Women with disabilities from Montenegro empowered to recognize and report violence against women


Together for Equality and Peace. Photo: Una Jovovic.
Together for Equality and Peace. Photo: Una Jovovic

“They [police] told me not to call them anymore because they couldn’t help me…,” confessed M.M.[1] during an educational workshop for women living with disabilities organized by IKRE, a civil society organization supporting women who have experienced violence in Montenegro.

M.M. is a 43-year-old woman from Rozaje, a city in north-eastern Montenegro that borders Kosovo* and Serbia. She is one of 200 women living with disabilities who attended the workshop, which aimed to create dialogue among women living with disabilities, educate them about violence against women and their rights, and improve their digital literacy, taking place within the EU-funded regional programme on ending violence against women “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.” Following the workshops, which were conducted in eight northern municipalities of Montenegro, IKRE also plans to establish an informal network of women living with disabilities.

“Many women living with disabilities were initially reluctant to participate in the discussions, fearing they would be recognized as victims of violence, which counters the deeply inherited belief that the role of women is to suffer for the sake of preserving the family. This belief is deeply rooted in the patriarchal values that predominantly characterize Montenegrin society and was highlighted in the research ‘Domestic violence and violence against women in Montenegro,’ published in 2017,” noted Velida Hodzic, Executive Coordinator at IKRE.

Velida Hodzic. Photo: Una Jovovic
Velida Hodzic. Photo: Una Jovovic

However, thanks to IKRE’s two decades of experience, a sensible approach and an extensive network throughout the country enabled them to reach almost 200 women living with disabilities who are either victims or potential victims of violence. This was achieved in only five months, starting in mid-December 2021. “This is crucial considering the fact that every third woman in Montenegro has experienced violence at least once during her lifetime,” concludes Hodzic.

The workshops highlighted the need for further awareness raising and education of women living with disabilities to exercise and access their rights. According to Hodzic, the dialogue showed that workshop participants primarily identified only physical forms of violence (labelling it as “extreme behaviour”), while the reality of their disability often meant they were not able to offer active resistance to the abuser. Additionally, women were not at all able to recognize psychological and economic forms of violence.

The workshops further reaffirmed how women living with disabilities remain marginalized and often invisible within the system. And, even when seen, women living with disabilities who experience violence frequently encounter barriers in accessing support and protection and face multifaceted prejudices and discrimination by the institutions meant to help them.

“When I reported violence, a police officer who went to the scene suggested that I forgive my husband this time. Which I did, even though I knew it would not improve my situation,” confessed B.B.[2] another 31-year-old woman victim of violence, living in Bijelo Polje, a city in the north of Montenegro.

This is why, with the support of experts, women are learning about their rights, various forms of violence against women and girls, available support and tools, as well as how to provide informal support to other women within their communities.

“We want women living with disabilities like M.M. to be heard and seen in a safe space, and we want to encourage them to access their rights and to not tolerate violence. Their self-advocacy also allows us to further advocate for their rights, support the establishment of tailored services and hold the institutions accountable. It is of utmost importance to establish and strengthen victim-centred and inclusive support services, as well as to enhance the capacities of institutions to apply a human-rights based approach,” pointed out Velida Hodzic.

[1] Name has been changed for protection and privacy of the survivor.

[2] Name has been changed for protection and privacy of the survivor.

* For the European Union, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For UN Women, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).