In the words of Natasa Medjedovic: “The services of women’s organizations must be treated in the same way as other social and child protection services”

Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Natasa Medjedovic is the Executive Coordinator at the SOS Hotline Niksic in Montenegro, a civil society organization partner of the UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union. Medjedovic spoke to UN Women about how, despite the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the functioning of women’s organizations and shelters, SOS Hotline Niksic has made every effort to stay available 24/7 as each woman affected by violence has the right to be better protected.

Natasa Medjedovic, Executive Coordinator at the SOS Hotline Niksic in Montenegro. Photo: Personal archive

During the first wave of the pandemic, when there was a total lockdown, we registered an increase of up to 30 per cent in the number of calls for help. Women faced an escalation of violence, job losses, increased home responsibilities and isolation. The feeling of insecurity and anxiety intensified. Women who experienced violence needed information on the support available to them and how to get financial assistance.

During the second wave, measures had been eased, but employment opportunities and access to childcare services has been reduced, and women survivors of violence were often unable to cover basic living expenses. At the same time, the state had not recognized the vulnerability of women survivors of violence, and there was no specific assistance for them in the support programs. Thus, the existential fears of women survivors of violence had intensified, which delayed their decision to leave violent situations.

In the third wave, we registered an even sharper increase in the number of requests from women to accommodate them in the shelters – 150 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. However, one year after the outbreak of the crisis, there is still no recognition of the urgent reaction needed to protect women who experience violence, and there is no response to their needs. Women’s organizations, in cooperation with international partners, are the only ones reacting.

To respond to the new circumstances, women’s organizations have established an online tool – “Be Safe application” - to be able to communicate with survivors. Also, accommodation capacities have been increased, and crisis centres for accommodation of women who experience violence have been provided in several cities. Concrete steps need to be taken towards better protection of women.    

In the last year, 73 women and children who suffered from violence were accommodated in our shelter. In addition to safe and secure accommodation, we provided them professional legal and psychological aid, emotional support talks and educational and creative empowerment workshops, such as yoga, self-defense, mastering manicure skills, as well as workshops for children according to their age group.  

However, in the forthcoming period, it is necessary to advocate that state institutions need to fulfil their obligations towards the specialized assistance and support services run by women’s organizations, as outlined in the Istanbul Convention. The state must provide full financial support to shelters run by women's organizations. The services of women’s organizations must be treated in the same way as other social and child protection services.

It is necessary to implement a reform that will ensure the independence of women’s organizations and respect their approach to work. It is necessary to strengthen control mechanisms that will prevent the current discriminatory approach toward civil society organizations in relation to other providers of social and child protection services. It is necessary to recognize the expertise, experience and innovation of women’s organizations in the protection of survivors of violence.

We need to ensure that the state implements the internationally recognized standards and that the assistance and support services for women who suffer from violence are provided unhindered by women’s organizations because they have substantial experience and knowledge and women survivors trust them the most.”