28 Nov WOMEN IN THE ROMA AND EGYPTIAN COMMUNITIES, IN ADDITION TO THE PANDEMIC AND POVERTY, ARE ADDITIONALLY VULNERABLE: THE VIRUS OF VIOLENCE CONTINUES
“Patriarchy is still practiced within the community itself, so few women decide to report violence,” Fana Delija, from the Center for Roma Initiatives, said. Women and girls from the Roma and Egyptian (RE) population are particularly affected by poverty and the inability to permanently separate from the abuser
“We had an argument… He was drunk, he tied me up and started punching me. He was telling me to admit that I had cheated on him, he was hitting me on the upper part of my head and pulling out my hair. I was covered in blood. He mistreated me like that for two or three hours and said that I was a prostitute and that I was with another man. Then he kicked me in the legs. I started bleeding and I felt my leg and arm were broken… ”
From the horror experience she had survived, as she states in her confession to the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG), ML saved herself thanks to her brother-in-law and a neighbor who called the police.
“My husband stopped hitting me, he just asked where his phone was and threatened to kill me and the children. Then my brother-in-law intervened and defended me. I ran away to the neighbor and asked her to call the police… I waited 30 minutes for them to arrive. I told them I couldn’t be with him anymore and explained what he had done to me. The police arrested him, and they took me to the doctor. They sewed me there, fixed my leg because it was broken… and my arm… they also sewed my head… ”
More and more cases
The number of cases of domestic violence in which women from the Roma and Egyptian communities are suffering is growing alarmingly this year. According to Fana Delija, executive coordinator of the Center for Roma Initiatives (CRI) in Niksic, the majority of cases remain unsolved “due to the great influence of tradition”.
“Through our continuous work in the community, we notice that patriarchy is still practiced, which is why only few women decide to report violence,” Delija said.
Based on those who still decide to take that step, Delija concludes that domestic violence in the RE population is on the rise this year.
“Last year, the Center for Roma Initiatives registered eight cases that we reported. It is not excluded that women from the RE community themselves reported the violence directly to the police, or to some other organization, such as the SOS hotline. As for the cases reported to the Center, we already have eight of them from the beginning of January until today. Unfortunately, we believe that there will be more of them by the end of the year “, Delija points out.
The Center for Roma Initiatives provided a telephone line for counseling and support to women suffering from domestic violence.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic has been declared, we have had more than 50 calls and counselling. The women only asked for some kind of support, not to report violence, but to consult a psychologist about how to report it, when to do something regarding the situation, how to access certain services, or to report the violence “, Delija said.
According to the personal confession of M.L. the chances of a woman getting out of the circle of violence are not big and often everything goes back to the beginning. She encountered the first obstacle when she left her husband since there was no room in the women’s safe house at that time.
“The only way out of that situation was my father. Although he is ill, he has no money for his medicine, nor was there enough space in that barrack, because my brother and his children live there as well. I managed somehow to fit in there, until they called me from SOS Nikšić “, M.L says.
In her opinion, institutions should help women who report similar cases more. They should offer them security and help them temporarily, so that they can move on by themselves. It is necessary, she says, to find a solution for accommodation, regardless of whether there is a room in a women’s safe house.
“In the end, without support, the woman has to be on the street, or like me, to return to the husband because that was my only option.”
A joint response is needed
Mirjana Vuksanović, a psychologist from the Montenegrin Women’s Lobby, points out that it is especially important that all actors involved in the system of protection against domestic and female violence, regardless of the group, respect the important role they have in dealing with such cases. A woman who has experienced violence should be provided with the access to support and assistance at any time.
“These are the police, the center for social work and the non-government sector. Without their joint response and multisectoral cooperation, there is a lack of adequate assistance and support. If there is no reaction from any actor, the woman does not receive the support and help she is guaranteed with by international and state regulations “, Vuksanović says for CIN-CG.
According to her, women and girls from the RE population are additionally affected “due to the socio-economic situation, language barrier, discrimination in finding adequate help and support”. It often happens that they are not informed about their rights and possibilities to exercise them.
Delija points out that it is necessary to strengthen the capacities of RE organizations that deal with the improvement of the position of women from the Roma and Egyptian communities, especially for the suppression of domestic violence and early arranged child marriages.
“When we talk about the RE civil sector, the fact is that there is a lack of staff. There are few organizations and activists empowered to address these issues. It is necessary to have as many RE activists as possible, to be involved in organizations like CRI. We have been working in the field for a long time and we have a women’s REA network, the first network made up of Roma and Egyptian activists from several cities in Montenegro. We are in constant contact with the community itself “, Fana Delija says.
It is necessary, she points out, to work on informing RE women.
“The most important thing is that women know who to address to if they want to report violence. More work needs to be done in the community itself to encourage women to report violence, as it is very difficult for a member of the RE population to initiate such a thing, given that she is from a poor family and depends on a male family member. Unfortunately, because of patriarchy, a large number of women think that it is normal for them to suffer violence and not to report it,” Delija says.
The legal framework is improved, but the problem remains
By ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence on 1 August 2014, Montenegro became one of the first countries to commit to undertake all legislative and other measures for adoption and implementation of effective, comprehensive and coordinated state policies that include the prevention and fight against all forms of violence, so that the rights of victims are at the center of measures and are realized through the cooperation of all bodies, institutions and organizations.
In the last decade, the legal framework in Montenegro has been significantly improved, primarily with the adoption of the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, the Criminal Code, as well as the Law on Gender Equality, the Family Law, and the Law on Free Legal Aid and Social and Child Protection. In addition, the adoption of the Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence (2016-2020) and the Action Plan for Achieving Gender Equality (2017–2021) provided a strategic framework for the implementation of policies that should respond to the challenges in this area.
The UNDP report for 2017, however, states that every other woman in Montenegro has survived at least one form of violence, which means that women from the RE population are no exception either.
“Domestic violence, child begging and forced marriages are serious social challenges, and the lack of communication between institutions and unclear competencies still remain a major problem,” this was estimated on the final conference of the project Together for Sustainable Results In Combating Domestic Violence, Child Begging and Forced Marriages organized by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM).