16 Days of Activism: Fathers urged to act as role models in Montenegro

News Stories, 4 December 2008

A campaign poster. Some 10,000 have been distributed around the country.

PODGORICA, Montenegro, December 4 (UNHCR) A coalition of interested parties in Montenegro is marking a global campaign against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by encouraging fathers and father figures to set an example to young males.

The Montenegrin initiative was launched by the UN refugee agency and partners to coincide with the annual 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence Against Women, an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991. The 16 days began on November 25.

The father project, drawing on material provided by the United States-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, has been developed and funded by UNHCR, sister UN agencies, the Montenegrin government, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Fund for an Open Society and popular local sport coaches, Petar Porobic and Igor Kolakovic

In the deeply patriarchal Montenegrin society, the campaign calls upon fathers and father figures, including teachers, mentors, uncles, older brothers and sports coaches to lead by example and teach boys that all forms of violence against women are wrong. It emphasizes the importance of the father as a role model to the son.

Some 10,000 campaign posters have been distributed in schools, health centres and social welfare centres around the country. Several sports associations are supporting the campaign, with players wearing campaign T-shirts before matches. Billboards broadcast the messages of tolerance and respect, while TV and radio spots are being aired for free.

"Every human being, regardless of gender, race or religion, is equally important on this planet and each one of them deserves to be respected," said Kolakovic, one of the country's top volleyball coaches. "The kind of violence that deserves particular condemnation, and which should be opposed through concerted action, is domestic violence against women and children."

He urged Montenegrin men "to teach your sons that being a real man means to respect and esteem women, and that being strong does not mean being a bully. You are their role model. They will listen to you. The power of change is in our hands," added Kolakovic, who has two sons.

"Never before has a campaign in Montenegro called so directly upon men to challenge the deeply rooted belief in their superiority and their right to control the lives of their women," said Serge Ducasse, UNHCR's representative in Montenegro. "Fathers [and father figures] have to speak out and teach their sons that violence is never an expression of strength but one of cowardice."

Violence against women is a serious problem in Montenegro. A recent European Commission report said that one in two women in Montenegro was a victim of verbal abuse, while one in three women was a victim of physical abuse. The number of reported cases of domestic violence against women rose by 7.3 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, the report revealed.

"Making abusive or potentially abusive fathers understand the trauma that domestic violence has on their children can be a strong motivator for some men to change their behaviour," said Sara Fewer, a programme specialist for the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

"Many men are able to develop empathy towards their children more easily than towards their partners. Giving fathers more opportunities for change and healing is an essential component to end violence against women and children."

By Gordana Popovic in Podgorica, Montenegro