Domestic violence: Breaking down the cultural barriers

29 May 2013

Until I worked for UNDP, I was not aware that there were such rigid cultural barriers in this country when it comes to the issue of domestic violence.

When I joined UNDP in 2011, I was assigned the task of monitoring a large-scale project on domestic violence—a joint project involving a number of United Nations agencies and with funding of 2.5 million dollars.

Working daily on the issue of domestic violence, I soon came to realize just how deeply the phenomenon is rooted in our society and how much it remains hidden, particularly in rural areas.

Over the past five years, the United Nations has been working closely with national institutions and civil society organizations to address the problem of domestic violence in the country.

Good news at the policy level: the country’s signed the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women – one of the first countries in Europe to sign the Convention.

Domestic violence is considered to be one of the most serious forms of violations of human rights, yet strong cultural barriers still exist in relation to this issue: When we developed a documentary in 2012 to increase awareness about reporting domestic violence, I was appalled to see several men in the documentary publicly declaring that violence against women is normal behaviour.

I often asked myself why domestic violence is perceived as an issue solely concerning women, with men treated mainly as perpetrators.

When we were helping to develop the national domestic violence strategy (pdf, in Macedonian) for 2012–2015, I was one of 30 people from different organizations in the national working group. To my astonishment, I discovered that I was the only man in the group!

Last year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (in Macedonian), with United Nations support, conducted the country’s first ever baseline survey (pdf, in Macedonian) on the prevalence and incidence of domestic violence.

A total of 2,100 individuals were interviewed for the study and the findings were shocking: The report revealed that one out of three citizens in our country has experienced some form of domestic violence.

But there is more. Although 60 percent of the victims of domestic violence surveyed were women, the overall prevalence rate showed that 35.5 percent of men had suffered domestic violence, compared to 39.4 percent of women.

The survey further showed that men are exposed mainly to psychological violence, while women are mostly exposed to physical violence.

Given these findings, I must ask again:

Why are both men and women still unable to overcome the cultural barriers regarding the reporting of domestic violence?

Why don’t they seek to treat the phenomenon of domestic violence jointly without an gender division?

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