NAIA: "Domestic violence is a social problem, not a private one"

The Bulgarian association NAIA, winner of the third prize, has been fighting domestic violence in small, underprivileged communities for 20 years, carrying on its programme of social assistance to victims in dire circumstances. In parallel, as Svetla Sivcheva explains in this interview, it focuses on prevention by working with young children to explore ways of breaking and overcoming social stereotypes in order to open up their horizons and fulfil their potential.

EESC Info: What does this prize mean for you and your organisation?

Svetla Sivcheva: This award is very important for our organisation, which has been working for 20 years to combat violence against women and children, uniting more and more people around the idea that this is a socially significant problem rather than a private one, and that fighting violence against women is a responsibility of the state, the institutions and every individual. We are an organisation that works with vulnerable groups from small towns and villages with many social problems - poverty, unemployment, dropping out of school and lack of health care. It is very difficult in this situation to protect women's rights, to empower them, to inspire them to believe in their potential and to fulfill themselves both socially and economically. Despite these difficulties, we have carried on, and this award recognises our perseverance and persistence and salutes our efforts to show just how important and valuable it is for society to give women and men equal opportunities.

What advice would you give to other organisations in terms of achieving results with such activities and programmes?

There is hardly any advice to give, because a lot of work has already been done by civil society on the subject, although it is not always in the spotlight and on politicians' radar. Non-governmental organisations and individual citizens are constantly trying out new ideas and creating good practices at EU level, exchanging experience and expertise. We are hoping that civil society's work will prompt reflection on real and effective state policies which will show clearly that this is a priority, and that there is the will at the highest level to promote and guarantee equal opportunities for women and men in all spheres of social and economic life. In some Member States, there has been some backsliding on the prevention of gender-based violence and the achievement of gender equality, and this is very worrying. We are hoping to see clear political will at EU level and at the level of individual governments to uphold common European values, including equal opportunities for women and men.

How will you use this specific funding to provide further help in the community?

We will use it to secure our Gender Equality Programme. Our organisation does not have great financial resources and services provided to victims of domestic violence are always a priority and cannot be interrupted. We are experiencing difficulties in funding activities designed to achieve gender equality. We will use the funding to work on preventing violence against children, but also to work with female entrepreneurs and to advocate for more women in politics and decision-making. With these financial resources, we will be able to inform and support more women from small and closed communities and this is very valuable.

Your project engages parents and pre-school children. Why is it important to talk to young children about gender equality? How are fairy tales helping them to understand the message about the importance of equality between women and men?

The problem we are focusing on is the imposition of gender stereotypes from an early age under the influence of parents, teachers and peers. Many of the cultural stereotypes and social symbols that children learn in their early childhood stay with them as adults and become the norm. This restricts boys and girls from expressing themselves freely and encourages them to behave in a way that is considered socially appropriate. In order to break this cycle, it is important for children to be encouraged from an early age to see women and men in roles other than traditional ones, to evaluate their potential and capabilities and to believe that their knowledge and skills are equally valued and relevant to society.

Classic children's fairy tales are a great tool to approach different issues with young children, including equality between women and men, in words that are accessible and comprehensible to them. We work with fairy tales and their characters to open up new possibilities for girls and boys – qualities, interests and potential which enable them to fulfill themselves in non-stereotypical roles and to be recognised as equally valuable and meaningful.