Gender-based and domestic violence, of which the majority of victims are women, is a global issue. The Western Balkans, and the Romani community, of which large numbers, besides Serbia, live in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, is no exception. The problem of violence against women has been further exasperated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially within the most vulnerable communities, in particular the Roma communities.
The Roma Women's Association OSVIT is a regional women's civil society organization, which strives towards achieving gender equality, building a society without discrimination and with equal access to public services. Their vision: “An Open, Strong, Visible, Informed, Tolerant Roma woman is an equal member of the society” is exemplified in their name, OSVIT. The Association is an active member of the Network "Women Against Violence", Roma Women's Network of Serbia, Network "1325 - Women, Peace, Security", Network of European Women's Lobby, Network for the Promotion of the Rights of Children with Disabilities in Serbia, Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia (MODS) and the International Network "Keeping Children Safe".
The main activity of OSVIT is empowering women to combat violence by direct work with users, social services (legal and psycho-social support, referral to and support in institutions), but also prevention through information, education, campaigns, as well as economic empowerment. OSVIT also strives to improve the position of women, especially Roma women, in general, by offering information, education, campaigns and public events, conducting research on the position of Roma men and women related to health, social protection, education, and economic status. Furthermore, OSVIT offers humanitarian aid in crisis situations. When it comes to public policies and the institutional framework for combating violence against women, OSVIT is engaged in various activities, such as information campaigns, public advocacy and lobbying, public events, monitoring the implementation of policies, as well as participation in policy making.
In order to further promote and protect the rights of women victims of violence, with an emphasis on Roma women, OSVIT conceived a project entitled “Roma women for a society without gender-based violence”, which gained support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway and the Balkan Trust for Democracy. The main goal of the project is to provide quality services to victims of violence by offering SOS hotlines in Romani and Serbian, as well as through analysis of local documents, with the aim of improving the position of women, focusing on the cities of Niš, Pirot and Bujanovac, which have large Romani communities. The project also includes training of civil servants within the accredited program "Support for the Improvement of the Position of Roma Women".
Through the work of the SOS hotline, within this project, 153 women who experienced some form of violence received information on the competencies of institutions relevant for the protection against violence. Psychological support was provided for 45 beneficiaries, and legal counseling - pro bono legal advice – for 46 women. Two accredited seminars "Support to the improvement of the position of Roma women" were realized in Pirot and Bujanovac. Within these seminars, 33 persons employed in institutions received further knowledge and training on how to provide quality services to Roma women.
An anonymous beneficiary of the project “Roma women for a society without gender-based violence” commented: “You are the only ones who listened to me and helped solve my long-standing problem of violence in the right way. Without your support, I would not have been able to leave the abuser or find a place in a safe house. Thanks to the SOS hotline, my children and I are safe now."”
Continuing their activities through this project, as well as many other initiatives, the 10 active members and 20 volunteers gathered in the Roma Women’s Association OSVIT hope to give a substantial contribution to the improvement of the position of women, especially Roma women, and their protection against gender-based and domestic violence in Serbia.