Skip to main content

Supporting strong women’s movements in the Balkans

Issues Affecting Women Programme / Partner story

Photo: © Trag Foundation

In the early 1990s, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, war ravaged the Balkans. During this time, neighbour turned against neighbour and sexual violence against women was rampant – rape was used as a tool of war. Many people lost their lives and others were forced to flee. The trafficking of people – in particular women for the sex trade – was commonplace.

When the war ended, aid in various forms flooded the region, distorting the social landscape and creating warped power relations between local organisations and international actors. Soon, international aid organisations were drawn into the next humanitarian crisis, and when they left, it created a funding vacuum, leaving many issues still unresolved. Foremost among these are the deep-rooted tensions still prevalent throughout the region.

Despite or because of this complicated situation, many women’s organisations have emerged to promote change across the Balkans. They work to combat violence and trafficking – two major social problems that have morphed out of the atrocities committed against women during the war.

“Violence against women is one of the greatest barriers to women being able to exercise their rights. Many women’s organisations in the region are tackling these issues with determination and creativity and we are committed to continue supporting their great endeavours.”

– Katharina Samara-Wickrama, Director of Oak’s Issues Affecting Women Programme.

Enough is enough: putting a stop to trafficking

The Balkans is a major region of origin, transit and destination of trafficking victims. ASTRA is a Serbian-based organisation dedicated to stopping human trafficking and supporting its victims. When it began its work in 2000, most of the victims it helped were being trafficked into Serbia from countries like Russia, Moldova, Bulgaria or Romania. Today, most victims come from Serbia, and they are trafficked both internally and internationally. While the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is prevalent, people are also trafficked for labour, forced begging and forced criminality. This includes people from vulnerable groups, such as members of the Roma community.

“Trafficking and exploitation is not only about numbers. It’s about people’s lives. Even one person, one victim of trafficking, is too many.”

– Marija Andelkovic, president of ASTRA.

The Issues Affecting Women Programme has been supporting organisations throughout the Balkans for the last 10 years. Oak currently supports more than 40 women’s organisations in the region, mainly through intermediary partner organisations.

ASTRA works with survivors of trafficking to help them heal and reintegrate into society. It offers psychological and legal assistance, employment support and educational training. Its vision, however, is far-reaching. “In the long-term, what we really want is a society which has zero tolerance to trafficking and exploitation – a society with no trafficking and no exploitation,” says Marija.

This work falls under Oak’s Issues Affecting Women Programme strategy, which aims to strengthen women’s rights organisations and networks in these countries. For more information about the work done to address issues affecting women around the globe, read pages 42-48 of Oak’s 2018 Annual Report.

Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report 2018