Gordana Vidović is a lawyer from Modriča. She is also the president of the association of citizens ”Budućnost”, which was established in 1996 and did so many things that a single text is not enough to even list those things, not to speak about providing more details about them. They started in such a way that Gordana, who in the post-war period was an unemployed lawyer, together with two of her colleagues, started providing legal aid to persons who were helpless, searching for a way to get back their property. There was much to do after the High Representative published a decree requesting that all apartments that had been illegally confiscated be returned, and this is how their work started.
It was all without any projects; we did this at our own initiative. People asked us for help and we thus started building our image in the town as a provider of legal services. In the meantime, we specialised and now we focus on prevention and protection against gender based violence. In 1998 we also completed training on how to operate an SOS phone line, because we were of the opinion that it would encourage persons to approach us.
This is how we actually started. And then we focused more on violence, because there were numerous calls regarding violence, but there was no way to react, there was no law to regulate this field, except in case of serious physical injuries, when the police would intervene ex officio. We therefore started focusing more on violence. We managed to participate in a working group that was working on the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska, and as early as 2000, domestic violence was criminalised for the first time. And that is a direct merit of our organisation and two additional organisations that existed back then. At that time, there were very few organisations.
Establishment of a safe house
That same year, 2000, when the law was adopted, we found a woman with three children at our doorstep. She was thrown out of her house. We did not know what to do with her, and back then we decided to somehow open a safe house. We started without even having a project, without anything. We found an apartment, back then it was quite cheap to rent, but we had no furniture. We brought some exercise mats that we got from the UNHCR and ensured accommodation for the woman and her three children. And that was the beginning of the safe house, the first safe house in Republika Srpska.
Once we already established it, in compliance with the proverb ”Once a child is born, it needs to be rocked”, we tried to advocate in order for institutions to recognise the need to finance safe houses. The first step was the adoption of the Law on Prevention from Domestic Violence in Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2005. We did this at the same time with our colleague. In 2007, the law was amended, and the amendments included financing of safe houses. We became part of the system, which was important. In the meantime, another safe house was opened, and today, there are three safe houses. We are financed in such a way that 70% of the costs are paid by the government, 30% by the local community that victims are coming from. However, there are some issues, because local communities are part of the municipalities, and they then decide whether it is necessary or not to place a violence victim in a safe house. This is an area where we frequently encounter problems, but after some undesired consequences that happened, because the victims had not been properly taken care of, this improved, and authorities are now quite cautious, and they approve placements to safe houses without any additional burdens or problems.
At the moment in which we place a victim in a safe house, the welfare centre issues a decree. Based on that decree, we can later request reimbursement of funds per day. Our legal department expanded in the meantime, we now also have a counselling centre, a psychological, social and educational counselling centre for various target groups. All of this is again related to the safe house and violence victims. Once they leave a safe house, women still have access to psychological support and can get in touch with us. They do not need any kind of document from institutions, because we are financing this from funds that we are getting from the donors.
As regards gender-based activities and prevention of all forms of discrimination against women, they actively participated in the preparation of the Law on Gender Equality in 2003. The law is good; however, it is very rarely applied in practice, that is local communities rarely implement it or refer to it.
The law also regulates the participation of women in public life and prevention of violence, as well as all other areas related to women. The only achievement of this law were the amendments to the Election Law, so that lists of candidates now have to include at least 40% of the less represented gender. This is complied with, but only when it comes to lists of candidates. As regards the implementation, or elections, there is no possibility to influence this, because the lists are open. And in case of the executive branch, this is also not being taken into consideration, so that we continuously fight, write, warn, ask, suggest, etc. It is going quite slowly, but I am not satisfied at all, because I believe that a lot of time has passed and not much was done in relation to this.
As regards the safe house, they own it. They received a building from the UN, which was reconstructed and contains 16 beds. They meet all standards of the Ministry and every two years, there is a control of technical and professional standards. They are also developing economic activities with women, because they believe that this is the key for resolving the issue of violence, given the fact that an economically independent woman is less willing to be subject to violence.
Agricultural cooperative ”Eko budućnost”
For this purpose, we also registered an agricultural cooperative called ”Eko budućnost” and we have been working on this for 2-3 years within the cooperative. This has not yet become fully operational, but we managed to create 3 greenhouses in order to have vegetables for the women. Now we planted strawberries and we are planning to seriously engage in strawberry production. We recently installed a cold storage, where we will keep the strawberries and other fruit and vegetables and prevent them from perishing, so that we can process them. It is planned to start a production of jams and other products and sell them, and we are going to do this soon, in order to complete that segment. Now we also started distributing strawberry seedlings to women that have the possibility to plant them, not just on our farm, but also on their property, so that they can sell their products to the cooperative to be further processed. In a way, we would be helping them, because these are mostly women that have no other alternative and can do this.
Model from Modriča
Based on their experience, they have realised that they cannot operate without the cooperation with institutions, due to the fact that the solution of all problems depended on them. A ”Modriča model”, which they are known for, was thus created.
This is labelled as the ”Modriča model” in violence prevention strategies, too. Various cooperation protocols are signed between institutions. However, what we have done is a bit different from the rest, because we believe that a municipality is the host of every local community. The cooperation protocol was signed by the president of the assembly in Modriča in 2007. This means that the assembly approved that it be signed with all institutions, welfare centre, police, court, primary and secondary schools, kindergartens, etc. The assembly is informed every year about what is happening and what the situation regarding violence is like, and all these institutions write. And all these institutions are competent for protection under the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence. That is the model.
They are also well known for the establishment of the first male centre. It was the result of their self-initiative to conduct a research on what they need and who they turn to for help. They believe that it is difficult to help women, if there is no work with men at the same time, because at the safe house they had several cases where a woman was the victim of a perpetrator, left him, but he later met another woman, who also became his victim.
The male centre is designed in such a way that part of it is focused on direct work with perpetrators of violence, and the other is focused on the development of social skills in men. The motivation was to break the taboo, because no men would come if the centre was only for perpetrators of violence, so that it also offers men an opportunity to develop their skills.
Do men come to the centre at all?
They would have to come. We have our ways to make them come, but they should come themselves, because the court has to impose a psychosocial treatment. That is provided for by the law, but courts avoid this. In part because there is nobody to do this, and in part because nobody is suggesting this. The centre needs to suggest this in order for a court to adopt a decision, or the police need to suggest this, and the court needs to adopt a decision. Such measures are thus very rarely applied, but we also have another possibility. When a woman is placed in a safe house, the male centre is informed within 24 hours and it invites the man to come there. Men need to be persuaded, because it is not easy, and around 40% of them come, and 60% do not. In any case, if they do come, they are inserted in a psychosocial programme. There are sessions and assessments to see whether someone is an alcoholic. If he is, he cannot enter the program. The same applies to a case where a man suffers from a mental illness. He first needs to get treatment in order to be included in the programme.
We achieve a lot through the safe house, but also through professionals from institutions. Not as a result of a decree, but rather without it. We get a call from the police and they tell us ”We have one, we will send him to you”. Or we get a call from the welfare centre, but not a decree, because they are afraid that it might result in a financial request. But we are satisfied. Since 2010, a lot has been done with men.