For Women in the Balkans, Digital Space is a Double-Edged Sword

Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue in the Balkans; in Kosovo alone, a 2018 survey found that 68 per cent of women had experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, with 60 per cent of respondents saying they had experienced violence just in the past year. Yet only 1,211 cases of domestic violence were registered by police that year, suggesting such abuse goes largely unreported.

The dominance of social media has opened new avenues for abuse, in the form of digital harassment, revenge porn, and cyber-bullying. Yet it remains a double-edged sword, one that provides survivors and activists with safe places in which to discuss gender-based violence, to share their stories, mobilise support, and advocate for change.

"Social media and the digital space in general are good tools that can be used to push forward the feminist cause, enable feminist organisation, and build feminist communities," said Mirishahe Syla, a feminist activist in Kosovo.

"For this to happen, and to fight the anti-gender movements, activists need to be more informed about how to use the digital spaces and how to make them safer spaces for such initiatives."

Domestic violence statistics. Source: The Women's Rights in Western Balkans Report (2022)

Distressingly common

According to research this year by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, 'technology-facilitated gender-based violence' affects all countries, with 85 per cent of women having experienced or observed online violence against other women; 57 per cent of women say their videos or images have been mistreated or exploited on the Internet.

Governments in the Balkans are largely playing catch-up.

Human rights groups say confronting such violence...

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