by Natasha Dokovska
– Macedonia –
In Macedonia, one in three women is the victim of domestic violence, and one in four is the victim of gun violence.
“I was beaten up by my husband for the first time soon after our wedding. I thought that it was normal. Soon after that, his verbal and physical assaults became more and more frequent. During the last 12 years of our marriage, my husband harassed me literally every day and beat both me and my children. On several occasions he chased me out of the house with a gun in his hand. I did not have anywhere to go and did not dare to leave my home. My parents were not able to help, so I had to bear the harassment.”
This personal account by 40 year old Vesna, mother of two children from Skopje, was heard in the testimony she gave at a tribunal in Macedonia’s capitol, where she stands trial for murdering her husband while defending herself and her children from his violence against them.
Vesna explains to the tribunal that she was most upset with the police who stood by and did nothing even though they knew there was armed violence in her home, knowing that her husband had an illegal gun. “Do not argue in front of the children, it is not good for them,” is all they would say when she called on them to intervene.
Vesna’s case is only the second incident of this form of spousal homicide in the country’s history. Before her, another woman killed her alcoholic husband during a bout of domestic violence.
This is a rare event in Macedonia, where a woman, in the process of defending herself and her children, kills her husband. The tribunal will decide the penalty, but Macedonian legislation is not protective of victims of violence, especially women and children.
Armed violence against women has been a widespread problem in the Republic of Macedonia for the last four years. A little more than a year ago in last March, the NGO—Journalists for Children and Women’s Rights and Protection of the Environment in Macedonia (JCWE)—presented research on female victims of gun violence. The results were more than pessimistic. According to this research, one woman in three is the victim of domestic violence, and one woman in four is the victim of gun violence.
Most women who are victims of gun violence experience multiple types of abuse beforehand, including sexual, psychological and/or physical attacks. Patterns of abuse are similar across cultures and often involve the shooting of family pets as a warning, or bringing guns out for cleaning during an argument. As many women are emotionally involved and economically dependent on those who abuse them, it can be extremely difficult to leave the situation.
In Macedonia, domestic violence is a public health epidemic that is greatly intensified with the easy access and availability of firearms. The research indicates that 47% of domestic violence homicides are from firearms. Domestic violence homicides are 6.2 times more likely to occur in homes where guns are present than homes without guns. In homicides where the weapon was known, 38% of female homicide victims were killed with a firearm. Of those female firearm homicides, 82% were killed with a handgun.
In Macedonia, according to JCWE’s research, at least one in every four women will be physically abused at least once in their life. The women are abused in their own homes. The abuser is very well known by the victim. It’s a husband, boyfriend, or other male relative.
While gun related domestic violence occurs in peaceful settings as well as in conflict zones, domestic abuse increases during and after conflict.
In Macedonia after the war in 2001, more than 63% of women were victims of domestic violence, often at the hands of men who had kept the small arms they used during the war.
Justice systems have historically overlooked violence against women, and human rights standards have tended to perceive the ‘private sphere’ as outside the scope of state interventions. While legal protections for women experiencing domestic violence exist in 45 countries, many of these laws are not regularly enforced, especially during periods of conflict where domestic violence incidents are likely to be seen as irrelevant to the broader issues of war.
Macedonia ultimately does have a law against domestic violence. Unfortunately, it exists only on paper.