Women under Attack in the Balkans
Women are losing rights everywhere in South-East Europe,
first of all, the right to abortion, but a new feminist movement is rising.
Women face a powerful far-right “pro-life” movement financially supported by American, Russian, and European NGOs, the strong influence of the Church on politicians, the shame surrounding reproductive and sexual health in conservative societies, and a lack of institutional support from their own governments, mostly run by men. The EU integration may be a momentum to push women’s rights but it doesn’t prevent women’s rights to recess. What these countries face is a return to a dark age.
Femicides are only the peak of a scary big iceberg: more than two-thirds of women in the Balkans say they have experienced some form of domestic or non-domestic sexual/sexist violence, and a quarter of these women have experienced intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence. Girls and women from South-East Europe countries have always suffered the patriarchal culture, but they hoped for more equality and protection when the countries of the region joined (Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania) or started the process of joining the European Union (Albania, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia): that didn’t happen.
On the contrary, today they are slowly but surely losing rights – first of all, the right to abortion – and so many of them continue to suffer and die from gender-based violence due to the lack of institutional support, shelters, social awareness, and because powerful and effective far right “pro-life” NGOs manage to push forward their misogynistic agenda under the banner of the “defense of traditional family”.
Because of the chronic under-representation of Balkan women in politics, the legislation to protect them against sexism and sexual violence is incomplete if not nonexistent, and when it exists, it is not implemented. Police and justice institutions are not legally armed to address the problem, they lack sensitivity due to the absence of political pressure to address the problem. The result is that men enjoy a high level of impunity, which fuels violence, and most women are discouraged to ask for justice and protection from the authorities when they are victims.
The weight of shame and the omerta embedded in conservative societies, especially in the countryside, is another major reason for discouraging women to be vocal about the chronic violence they suffer. When it comes to the right to abortion, Romania and Croatia are following Poland without legally banning it, but in strangling progressively the access to it. Next to this, sexual education is mostly denied to girls, which keeps them in the dark and blocks their emancipation.
Feminist activists from the region do their best to fight this movement that many see as a return to a dark age. They try to compensate for the disengagement of their governments to provide sexual education to women, and they go on the street to protest and challenge the impunity of men so they don’t always get away with rape or femicide, which are still mostly portrayed as “crimes of passion”.