The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the Croatian government to improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women during childbirth. It also emphasized the importance of accessible reproductive health services. CEDAW placed a special emphasis on the regulation of conscientious objections, which must not be an obstacle in achieving women’s rights, it stated.

The 61st session of CEDAW met in Geneva from July 6 to 24. On July 15, the topic of discussion was the combined fourth and fifth report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Croatia, submitted to the Committee by the Croatian government. Alongside the government delegation led by the Office for Gender Equality President Helena Radin Štimac, the session was attended by the representatives of the Croatian Women’s Network.

In its concluding observation, the Committee urged Croatia to guarantee that women’s rights, autonomy, and informed consent requirements are upheld during childbirth. CEDAW also recommended that Croatia ensure that the conscientious objection of health professionals who provide gynecological services not be allowed to impede their patients’ access to those services, especially abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, CESI, and RODA submitted a shadow report to CEDAW regarding the failure of the Croatian government to ensure women have access to quality healthcare, including abortion and modern contraceptives. The report addressed the serious concerns about the treatment of pregnant women during childbirth in Croatian hospitals, including deficits in ensuring full and informed consent to medical interventions during childbirth as well as frequent abusive treatment of women by medical professionals.

“Croatian women have a right to receive quality reproductive health services, but instead they face abuse, disrespectful care, and a range of obstacles to critical services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Croatia must take effective steps to ensure pregnant women giving birth receive medical care that respects their needs and wishes.”

Abortion is legal within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter under limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy is a result of a crime, if the pregnancy put a woman’s health or life at risk, and in cases of severe fetal impairments. However, women are facing increasing difficulties in accessing legal abortion services in practice. According to 2014 research by the Gender Equality Ombudswoman, more than half of gynecologists in Croatia do not provide legal abortion services due to their personal objections.

The joint submission to the CEDAW Committee also included findings from RODA’s 2015 Survey on Experiences in Maternity Services that reported a large number of pregnant women being subjected to procedures that can be harmful to their physical and mental health, including 54 percent of women alleging that health professionals applied heavy pressure to their abdomens to speed up the delivery, a procedure not supported by medical evidence.

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The Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights organized the first in a three-part series of modules titled “Specialized training for NGOs and social welfare centers on direct work with victims of domestic violence with a focus on sexual violence: First module—Domestic violence and sexual violence”. The specialized training was held on July 3 and 4, 2015, in Donja Stubica.

The facilitators of the training, which was attended by the representatives of NGOs and social welfare centers, were Antonija Hojt Ilić and Paula Zore.

After the initial introduction of the project of which the training is a part by the Women’s Room member Antonija Hojt Ilić, Women’s Room Coordinator Maja Mamula, PhD introduced the forms, characteristics, and prevalence of domestic violence, the problematics of reporting it, and consequences of domestic violence in a lecture and workshop titled “Domestic violence”. Participants were able to exchange experience in work and practice and arrive at a common solution through case studies.

In the second part of day one, Dr. Mamula gave a lecture and workshop on “Sexual violence: Definitions, forms, characteristics, reporting, consequences”. Participants again worked on concrete cases to get acquainted with the problem of sexual violence.

In the final part of day one, participants discussed the positive developments and future steps in the area of domestic and sexual violence.

High Misdemeanor Court of the Republic of Croatia Judge Branka Žigante Živković opened day two of training with a lecture on “Legal aspects of the protection against domestic and sexual violence, the role of the Istanbul Convention”. By presenting the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) and comparing it to Croatian legislation, Judge Žigante Živković explained the positive possibilities and opportunities that would follow Croatia’s ratification of the Convention. Judge Žigante Živković also presented the Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime as well as the victims’ rights under the Criminal Procedure Act. Attendees proceeded to discuss and seek solutions to some specific cases.

Croatian Association of Social Workers President Štefica Karačić gave a lecture titled “The role and significance of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Domestic Violence and Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence in providing help and support to victims of violence”. Through a presentation of specific cases from practice, Ms. Karačić explained the roles and responsibilities of each actor (state bodies and institutions, NGOs) dealing with the problem of domestic violence and providing victim help and support.

In the final part of day two, participants worked with  Branka Žigante Živković on specific cases of domestic and sexual violence.

Specialized training is an integral part of the project “Together we can do more!” implemented by the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights in partnership with the Adela Women’s Center (Sisak), Brod Association (Slavonski Brod), Croatian Association of Social Workers (Zagreb), and Association of Youth and Family Judges and Specialists (Zagreb). The project is co-financed by the European Union from the European Social Fund and the Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs (www.strukturnifondovi.hr).

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On June 9, the Agency for Electronic Media organized an international workshop in Zagreb on “Promoting media literacy on gender equality and fighting gender stereotypes in the media” for Croatian electronic media publishers. This is part of a series of workshops designed primarily for journalists and editors who wish to acquire additional knowledge on designing media content dealing with gender equality and other constitutional values, in order to enable them to submit high-quality applications and produce content co-financed by the Fund for the Promotion of Pluralism and Diversity of Electronic Media. The Agency for Electronic Media’s 2015 annual work program includes the implementation of activities that support media literacy in the form of training for publishers on the topics which can apply for the Fund’s grants.

Besides Croatian presenters Višnja Ljubučić, the Gender Equality Ombudswoman, Melita Mulić, MP and member of the Croatian Parliament’s Gender Equality Committee, Sanja Sarnavka, president of BaBe!, Mirjana Rakić, the Council for Electronic Media President, and Gordana Simović and Suzana Kunac, members of the Council for Electronic Media, the workshop was attended by the representatives of the audiovisual committees of Morocco and Andalusia—Amina Lemrini El Ouahabi and Carmen Morillo, who are also leaders of the working group on gender equality and fighting against gender stereotypes in the media, which is being implemented in the framework of the Mediterranean Network of Regulatory Authorities (MNRA) on the basis of the MNRA Declaration on promoting gender equality and fighting against gender stereotypes.

In addition to the non-profit press (Libela, Lupiga, Kulturpunkt, Voxfeminae), a significant number of local radio and television networks also attended the lectures and workshop.

A part of the day was dedicated to practical work on designing gender-equal topics and feature stories for the attending journalists and editors, moderated by Suzana Kunac and Sanja Sarnavka, as well as exchanging ideas on how to improve the gender dimension of television, radio, and print media stories.

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The 7th seminar for sportswomen coordinators entitled “The sports arena as a safe place for women and girls” was held in Bjelovar on June 9, 2015. The seminar took place at the Central Hotel under the direction of the Croatian Olympic Committee’s Commission for Women in Sports and the Bjelovar-Bilogora County Sports Community.

The main topic of the meeting was the experience with the application of measures to improve women’s status in sports, documents on gender equality of European and world organizations, and experience with gender equality in Bjelovar-Bilogora County. In that vein, the Office for Gender Equality Director Helena Štimac-Radin, MSc gave a lecture on “The experiences with applying the National Policy for Gender Equality measures for improving the status of women in sports in the period 2011-2015”, “The Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence”, and “The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”.

After her lecture, attendees had an opportunity to hear about and discuss the issue of harassment and abuse in sports and the measures for their prevention.

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On Thursday, June 18 at 2 p.m., Plavi Telefon held a roundtable discussion titled “Open doors”. Numerous participants from competent state authorities, institutions, and NGOs that provide counseling gathered in the center of Zagreb, at Chilloutka (15 Ilica).

At the beginning of the roundtable, the Plavi Telefon Association’s president Miroslav Vučenović introduced the association and its significance. He noted that as the association has been around for more than 18 years, this is a clear indicator of its necessity in the Croatian society. Next was a lecture by Jelena Bićanić on couples counseling through choice theory and Lejla Talić’s lecture on e-mail counseling with clients. Ms. Talić particularly focused on her clients’ most common problems and how to approach them and emphasized that she always stresses the importance of meeting in person to her clients.

A short discussion with Q&As was followed by Branka Anđukić’s lecture on family and couples counseling, in which she briefly presented a summary of 2014—what were the most common problems that clients came to her with and whether they sought help for themselves or a loved one.

The roundtable ended with Anita Đuretić-Bartolović’s lecture on individual counseling and a short discussion, conclusions, and a call for mutual cooperation.

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On June 12, 2015, the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights organized a one-day training on the subject of “The application of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence” at the Club Funimation Borik Hotel in Zadar. The training was designed for professionals working with persons who have survived sexual violence. These professions include, but are not limited do: the police, healthcare, judiciary, social care, education sector, and non-governmental sector.

The Croatian Government adopted the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence on November 29, 2012, at the proposal of the Office for Gender Equality. The Rules of Procedure is one of the most significant steps in ensuring standardized help and support for victims of sexual violence when reporting and during the processing of sexual violence.

The specialized training for the professional staff of competent institutions and bodies was conducted in order to ensure the best possible implementation of the Rules of Procedure and to contribute to the National Policy for Gender Equality (for the period 2011-2015) measure which prescribes the improvement in cooperation between all competent bodies and other factors involved in identifying and preventing sexual violence.

The theme of the training was learning the responsibilities of each competent institution and body (the police, healthcare, judiciary, social care centers, educational institutions, NGOs), working on specific cases, and future challenges and steps for a better implementation of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence.

Maja Mamula, PhD (Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights Coordinator) opened the training by presenting the development and adoption of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence and announcing all speakers. Maja Mamula also gave a lecture on defining sexual violence, its forms and prevalence, focusing on the situation in Croatia regarding sexual violence and the role of the Rules of Procedure. Julijana Stipišić, Split County Deputy State’s Attorney, focused on the problem of sexual violence and sex crimes from the legal perspective and introduced the terms and legislation relating to this problem.

Branka Žigante Živković from the High Misdemeanor Court spoke about the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and stressed the importance of its ratification. Finally, Zagreb County Court Judge Lana Petö Kujundžić referred to the obligations of the judicial system in protecting the rights of victims of sexual violence. She covered the procedure and verdicts for crimes against sexual freedom by explaining about the duration of the court proceedings, its purpose, the role of judge, factors in defining sanctions, and rights of all parties involved in the process. Judge Petö Kujundžić next gave a lecture on questioning children in court, specifically in the case of crimes against sexual freedom.

All presentations were corroborated with various examples from practice and active discussion. The one-day training was attended by numerous representatives of social care centers, educational institutions, healthcare, judicial authorities, police, NGOs, and other state institutions.

This was the third training that dealt with these problematics. The first was held on November 28 last year in Zagreb and the second on April 24 of this year in Osijek.

One-day training is an integral part of the Croatian Government’s Office for Gender Equality project “My voice against violence”, which is financially supported by the European Union (in the context of the EU Program for Employment and Social Solidarity—PROGRESS). The project is a collaboration between two partner organizations: the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights and CESI—Center for Education, Counseling and Research.

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The SOS Telephone—the City of Rijeka is a non-profit association which offers support to victims of violence and others in a crisis situation, promotes public awareness about the need to protect victims of violence, and raises awareness that living without violence is a basic human right. These goals are primarily met by providing assistance over the phone or through direct contact with victims in the Counseling Center. In order to spread awareness about these issues, they organize educational workshops, lectures in kindergartens, primary and high schools, and higher education institutions and universities with the aim of promoting the awareness about the causes and consequences of violence and the need for its prevention. With this in mind, the association published its first online newsletter for the prevention of violence as part of a three-year program named “Counseling for the victims of domestic violence”, which is financed by the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth.

In the newsletter titled “NO to violence”, you can find a multitude of educational and interesting articles on the topic of violence, its prevention, and victim protection. Besides scholarly articles, it contains personal experiences of the volunteers and users of the Counseling Center, as well as literary criticism and summaries of the association’s projects and activities. Some of the topics of the newsletter are: the legal aspects of the protection against domestic violence, child abuse in the family, alcohol and violence in youth relationships, forms and effects of TV violence, and the like.

All articles are contributed by the volunteers of the SOS Telephone—the City of Rijeka Association. Read the newsletter here.

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Zagreb Pride Week kicked off on Monday, June 8, and will culminate in the Pride Parade on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Every year the Pride Parade is part of the Zagreb Pride Week, which includes various political, activist, cultural events, and entertainment, such as forums, seminars, exhibitions, performances, concerts, film screenings, and similar events.

You can find the program of this year’s activities on the flyer below. Everyone’s welcome!

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The Croatian Association of Social Workers in collaboration with the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights organized a roundtable titled “Together We Can do More”. The roundtable took place on May 2, 2015, at the Art Hotel in Slavonski Brod.

The roundtable discussion focused on the problem of domestic violence and violence against women as well as the ways to prevent it through the joint and coordinated action of the entire community.

In the period of open discussion and questions, participants discussed the concept and importance of family cohesion, legal regulations, the role of government institutions, and cross-sectoral cooperation in preventing domestic violence.

The roundtable was attended by the representatives of governmental institutions and bodies and NGOs.

The roundtable is part of the project “Together we can do more!” implemented by the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights in partnership with the Adela Women’s Center (Sisak), Brod Association (Slavonski Brod), Croatian Association of Social Workers, and Association of Youth and Family Judges and Specialists.

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The Womens’ Room—Center for Sexual Rights organized the second two-day training titled “Training for professionals who work with victims of domestic violence—Module 2: Vulnerable groups”. The training was conducted on May 29 and 30, 2015 in the premises of Tribine Grada Zagreba in Zagreb.

The training is a continuation of the systematic “Training for professionals who work with victims of domestic violence” and its “Module 1: Introduction—Domestic Violence” conducted in October 2014.

The facilitators of the training were the Womens’ Room—Center for Sexual Rights Coordinator Maja Mamula, PhD and High Misdemeanor Court of the Republic of Croatia Judge Branka Žigante Živković.

The training participants were representatives of NGOs, the Ministry of the Interior, healthcare, state and municipal attorney’s offices, the judiciary, social care centers, education system, and the Zagreb City Office for Social Protection and People with Disabilities who had participated in the “Training for professionals who work with victims of domestic violence: Module 1”.

On the first day, May 29, Maja Mamula, PhD opened the training with an introductory lecture on “Particularly vulnerable victim populations”, followed by a presentation on the “Consequences of domestic violence”. Dr. Mamula explained the psychological consequences of violence, such as acute stress disorder, PTSD, learned helplessness syndrome, battered woman/person syndrome, and relational aggression (Stockholm syndrome). She also presented the psychological, social, economic, and physical effects of domestic violence.

Nikica Hamer Vidmar, psychologist and head of the Independent Sector for Victim and Witness Support at the Ministry of Justice gave a lecture titled “Victims of domestic violence”. The training participants worked in small groups to discuss the problem of victims of domestic violence. Using a case study, they described behaviors, feelings/emotional reactions, physical reactions, and the physical reactions and recollections that they’d noticed and recognized while working with victims of domestic violence.

Psychology Professor Hana Hrpka, president of the Brave Telephone NGO, gave the last lecture of the first day of training on “Children as victims of domestic violence”. Prof. Hrpka pointed out several reasons why children usually keep quiet about abuse which may be indicators for recognizing an abused child. Behaviors such as shame, fear, wearing long-sleeved clothes, self-harm (e.g. cutting), not inviting friends to the family home, and so on are some of the identifiable signs. She then problematized the concept of “a secret”, i.e. when the abuser makes the child keep the abuse a mutual secret, and distinguished between good and bad secrets. She also spoke about the general guidelines for when a child opens up to a professional. She explained that it’s important to stay calm and show understanding and believe children because they rarely lie about abuse. All professionals to whom a child confesses about suffering abuse or harbor a suspicion have an obligation to report abuse. Participants discussed whether reporting abuse is a breach of the child’s trust in working groups. Prof. Hrpka closed the lecture with the conclusion that reporting any abuse is our legal, ethical, and moral duty.

Branka Žigante Živković, judge of the High Misdemeanor Court in Zagreb and president of the National Team for Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women Prevention, in the period open for discussion and questions answered the participants’ questions and clarified the problem of domestic violence from the legal and regulatory aspect.

Zagreb County Court Judge Lana Petö Kujundžić, president of the Association of Youth and Family Judges and Specialists, opened the final day of training with a lecture titled “Child as a witness or injured party”. Judge Petö Kujundžić presented the possibilities (where to interview a child) and ways of interviewing a child (especially carefully, age appropriate) and who does it. She emphasized that loaded questions should be avoided when interviewing a child. Working groups were formed to analyze the process of reporting and instigating court proceedings when the victim of abuse is a child. The participants thought out the process from the teacher to whom a child confesses to the final hearing in court. They stressed the importance of this kind of gathering in clarifying ambiguities in the process of reporting child abuse and empowering expert associates to report violence.

The second day of training started with a lecture by Štefica Roginić, head of the SOS line for women victims of violence of the Croatian Union of Associations of Persons with Disabilities—SOIH. In the lecture on “Victims of domestic violence: persons with disabilities”, Ms. Rogić introduced the work of the SOS line for women with disabilities. She emphasized that the mission of the SOS line is to improve the social standing of women with disabilities and realize their right to live free from violence and discrimination. She stated that the SOS line conducted 190 conversations in 2014, 31 of which in person. People who received information, assistance, and support were women in 84% of cases, and 16% men. People usually reported psychological violence. Participants were presented with a couple of case studies and discussed the possible solutions and the actions taken.

Goran Arbanas, PhD, psychiatrist, Karlovac General Hospital, FECSM, president of the Croatian Society for Sexual Therapy in the second part of the training gave a lecture on “Other vulnerable populations of victims of domestic violence”. Dr. Arbanas presented several specific and vulnerable populations. Male victims of violence rarely or not at all report violence because of the prejudice that they cannot be victims of domestic violence. About 15% of victims seek help, more often those who have suffered bodily injury. He added that homosexual men were especially at risk to become victims of violence and bisexual men even more so. He also pointed out the lack of specific guidelines for working with men, which makes it difficult to provide them general help and support. Dr. Arbanas then broached the subject of LGBT people as victims of domestic violence. Although this is a diverse population, they are often grouped together, which is problematic because of the differing needs, characteristics, and etiology. In Croatia, LGBT people are typically characterized by minority stress, which is typical of all minority groups in our country. To professionals working with victims of domestic violence, Dr. Arbanas recommended not to assume a heterosexual orientation and not to judge. He advised the participants to be mindful of the extent that a person is “out”, meaning whether the broader community, family, work collective, and so on know about their sexual orientation. Dr. Arbanas then spoke about mentally ill patients as victims of domestic violence. He stated that mentally ill persons were significantly more likely to become victims of domestic and other types of violence, especially women. Violence can also result in a mental illness/disorder and the mentally ill are more likely to commit domestic violence, especially men. When presenting the third and fourth age victims of domestic violence, he pointed out the particularities of this group and the types of violence committed against the elderly. In the final part of his lecture, Dr. Arbanas explained the specifics of working with the elderly.

The training is an integral part of the project “Training for professionals who work with victims of domestic violence”, implemented by the Women’s Room in collaboration with the Zagreb City Office for Social Protection and People with Disabilities.

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