Interview: “We empower Roma women to recognize violence and seek help”
At least 25 Roma women from five North Macedonian municipalities have sought legal assistance following a door-to-door campaign implemented by the civil society organization (CSO) National Roma Centrum (NRC) in 2021 and early 2022. Based on NRC research conducted in 2019, which showed that domestic violence was not recognized as violence against women (VAW), the campaign aimed to tackle these beliefs and empower women to seek help. More than 450 women were reached, and five local networks of community leaders were established to continue fostering dialogue on VAW and other harmful practices. In this interview, NRC Project Manager Aleksandra Trajanovska shares her insights on the positive changes brought about by the prevention campaign and the challenges Roma women face when trying to access support services and report violence. The campaign was implemented under the regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union.
Looking back at the campaign you implemented, what do you see as the key positive changes?
In 2021, we implemented an awareness-raising campaign on VAW, domestic violence, child marriage and gender equality targeting Roma communities in five municipalities from North Macedonia: Kumanovo, Kochani, Stip, Prilep and Kichevo. In Roma communities, these harmful practices are still often considered ‘family issues,’ and neither men nor women recognize all forms of violence or the options and services available for protection. Therefore, this year we decided to run a door-to-door campaign and visit Roma families to inform them about domestic violence, empower Roma women to recognize this as violence and seek help if they or someone they know is a victim. As a result of the campaign, we have noticed a change in their personal views on violence, and in some cases, this has led to a change in behaviour. So far, 25 women have requested legal assistance, including for divorce proceedings due to domestic violence.
When thinking about the campaign, what aspects do you think made it so successful?
All the components of the campaign were designed to address the needs of Roma women and girls, from raising awareness to offering legal counselling and protection in legal proceedings. The inclusion of Roma men and boys was important because they must also be informed and aware of their actions. The door-to-door visits and dialogue meetings provided space and opportunity for open and safe discussion on harmful practices that are otherwise rarely addressed in these communities. These activities are a starting point, but a lot more work still needs to be done in Roma communities to prevent violence against women and domestic violence.
What are some specific challenges that Roma women face when trying to access support services?
A lack of accurate information regarding their rights is one of the main challenges that Roma women face when trying to access support services. Our legal counselling activities tackle this challenge by providing a safe space and an opportunity for Roma women to learn about their rights and become informed about the new Law for the Prevention and Protection of VAW and Domestic Violence, as well as to access free individual legal counselling sessions. Additionally, many Roma women survivors of violence have very little or no funds for legal representation in court proceedings. By providing legal representation, together with administrative and technical assistance, we were able to bridge this gap with women who were brave enough to seek help and engage in legal proceedings.
What are the goals of the network of community leaders you established in Roma communities?
One of the main components of the project for tackling VAW and domestic violence was to establish a network of community leaders in all five municipalities. The network consists of members of local CSOs, community leaders, representatives of local prevention councils and influential and recognized men and women from Roma communities as well. Its purpose is to foster dialogue and disseminate the message among other men and the Roma community as a whole about violence against women, domestic violence, early marriage and other harmful practices. We also strengthened the knowledge of selected community leaders regarding VAW and domestic violence with the goal to empower them to have greater influence on VAW issues in their environment. They are also meant to serve as a bridge between women in need of assistance and the National Roma Centrum as a service-provider.