Interview: “If rural women were sure that they would get protection from abusers, as well as legal and psychological support, they would be more encouraged to report violence”
Mileva Malešić is the Founder and President of the Managing Board of Women's Forum Prijepolje, non-governmental organization aimed at improving gender equality and the position of women. She has been a journalist and activist for women's rights for more than 20 years. She also established the Television Forum, a civil society media and webpage Forum INFO portal, primarily reporting on women’s rights and gender equality. From May 2021 to May 2022, Women’s Forum Prijepolje implemented the UN Women project, Improved safety of women in Serbia, which is funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade. This effort is aimed at improving the position of rural women and fighting gender-based violence.
What are the main project activities and results?
“We organized meetings with women in their rural communities to hear about their problems, concerns, and the obstacles they face. We spoke directly with 52 women. We created and produced television reports and shows, as well as written material about how to prevent and protect women from violence. All of these were published on our webpage. Our media content – 23 videos and written materials – reached around 100,000 people through our television and social media channels. As part of the international campaign, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we organized a round table with representatives of institutions and non-governmental organizations from Zlatibor and Raška districts. During the session, the representatives shared information about their work and experiences. Besides this, we organized a street action, where we sent a strong message that violence against women is unacceptable. In addition, we organized a seminar for journalists from 10 local media outlets on gender-sensitive reporting when it comes to violence against women.
What are the biggest challenges faced by rural women when it comes to their general position and gender-based violence?
Most women from rural areas are not formally employed, although they work from dawn to dusk, and have no guaranteed income. Patriarchal norms are still deeply rooted in their communities, and household roles are gender-based. Women are cooking, washing, cleaning, raising children, taking care of elderly family members. Economic dependence is one of the main reasons why women are unable to break the circle of violence. There is no organized public transportation to and from the villages of the Prijepolje municipality. Women are the most affected by this situation as very few women own a car or have a driver's license. Some village clinics have been shut down, making it difficult for women to access health care. Patriarchal upbringing teaches women that they have to suffer and remain silent. As a result, violence is generally seen as a private matter, not a serious social problem, so it’s rarely talked about. Older women and women with disabilities are at particular risk of violence.
What do rural women need most to be empowered and encouraged to report violence and discrimination?
The basic prerequisite for women to report violence is that they are informed about how and from whom to seek help and protection. Since our organization was established, and especially since our media outlet began working, we have been constantly informing women about existing ways they can gain protection. Through numerous meetings in local communities, workshops in schools, public actions and campaigns, we educate women and girls about how to recognize different forms of violence and why it is important to report it. If they could be sure that they will get protection from abusers, as well as legal and psychological support, they would definitely be more encouraged to report violence.
What is your opinion about media reporting on cases of violence against women and gender equality in general?
The reporting of most media outlets in Serbia about violence against women and gender equality is unsatisfactory, full of stereotypes and sensationalism. One of the reasons for establishing TV Forum, the first television station run by civil sector in Serbia and the Balkans with a prefix - female, was to introduce new standards in how women are represented in the media. On the other hand, all our organization’s activities were more visible, as well as the problems facing women in our region. We have created a safe women's media house and the possibility to improve media coverage on topics important for women. We use the Code of Gender-Sensitive Reporting, gender-sensitive language and regularly organize seminars and training for journalists from our own and other newsrooms. There are more and more women in the media, but men still hold many of the senior positions. It is important for women to be in decision-making, so that we can improve reporting on topics that concern women.
What role does the support of UN Women Serbia play for you and your organization?
We have been cooperating with UN Women Serbia since 2018. We have jointly implemented projects dealing with the economic empowerment of women, unpaid female work, safety of rural women, and currently we have a project on legal and patriarchal norms of inheritance. The UN Women support means a lot to us, not only in terms of finances, but also in terms of cooperation and learning through the implementation of projects. I am very happy that we have been supported to highlight overlooked topics that are important to women and our community.”