This means the victim will need to change her surroundings, and if she has children, to unroll them from school… Thus, it is understandable why she would sometimes decide to temporarily stay with relatives, or, in the worst case, to return to the abuser. The whole process would have been much easier for all, both the victims and those working on the case, if in Tetovo, or at least in the Polog region, there was a shelter center for domestic violence victims.” PIICSW explains.
In these center the victims are getting refuge, they are educated, counseled and free psychological and legal assistance is offered. The centers are of exceptional importance in our society, because their goal is to help in the process of emancipation of a person that has gone through a trauma.
Apart from the shelter centers, in 2020 the National network against violence against women and family violence established its first social service for the reintegration of women – victims of domestic violence that have abandoned the violent environment – the Open Accommodation House. This service is part of the model for reintegration and rehabilitation of women victims of domestic violence i.e. what is provided is counseling and support for accomplishment of their social care rights, continuous individual and group counseling with a psychologist/psychotherapist, legal counseling, and mentorship and employment assistance. The house can accommodate women victims of domestic violence that are at the risk of becoming homeless, for a period of 6 to 24 months, where the victims and their children will have separate sleeping rooms at their disposal and joint facilities such as kitchen, dining room and daily stay room.
In the Republic of North Macedonia, apart from the Skopje region, there are shelters for victims of gender-based and domestic violence: in the Southwestern region – in Ohrid; in the Eastern – in Kochani; the Southeastern – Strumica; the Vardar region – Veles and Sveti Nikole; in the Pelagonia reion – in Bitola. The Government adopted the National action plan for implementation of the Istanbul Convention for the period between 2018-2023, but notwithstanding, the Polog region still doesn’t have a shelter center and is the only one without such a shelter.
In the whole of the Polog region, there isn’t a single shelter center or at least an intervention center, even though, as PIICSW Tetovo stated, the negotiations for this to happen are public and have been happening for a long time.
The real problem lies in the low capacity of the existing shelter centers. Those that are open and are working, are overloaded with victims from other cities – including those from the Polog Valley. But there isn’t a single such facility which could also be functional for the other cities in North Macedonia.
Namely, according to Article 140 of the Law on social protection, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies at least once a year is issuing a public call for securing social services from the municipalities. The municipal units are obliged to form a municipal council for social care (Article 141) that will be making a social plan that will contain a mapping of the social problems and vulnerable groups in the municipality. Then, the mayor (Article 142) based on the social plan is producing an annual program for social care that is adopted by the municipal council.
This program should identify the need for a shelter center, for which the Center for Social Works has been appealing for a long time, and send a proposal to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy.
The reply that Meta.mk received from Tetovo Municipality clarifies that municipal council for social care hasn’t been formed yet, so the issue of creating a planning program and requesting assets for building a shelter center, that the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is obliged to provide upon receiving a proposal, is still on a standstill.
Until recently, the Polog region didn’t even have a counseling center for women and girls – victims of domestic and gender-based violence
Apart from the need for a shelteri center, until recently, in the Polog region, there was an open need for specialized psychological counseling for women victims. The first counseling center of this kind, as part of the National network against violence against women and domestic violence was opened in December last year and it represents a project financed by the Norwegian Embassy and other donations from abroad.
Even though this is a new office, it has all the personnel. Social and legal workers including a psychologist are working with the victims that are calling their lines, and apart from psychological and legal assistance they are offering services for career counseling and are collaborating with PIICSW and the police. Just like the Center for Social Work, they also stress the importance of the creating a shelter center in the Polog region.
“According to the minimal requirement, there has to be one counseling center for women victims of domestic violence per 50,000 people and per 100,000 people there has to be one shelter center, while per 150,000 people an intervention crisis center. “This is the first counseling center in the Polog region, that has a population of 300,000 people, and it is defeating that it is not supported by the local self-government,” the employees of the counseling center stress.
Based on the data at the disposal of the National network against violence against women and domestic violence, in Tetovo there is a large number of women and girls that are reporting all forms of violence, harassment, and stalking. They are all at different ages and the youngest one is aged 13, while the oldest is 60.
“It is really worrisome that the municipality rejected us when we requested finances with the excuse that in the next 2 years there will not be a possibility to finance this counseling center and the foreign donations will end in July 2022. What we have witnessed so far just illuminates the need of such civil body not just for the city of Tetovo but also for the women in the rural places in the surrounding area,” stressed the counseling center.
“These are women who have suffered abuse of any kind for years. It is a big procedure for the women to report the violence and because they don’t know their rights, they need directions on how to proceed after they would take the biggest step – the reporting,” said the center.
The opening of the counseling center wasn’t advertised or campaigned for, but the employees stress that despite the small promotion, they have registered a large number of cases.
“Violence exists in Tetovo, and it will continue to rise. The more the number of the people who become aware of this center’s existence, the more calls for help will ensue, which means that the need for a shelter center will increase with the increase of these numbers. Apart from the fact that we “crowd” the shelter centers in the other cities, the need for an intervention crisis center is also big. If you put yourself in the shoes of a victim that has managed to escape in the middle of the night to seek help, you would realize it is not so nice to get an answer that you will be taken to another place in another town with unknown people,” concluded the counseling center of National network against domestic violence’s.