Organized meeting on dealing with domestic violence in a pandemic

Yesterday, under the Swiss Embassy’s “Empowering Municipal Councils” project in North Macedonia, implemented by UNDP, a virtual meeting on “Strengthening the capacity of local self-government to deal with domestic violence in a pandemic” was organized. The meeting initiated by UNDP, ZELS and UN Women was attended by over 30 participants and representatives from over 15 municipalities (presidents of councils and equal opportunities commissions) and representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Reason for the meeting was the growing level of domestic violence as a result of the self-isolation measures being taken to deal with the pandemic of COVID-19.

Participants were informed about the current state of increased risk of domestic violence, with particular emphasis on the ways of reporting and the institutional mechanisms for dealing with gender-based violence. Elena Dimushevska, Executive Director of the National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence emphasized the role of municipalities in informing citizens and potential victims about ways to report and to receive support. She noted that in circumstances of limited movement and reduced access to services to support victims of domestic violence, local government is essential in the process of providing assistance to victims and timely information on reporting violence. The National Network sent a request for urgent measures for protection of women and children victims of domestic violence to the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. Some of these measures are related to the local self-government and were presented at the meeting with the representatives of the municipalities.

Participants expressed satisfaction and gratitude for the tremendously useful meeting. In order to strengthen the capacities of the local self-government in dealing with cases of domestic violence, activities and measures were identified that will be undertaken under the project. The following conclusions were drawn:

– The Project will share information with municipalities on ways to report domestic violence in order to inform citizens via its websites and social media, as well as with the most vulnerable categories of citizens;

– Better coordination and cooperation between all stakeholders is needed for more successful dealing with gender-based violence at the local level;

– Good practices are already applied, but there is need for strengthening capacity of municipalities and for more intensive campaign on reporting cases and supporting potential victims; and

– As needed, the project will provide training for municipal staff on how to deal with cases of domestic and gender-based violence.

During the meeting, Jovana Trenchevska, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, noted that the Ministry is taking measures to ensure that victims of domestic violence receive adequate assistance and protection. Victims of domestic violence can call the National Free Mobile SOS line for victims of domestic violence, which provides 24-hour support. This is one of 18 state services available to victims of domestic violence. Trenchevska added that in cases where there is knowledge of domestic violence, it should be reported to the nearest police station or social work center, even during curfew.

Across the world, the pandemic is deepening existing inequalities, including gender-based violence. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pointed out, COVID-19 is causing negative economic and social импацт, which, coupled with restricted movement and physical isolation, increase the risk of gender-based violence. Many potential victims of gender-based violence are trapped in their homes with their abusers, while the availability of victim support services is reduced.

As a result, the rate of domestic violence has been rising in a number of countries around the world: by 30% in France and Cyprus, by 32% in Singapore, as well in Canada, Germany, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this is happening in our country as well. Although the number of reports has not increased, there are allegations of higher number of criminal charges and domestic violence-related complaints. Good practices in dealing with this rising risk include: enhanced preventive measures, increased shelter capacity, safe places for victims to report violence (such as pharmacies and supermarkets), better online services and awareness campaigns on the issue, especially among men.

The “Empowering Municipal Councils” project works directly with 24 municipalities, in partnership with the Ministry of Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Finance, ZELS, the Association of Financial Workers and the UN Body for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women). The project has implemented a series of activities to present to strengthen the capacity of councilors and their network, including transparency and civil participation in municipalities. 60 forum sessions within 15 forum processes were held to present and attended by over 4,000 citizens – residents of the selected municipalities. This process has so far resulted in six implemented local development projects, whereas additional 18 similar projects will be implemented in an equal number of municipalities in the course of 2020.