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‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’ is an EU/UN Women programme aimed at ending gender-based discrimination and violence against women (VAW) in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia) and Turkey, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged groups of women. To achieve this goal, the programme strengthens civil society organizations, in particular women’s rights organizations, to advocate for the enabling and effective implementation of normative frameworks; to transform gender-discriminatory stereotypes, perceptions and beliefs; and to empower women and girls who have experienced discrimination or violence, including those from disadvantaged groups, to advocate for and use available, accessible and quality services.

To date, the programme has engaged over 60 civil society organizations (CSOs), including networks and platforms, through project cooperation agreements and grants at both the European level and the country level.

* For the European Union, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For UN Women, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

Effective implementation of normative frameworks

The adoption of normative frameworks addressing gender-based discrimination and VAW, aligned with international and regional standards as enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), as well as the European Union (EU) "acquis communautaire", are crucial to address impunity and convey the message that VAW is not tolerated.

In pursuing this, ‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’ is strengthening the capacities of duty bearers and rights- holders, more specifically women's organizations, to inter alia:

  • Ensure that normative frameworks cover all forms of violence and the various settings in which they occur, and account for all perpetrators involved (family members, intimate partners including couples not living together and those in same sex relationships, community members, state authorities, armed forces, etc.).

  • Ensure that normative frameworks contain comprehensive prevention and protection measures and integrated support to victims (health, legal, employment, housing, financial assistance) alongside the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators.

  • Advocate for legislation and policies that will ensure equal access to general and specialist support services for all women and girls, regardless of geographic location, socio-economic status, disability, and ethnic background.

  • Ensure that monitoring mechanisms are in place and functioning to assess progress and ensure accountability.

Through support provided to partner CSOs and CSO networks, the programme has contributed to the achievement of significant results in improving and implementing normative frameworks.


In Albania, the programme contributed to the development of the Action Plan on the implementation of the recommendations of the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), adopted by the National Council for Gender Equality following the publication of the GREVIO baseline report in November 2017. With regards to domestic violence, as a result of the advocacy work of the Monitoring Network on Gender-based Violence, the Director of the Internal Affairs and Complaints Service of the Interior Ministry adopted a six-month inspection plan from September 2018 to monitor the procedures of police officers when dealing with domestic violence cases. Additionally, the new Law on Social Housing in Albania has specific provisions that include women survivors of domestic violence among the groups prioritized for social housing, in accordance with the Istanbul Convention.

Finally, the recently-amended domestic violence legislation (Law no. 27/2018 date 23.07.2018 - Amendments to the Law No. 9669, dated 18.12.2016, “On Measures Against Violence in Family Relations”) protects non-married partners, improves the procedures for the protection of persons with disabilities from domestic violence, improves the services provided for victims of gender-based violence and improves judicial procedures related to the issuance of urgent protection orders and protection orders.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, two working groups have been established: one by CSO partners of Safe Network in the Federation BiH, and the other by the Ministry tasked with the enforcement of the Law on protection from domestic violence in Republika Srpska. The working groups - made up of representatives of government agencies and ministries - are working to develop legal solutions to ensure equal access to specialist support services for all citizens. Furthermore, in 7 municipalities, initiated by partner Safe Network, representatives of the governmental and non-governmental sectors meet regularly to monitor and report on multi-sectoral cooperation and improve case management for incidences of violence. A new protocol on cooperation in response to violence was adopted in Sarajevo Canton, and the process of revision of local protocols began in two other municipalities (Bijeljina and Bihac).


In North Macedonia, the Health Education and Research Association (HERA) supported the government to develop, adopt, and allocate financial resources for a National Action Plan for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention 2018-2023. Legal frameworks were also strengthened with contributions from 4 programme partners, as the draft version of a new comprehensive law for the prevention of and protection from VAW now covers all forms of VAW and includes definitions of ‘VAW’ and ‘gender-based violence’, as well as explicit reference to the ‘principle of due diligence.’ To secure parliamentary support for these revisions of the Criminal Code, thus improving its alignment with the Istanbul Convention, the Macedonian Women’s Lobby formally established cooperation with the Parliamentary Commission on Equal Opportunities and the Women’s Parliamentarian Club.


In Kosovo, programme partners proposed legislative changes to the Criminal Code that were adopted in January 2019, resulting in the inclusion and definition of domestic violence as a separate criminal offense, accurately defining all acts of domestic violence, and codifying all articles of the current Criminal Code (Code Nr. 04/L-082 / July 2012) in a single chapter. Furthermore, the first Monitoring Report of the National Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence 2016-2020 has been completed, which highlights the programme’s role in the establishment of coordination mechanisms to ensure effective cooperation between CSOs and relevant state agencies (the police, judiciary, prosecutor’s office and all law enforcement agencies), as well as in the establishment of an integrated database for cases of domestic violence.


In 2018, Serbia witnessed advances towards a life free from violence for women and girls, as an emphasis was placed on the implementation of the legislative framework for combating domestic violence amended in 2017. Following these changes, with the programme’s support, Serbia saw in 2018 advocacy efforts towards amendments of the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence aimed to improve the implementation of police urgent measures, as well as amendments of the Criminal Code aimed to criminalize non-consensual acts of a sexual nature with a person, in line with Istanbul Convention. The total number of femicides in 2018 stands at 33, which represents a slight increase from the previous year (2017 - 29 women were victims of femicide).


At the regional level, all key stakeholders involved in the fight against VAW convened in the first Regional Forum Promoting the Implementation of the Istanbul Convention in the Western Balkans and Turkey, ”Integrated Policies, Inclusive Partnerships” held in Skopje (27th-28th November 2018), in recognition and acknowledgment of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia and its commendable efforts to commit to its implementation.

Under the auspices of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia and on the occasion of the campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the Regional Forum, aimed to take stock of the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, gathered over 150 representatives from national institutions, CSOs and regional entities from across the region. Convened by the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, UN Women, the European Union, and the Council of Europe (CoE), in partnership with European Women’s Lobby, the Regional Forum reviewed progress in the fulfilment of the Istanbul Convention and promoted regional dialogue on its implementation and monitoring.


The Regional Forum witnessed the launch of “Integrated Policies-Integrated Approach: Regional Analysis of Policies and Legislation on Violence against Women and the Istanbul Convention in the Western Balkans and Turkey” - a mapping carried out by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) to inform the forum discussions and outcome.

This report produced by European Women’s Lobby under the regional programme details the achievements and challenges, as well as good practices and lessons learned in the region in relation to the implementation of the IC and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Read the report here.


Fighting discrimination and violence against women and girls is at the core of UN Women’s mandate. And, we know that there are solutions that can unlock the transformational change we want to see, such as: a comprehensive approach that includes laws along with decisive implementation to protect women and girls from violence, prevention that starts at an early age, and the provision of services accessible to all survivors.


‘Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’ will continue working to honour survivors’ voices and contribute to paving the way for a safer, more equal, and better world for women and girls in the Western Balkans and Turkey.