Freedom, safety and trust in the Women’s Centre

The hope that somewhere out there will be better has kept Soria alive

Ivana Miljkovic
Soria found her safe space in the ADRA Women’s Centre
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas

02 March 2018

Borca, Serbia - Seventeen-year-old Soria confidently threads the sewing machine. It’s as if she has been doing it for years, and not just for several months, which is how long she has been coming to the ADRA Women’s Centre in Borca, Serbia.

Under the watchful eye of her mother Soheila, a sixty-two-year-old teacher, she is sewing a new blouse for herself.

Soria couldn’t even imagine, at the end of her two-year journey from Afghanistan to Serbia, that she would find a safe place where she can, at least briefly, forget about the war, the times she was frightened, hungry, thirsty and wet.

“The hope that somewhere out there will be better has kept me alive. Here, in the Women’s Centre, I am safe, free and at peace. I also go to exercises and study English. I met a couple of friends as well. I mostly spend time with Sheri who is teaching me to sew. She speaks my language, so I find it easier to share everything that bothers me with her,” Soria explains.

I often have headaches and stomach pain. I know that it’s because of the stress we have experienced. In the Centre I felt the freedom to seek help from psychologists and doctors. I am in a good mood now and I feel better.

Soheila, Soria's mother

Soria and her mother heard about the Women’s Centre from the women and girls in the Krnjaca Asylum Centre, where they are staying, and who found their safe place from domestic violence at the Women’s Centre, along with support and solutions for their problems.

The ADRA Women’s Centre has been working successfully since November 2017, and it is now being supported by UNICEF to continue developing programmes to empower women and girls.

Soria, together with her mother, goes to sewing classes three times a week.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas
Soria, together with her mother, goes to sewing classes three times a week.

Soria couldn’t even imagine, at the end of her two-year journey from Afghanistan to Serbia, that she would find a safe place.

Soria, her parents and younger sister have been living in the Asylum Centre for the last 14 months. Unfortunately, she has no privacy there, her own safe space or friends.

She wants to go to Germany as soon as possible because her sister and three brothers are waiting for her. Till then, she will be coming to the Women’s Centre.

Having transportation provided makes going outside the Asylum Center a lot easier and the responsibilities in the Women’s Centre give her life a sense of normalcy.

“I often have headaches and stomach pain. I know that it’s because of the stress we have experienced. In the [Women’s] Centre I felt the freedom to seek help from psychologists and doctors. I am in a good mood now and I feel better. I am learning to sew and am doing well. I want to be able to earn using this skill when I leave Serbia,” says Soheila, with a smile on her face.

More than 200 women and girls from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have gone through the Women’s Centre in the past several months, says Mia Kisic, the coordinator of the Women’s Centre project.

Other women are the ones who work with them every day – interpreters, psychologists, social workers, and volunteers. The refugee women and girls who come here can, among other things, learn about their rights and reproductive health, and can seek psychological support.

“As they often don’t have a formal education, or have interrupted it due to war and fleeing their countries, they study mathematics and English here, learn to read and write in their own language, and to manage money. They go to classes to learn to sew, or to make soaps and jewellery. This way we empower them economically, teach them various trades for which they receive diplomas that are also recognised in Europe,” Mia explains.

Mia Kisic, the coordinator of the Women’s Centre project, often helps Soria and her mother resolve health problems.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas
Mia Kisic, the coordinator of the Women’s Centre project, often helps Soria and her mother resolve health problems.

The Women’s Centre is also a place where women get an education and learn various trades. This will enable them to become financially independent, and have the skills and knowledge to respond to domestic violence if they experience it.

The refugees and migrants often share stories of horrific violence from their countries of origin, during their journey, and unfortunately, while staying in Serbia.

While sexual violence easily captures public attention, there are less recognised forms of gender-based violence such as intimate partner violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation, that UNICEF, together with partners, is committed to ending.  

UNICEF, with the generous support from the U.S. State Department Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, advocates for the prevention of gender-based violence within the refugee and migrant communities.

It provides technical support to NGOs working directly with refugees and migrants in Serbia to be better skilled and equipped to provide care to women and girls, and to reduce their exposure to violence by providing support in safe spaces and women centres.

Moreover, UNICEF also works with the health and social welfare system so they can provide timely and quality care for women and girls who experience such violence.

As they often don’t have a formal education, or have interrupted it due to war and fleeing their countries, they study mathematics and English in the Centre, learn to read and write in their own language, and to manage money.

The most important job for everyone in the Women’s Center, and others like it, is to empower women and girls who are at risk of gender-based violence. Women and girls who do experience violence are supported to talk about it and seek help.

“They need time to gain trust in what we do. Only then, girls confide in us about a violent father, women ask us whether a slap is also violence, but also what the asylum procedure is and how to continue their journey without an abusive husband. Our task is to let them know, through legal and psychological counselling, what their rights are and that they are not alone. We can help them prevent further violence, we contact centres for social work and organisations specialising in gender-based violence,” explains Mia.