On Thursday, 6th of December, as part of the campaign 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), ADRA and UNICEF organized the round table discussion on Responding to the Needs of Girls in Migration. The goal of this exchange was to share existing practices in working with girls, including how to respond to their needs and ensure their participation in our programs, as well as to share challenges and concerns we have experienced in our work. In an attempt for a holistic approach to the subject, we gathered experts from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental sectors, with various mandates. The discussion included representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs (MoLESVA), Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (CRM), Centre for Human Trafficking Victims Prevention (CHTVP), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), NGO Atina, Elementary School Branko Pešić, Group 484, Indigo, and Info Park. The discussion was opened by Mr Milenko Nikić, Special Adviser at MoLESVA, who highlighted the importance of thinking about migrant girls as a specific group in the current migration crisis. He stated that joint efforts of all actors, from both governmental and non-governmental sides, is imperative in order to respond to the needs of girls, adding that having experts in GBV is a necessity for the beneficiaries and service providers.
The first panel was introduced by Ms Francesca Rivelli (UNICEF) with questions on how to adapt our programs for refugee and migrant girls and how to reach out to them, especially in the context of safety and protection. Ms Rivelli reflected on the significant difference between girls and boys in adolescence in every culture, especially the ones that are deeply rooted in the patriarchy that we often work with in the refugee and migrant context. She invited organisations to take an out-of-the box approach when responding to girls’ needs, stating that sometimes us as the service providers can be a “safe space”.
The discussion which followed touched upon the need for a multispectral approach, but also highlighted the challenges in providing protection when working with populations on the move. Ms Una Vitasovic from CRM stated that it is difficult to work with women when they are very set on a specific destination; for this reason, separation from husbands or fathers in the cases of violence can be very challenging. She pointed out that there is an issue with education as well, since teenagers in formal education, especially girls, do not have past experience with schooling due to cultural expectations. Mr Safet Rasulbegović (CRM) added that we should also take into account relations with international actors who are responding to the crisis in Europe and find ways to follow the cases across borders. Ms Biljana Kosanić from UNHCR addressed the obstacles related to reporting GBV, given the fact that time-consuming procedures might be seen as a problem for those girls and women who want to leave Serbia and proceed to an EU country of destination. She noted that the humanitarian system should provide support and representation in the legal process for GBV cases nevertheless, which UNHCR does through its implementing partners. Mr Đorđe Dogandžić from the CHTVP noted that no under-aged girls have been identified as trafficking victims, in comparison to existing cases of boys. However, it was agreed that The Center plays a crucial role in capacity building of organisations present in the field and that it is important for every organisation to have a professional trained in this area. Ms Sanja Kandić from NGO Atina stressed the importance of a holistic approach when working with GBV survivors, an approach that would not just contribute to their safety, but also involves the provision of health care, education, and physiological support. She described the service provision as a process that must include both case workers and survivors because the result of interventions should not be dependent, but involve gaining back control over the survivor’s life.
Ms Jovana Petrović (UNFPA) emphasized the importance of dealing with sexual and reproductive health when working with migrant girls and women. The topic and the service provision could be challenging given cultural differences. However, UNFPA’s experience is that advocating for this subject and educating the beneficiaries on the importance of sexual and reproductive health has led to positive results. UNFPA’s mobile clinics were identified as some of the best practices in this field. The MSF representative Dr Bojan Žižić reminded that it is important to have a specific approach to the female population because of their hesitation to ask for services in the first place – whether this means determining special spaces for them, appointing them in specific times when there is less of a crowd, or using some other strategies. He added that the role of a good cultural mediator in reaching and communicating with girls and woman is crucial for the medical teams, which is why MSF puts special effort in employing mediators that are familiar with or originating from the cultures in question.
Ms Mia Kisic from ADRA opened the second panel on education and psychosocial support, stating that these areas or work are a crucial subject for the discussion about migrant girls, given their clear connection to GBV mitigation, prevention, but also response. She added that this is a question where both governmental and nongovernmental actors play an important role and should support each other and coordinate whenever possible.
All actors agreed that cultural differences and gender norms inherent to the majority of migrants and refugees cultures represent considerable obstacles for girls wanting to attend school. The director of the elementary School Branko Pešić, Mr Nenad Ćirić, highlighted the absence of adolescent girls from education, stating that from 250 pupils that went through this school from the refugee and migrant population, only 6 were female. Challenges mostly have to do with parents` attitudes or with male peers from the migrant community. Mr Nikić committed to taking steps, together with CRM, towards working with girls` parents to start abiding by the Serbian law and include their daughters in formal education. Ms Sara Ristić from Info park focused on the importance of informal education, but also the importance of finding ways to reach out for the girls that are most vulnerable, as well as those accommodated outside governmental facilities. She invited all the actors to commit to gender mainstreaming in all services, to start providing and obtaining gender- and age-segregated data, and to put effort to evaluate their work. Ms Ema Kostić and Ms Slađana Stojanović from Indigo shared their success in integrating girls in formal and informal education through workshops and counselling with girls and their parents. They stated that at the moment, the majority of migrant children go to school regularly in southern Serbia, while five girls are attending high school. Ms Danica Ćirić from the Group 484 stressed the importance of building motivation with girls and parents by presenting the benefits of going to school, but also bringing the other side to the conversation – directors, teachers, and other school staff.
This discussion will serve as a source for creating a list of recommendations and commitments that can lead the work of all actors involved in the response to the crisis. By the next 16 Days Campaign in 2019, the achievements and success of these commitments will be evaluated. At the end of the meeting, the participants were invited to support the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence and take a photo in the “Orange the world” photo booth. By holding the statements made by the migrant girls, the participants helped their voices be heard and acknowledged. You can find the photo booth pictures here: