Hand over the mic to: Teodora Stojilković, SerbiaYouth ambassador and women’s rights activist
For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are handing over the mic to women on the front line, those who are battling COVID-19 and the pandemic of violence against women and girls that’s relentless and rising. These are the voices of survivors, essential workers, and leaders, telling us what’s urgent, and how we can stop the escalating violence, recover and rebuild from COVID-19.
Growing up in the ethnically-divided town of Bujanovac, Serbia, where women are neglected regardless of their nationality, fuelled my activism. Women are told to ‘know their place’ and stay out of politics. I often heard women being physically abused in their homes around my neighbourhood.
What can you do to help?
- Create a safe space for women who experience violence and let them know that it is never their fault.
- Support any survivors of violence you know. Be there for them.
- Sensitize people on violence against women, in-person or online. Share information on how survivors can get help.
- Support women’s voices! Strengthen women’s voices!
During the COVID-19 lockdown, violence against women rose significantly as women were confined with their violent partners. Many women were suffering but didn’t know where to turn for help. I started thinking about how to support survivors without putting them at more risk. The call to become a Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network Youth Ambassador seemed like an ideal opportunity to help women, not only in my hometown, but across Europe.
We worked directly with local women and raised awareness about violence against women and girls. As a WAVE Youth Ambassador, I created online content highlighting the importance of breaking the stigma and shame around sexual violence. We also included information on support services and helplines in Serbia. I believe that our action had an empowering impact on women in the Balkans to report violence, and encouraged them to get help.
Women and girls who experience violence need to know that they are not alone. It is imperative to take a stance on this matter.
Next, I plan to develop a women’s empowerment network that provides safe spaces for survivors to share their personal experiences of leaving abusive relationships, and that provides support from specialists to guide them on the path of recovery.
We must support one another. My call to survivors is: ‘If you are in an abusive situation, call someone you trust. Everything has a beginning and an ending, and the end can be beautiful, no matter how dark it seems now.’”
UN Women programmes work to tackle gender-based violence and support survivors
Teodora Stojilković, 18, is a student and women’s right activist from Bujanovac, Serbia. She was one of the ambassadors of the “Women Talk” campaign, supported by UN Women, and is currently serving as a WAVE Youth Ambassador as part of the EU-UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey that targets changing social norms.
After COVID-19 hit, WAVE Youth Ambassadors from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia created videos in their local languages to raise awareness about sexual violence against women and highlight how to access support.
While almost all Member States of the Council of Europe recorded a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown, Serbian authorities recorded a decrease, because trapped at home with their abusers, women were unable to report violence. UN Women’s rapid assessment on the ‘Impact of the pandemic on specialist services for victims and survivors of violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey’ highlights the disruption in accessing support services. Survivors mostly reached out to local women’s organizations – between April and July 2020, 20 women’s organizations supported by UN Women recorded a 30 per cent increase in calls from women facing violence, compared to the same period last year. Supporting grassroots women’s organizations who are able to reach and serve women is an important part of UN Women’s response on the ground.