On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November, when people across the world unite in the campaign to end violence against women, let us remember all the women victims of violence from those who fell victim to dictatorial regimes and who lost their lives because of their ideas and fight for women’s rights, to women victims of domestic violence.
On the occasion, let us once again repeat what are our duties and responsibilities to prevent violence against women. Unfortunately, what remains a huge problem in our society is physical abuse women suffer at the hands of their partners. The last example of the women murdered in Pancevo is sadly just one in a series of tragedies this year, a long list of tragedies repeated for many, many years. That is why combating domestic violence should at the very top of our list of priorities.
Despite all the legislation, media campaigns and better coordination between the authorities in charge of preventing violence against women, progress is slow. For the women who have lost their lives to violence, it is too late, and for their children and families there is no other consolation than to have their murderers suitably punished. That is why I hope the courts will in all the cases of violence against women be mindful of the severity of the crime and the general message their ruling will send to society at large - that violence against women is a serious crime, a severe form of violation of human rights and that all perpetrators will be treated the same.
The punishments must be strict and efficient. However they are obviously not enough of a deterrent. We need to work preventively and change people’s perception, even the perception of people who can hardly be called human, who are capable of taking another’s life and destroying their children’s future.
It is the state’s duty to create the legal and institutional environment where women would be protected against violence and undertake measures to make sure violence is recognized and then prevented. A lot has been done but it is evidently not enough and we are obviously making some kind of a mistake, starting from violence-filled media content, to the fact that social welfare centres allow violent parents who had already been reported to the police and are in possession of weapons to see the children.
However, it is our duty as individuals to be aware and responsible for our behaviour. The prevention of violence against women is not just the duty of people working in institutions, it also requires personal responsibility from each individual. That is why I appeal to men first of all to resolve their conflicts peaceably, through talk and compromise. Violence is never the solution, no matter how deep the reasons and causes of the conflict and problems. Violence against women is not the sign of power and strength, but of weakness and cowardice. Shifting blame onto the victim, showing understanding for the abuser’s actions and tacit approval still exist in our society and they stems from a bias that degrades and belittles women. Let me then also appeal to women not to suffer and deny violence, but to react while there is still time and report it.
Finally, I hope that we will see significant progress in the coming period and at last find a way to deal with this huge problem. I believe that today we have the institutions women in trouble can turn to, places employing responsible professionals ready to offer assistance and support, to take their problems, fears and doubts seriously and invest maximum effort to recognize and prevent violence.