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If someone stole our wallet or we had an accident with our car, we would not hesitate to call the police and seek for help.

But when someone is victim of abuse, sexual harassment or violent behavior, particularly if this happens within the family, then the story is completely different: the feeling of shame, lack of self-confidence, the concern for what will the others think, the fear of retaliation – not only from the perpetrators but also from relatives or friends -, and, quite often, also because of the lack of economic means. Too often these emotions prevail and silent the victims.

We at the UN consider gender-based violence and domestic violence a global phenomenon and a mark of shame on all our societies! Gender based violence doesn’t make distinction of place, culture, level of income or education. No place is free of this type of violence. We still live in male dominated world with deeply engrained stereotypic-gender norms that limit primarly girls and women but also boys and men. This is why we believe that it is so essential to talk about how stereotypes limit members of our society and hinders everyone to enjoy their full range of human rights. If we do not start to talk about them, it is impossible to achieve the change we need. I have seen it from my own country Sweden, where domestic violence moved from being considered a private matter to a public crime.

The most recent data collected by the Kosovo Women Network shows that 63% of Kosovars (women and men) have experienced, at least once in their life, psychological, sexual or economic abusive behaviors inflicted by partners or family members. The data clearly show how this ghastly phenomenon is a public and societal crime; and a human rights violation too.

But to fully be able to deal with domestic and gender-based violence, the legal framework needs to be clear in defining this type of crime and what is the response of the judiciary. The institutional framework also needs to be clear on the role and responsibility of other public institutions such as the police or the health and education professionals, who all play an essential part in the chain of actions that needs to be triggered in preventing and responding g to domestic violence.

Kosovo has a comprehensive g legislative framework to address domestic violence and Kosovar institutions have undertaken a number of positive steps to prevent and fight this crime. But the path to effectively and efficiently deal with this crime still needs to improve, both to refine the legal framework and to make sure that justice has its full course until the sentencing of perpetrators. Despite progress and willingness to end domestic violence, women girls, and also young boys in Kosovo that experience domestic violence, not only have to deal with a deep emotional and physical wound – made even more sour by the fact that those who should love them turn into their torturers – but have also to suffer from the stigma thrown on them from their reference network, from the society they live in. As they see indeed the home that should offer them a safe heaven turning into their prison, they also see the society that should, by law, defend their rights turning into their tormentor by often failing to grant them protection and justice.

To end once for all this unacceptable status quo, it is of vital importance to ensure that all the links of the chain of prevention and response work.

From schools and families, where boys and girls should learn mutual respect and be prepared for a future of equal opportunities, irrespective of sex or gender. We indeed need to work on preventing gender-based violence by empowering women in their social, economic and political lives, combating gender stereotypes while starting early to make sure girls are given the same space as boys, in schools, sports, arts, jobs and politics.

From the media, who have a privileged relationship with the populations and as such have the power to impact opinions and behavior to accelerate social change. This is why they have to help fight gender-based and domestic violence through respectful and ethical reporting that avoids any victim-blaming or stereotypes-supporting approach.

Up to the fundamental role of law enforcement institutions and of the judiciary, which represents a key link to ensure that victims can have access to a sensitive and safe and dignified shelter if needed by them and their children, that offenders are punished for their crimes and survivors are granted justice and reparation for the grave violations of their rights.

Today is the International Day of Human Rights. Ending all forms of discrimination and eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls everywhere are two key targets of a global commitment Kosovo, along with the entire world, has embraced in order to leave no one behind as foreseen by the Agenda 2030 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Today is also the last day of the awareness raising, global campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, led by UN Women, the United Nations  and Agency for Gender Equality.

Over the years, the 16 Days Campaign has been increasingly growing in popularity in Kosovo, and it has become a true social catalyser of actions from institutions, civil society and international organizations. During the last sixteen days, Kosovo has been indeed galvanized by events, roundtables, conferences, gatherings and art performances aiming at raising awareness of different forms of gender-based violence. Today, the Office of National Coordinator Aganst Domestic Violence and gender based Violence under the Ministry of Justice has kicked off a regional conference to discuss about how to prevent and battle domestic violence.

As a society we have a human obligation to end this crime by safeguarding the victims offering them institutional protection and justice, and by showing support and care while continuing advocating for their rights, because not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free of fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world.

Note: a translated version into albanian of this OpEd was published on the daily press “Zeri” in Pristina on 10 December 2018

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