‘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.

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 were established at the beginning of 2019: 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. As a result of the working group in Republika Srpska, in September 2019, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted amendments to the Law on protection from domestic violence, explicitly criminalizing domestic violence and providing victims with better support in line with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention. Furthermore, in 13 municipalities, with support by the  partner Safe Network through the support of the programme, 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. New protocols on cooperation have been developed in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Bijeljina and Bihac, together with established teams for multisectoral cooperation and coordination.


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 the  necessary 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 August 2019, Macedonian Women’s Lobby (MWL) and its partner organization Center for Research and Policy Making (CRPM) submitted proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). In October 2019, by invitation by the MoJ, CRPM participated in the meeting of the working group for amending the Criminal Code and provided input related to the changes of the Criminal Code necessary to bring it in line with the Istanbul Convention. It is expected that the MoJ will submit the first draft proposal for harmonization of the Criminal Code to the government at the beginning of 2020.


In Kosovo, revisions of the Criminal Code resulted in the inclusion and definition of domestic violence as a separate criminal offense, accurately defining all acts of domestic violence, aligned with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention. Although unable to ratify the Istanbul Convention, the Kosovo Constitutional Court approved the request of the Kosovo Assembly to amend the Constitution and include the Istanbul Convention in the list of directly applicable documents. 


Furthermore, a Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed between key stakeholders (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Kosovo Judicial Council, Kosovo Prosecutorial Council, and Kosovo Police) dealing with violence against women and girls to establish an integrated and unified database for cases of domestic violence, which will enable the monitoring and prosecution of domestic violence cases in Kosovo. The database enables the monitoring and prosecution of domestic violence cases in Kosovo and ensures accountability by obliging relevant institutions to include necessary information from central and local levels in this database.


Moreover, strengthening of Municipal Domestic Violence Coordination Mechanisms served as a basis for intercommunal collaboration and peacebuilding, enhancing inter-ethnic dialogue between North and South municipalities through working on eliminating violence against women.


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 second Regional Forum for the Promotion of the Istanbul Convention in the Western Balkans and Turkey, “Integrated Policies, Inclusive Partnerships,” held in Tirana (9-10 October 2019) and convened by the Government of Albania, UN Women, the European Union, and the Council of Europe. The event brought together European Commission, EU Delegations and UN representatives, governments, civil society and regional institutions from the Western Balkans and Turkey. The forum aimed to develop concrete proposals to improve inter-agency cooperation for a coordinated response to violence against women at the regional, national, and local levels. It also contributed to advancing the implementation of the provisions of the Istanbul Convention related to preventing all forms of sexual violence and to providing specialist support services for survivors of sexual violence.


The second Regional Forum followed 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. The first Regional Forum was 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 first 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.

The second Regional Forum was informed by the launch of the Mapping of Sexual Violence Services in the Western Balkans and Turkey, a rapid assessment that identifies services available for victims of sexual violence in the region and examines their implementation. The mapping report was conducted by the Civil Society Strengthening Platform, led by WAVE Network.

This mapping report produced by CSSP under the regional programme details the extent to which services for victims of sexual violence meet the standards set forth in the Istanbul Convention. Read the report here.

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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.