This interview with PES Group member Marko Vešligaj, mayor of Pregrada (Croatia), is part of our #SafePlace4Women campaign and of our series “#ProgressiveLocalStories”, aimed at raising awareness on the many positive initiatives implemented by progressive cities and regions in Europe when it comes to promoting a social, fair and sustainable Europe.
Your city has adopted a resolution committing to end violence against women in your city. What concrete steps have you already taken?
I am proud that the city of Pregrada is one of the first cities in Croatia, and in Europe, to adopt a safe place for women resolution.
This initiative is an opportunity for local leaders across the EU to demonstrate their determination to achieve zero tolerance for violence against women. At the same time, it is not enough to condemn violence, but we must also work to educate, raise awareness and create an environment where women not only feel safe, but also equally valued and respected.
And we are working on that right now, we have decided to include residents, associations, sports clubs and all stakeholders in society in the fight against violence against women and gender discrimination. We also organised talks by specialists in the schools of Krapina-Zagorje County on the occasion of the adoption of the resolution to address, through an interactive approach and the involvement of male and female participants, the most important questions related to violence against women as well as the related myths. The aim of this initiative is to provide information and make participants aware of the issue of violence against women, encourage them to prevent it, and of course to inform them about the safe place for women resolution.
The city of Pregrada, as well as the other cities and municipalities that have adopted such a resolution, and also the local county, have also included in their annual budgets an item on safe place for women, which will fund actions in the coming year specifically linked to the initiative.
Krapina-Zagorje County, of which the city of Pregrada is part, has been working intensively for many years to help women who are victims of violence (funding SOS phones and women's councils, temporary accommodation of victims in safe houses, construction of new safe houses, the "It Concerns You Too" initiative...), and we will continue to work in this direction. The resolution certainly provides an additional impetus and is an expression of our position – zero tolerance towards violence against women, discrimination and sexism.
Why have you decided to use football games to raise awareness on the elimination of violence against women in your region Zagorje?
The local community, which is closest to citizens, is crucial in responding to violence against women and to discrimination, within the scope of its powers of course. Therefore, as the local administration, we have committed to reacting and assisting victims of physical violence, to demonstrating zero tolerance to violence on social media, to implementing educational content and working to prevent violence against women, to strongly condemning any discriminatory public discourse (social networks, broadcast media, on the street) towards women and girls, and to make our cities and municipalities a safe place for women – guaranteeing women's safety and explicitly penalising any form of gender-based violence.
In local communities, sports and in particular football clubs play a very important role. They are places for people to gather together; sometimes the entire town or city comes to a football match, and many children in Zagorje play football from a young age. This is why we have recognised football matches as an excellent testing ground for speaking out against violence against women, discrimination and sexism. Football clubs were happy to engage with the campaign; before matches they put out banners reading "Zagorje – a safe place for women", and they are also participating in educational activities. The action has become even more visible not only to crowds at football matches, but also to all those who follow social networks and the media, as this action prompted many to write about it, which was our goal. Here we have also sent an important message to young people and children that athletes, who are often their idols, also support the fight against violence against women, and we hope that this initiative will have a big impact on them.
How can the European Union contribute to making Zagorje a safer place for women?
Equality between women and men is a core value of the Union and a fundamental right enshrined in the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This will be further confirmed by the EU directive on combating violence against women, a document binding on each Member State, which is expected to be adopted soon. However, values are not just words on paper; they are the principles that guide us, the decisions we take and the actions we carry out.
We have called on local authorities – all counties, cities and municipalities in Croatia – to join and adopt such a resolution, and thereby create a foundation for public policies aimed at protecting women from gender-based violence so that every town and city in Croatia can become a safe place for women. The European Union can do the same, with stronger support for combating violence against women through local administrations, since, as I have mentioned, these are closest to citizens and, as such, can better perceive problems, identify them, and do what is in their own power to address them, while encouraging higher-level authorities to also do so. Because when we are thinking about the future of our country, and also of the whole EU, we cannot help but ask ourselves – what kind of future is this if our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends cannot walk the street without fear?
Violence against women and girls is still one of the most common human rights violations in the world and it is high time to do everything in our power to change this. At European, national and local levels. Because our fight against gender-based violence is not only a fight for justice; this is a battle for fundamental human values, which is the responsibility of all of us.
© Photo credits: Mladen Ban