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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

I’ve grown up around very passive women, so I have always thought that was what womanhood is meant to be — fragile, forgiving and feminine. I, on the other hand, am too destructive and stubborn to fit the gender norms that was established by the environment I was born into. With that, I never had the supportive and empowering female environment that I always yearned for. These next two months will be slightly different: I will be staying in an all-female household, and will be working in an all-female NGO. From the moment I was assigned my placements, I knew that I will be spending my summer with strong and empowered women.

My homestay family consists of three strong women from three generations: my homestay mom Nataša, her aunt Katarina, and her daughter Anja. All three have very contrasting personalities and insights, which is why they never fail to generate interesting conversations. I’ve never had the experience of living in an all-female household or of living with four (also female) cats, so I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing the following weeks with my homestay family.

The organization I work for, NGO Atina primarily works at providing protection for victims of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. While researching the topic of gender-based violence (GBV) and the refugee crisis in Serbia, I noticed something that was quite unsettling: less than 20% of the refugees are women. With that said, the overwhelming majority are men, including those in charge of the border control and refugee services. Is it any wonder that gender-based violence and sexual abuse persists? The lack of access to sex-segregated facilities, sexual and reproductive healthcare and GBV-specific services, increases the chance of rape and exploitation for these women. Yet, few NGOs are focusing on the gender risks inherent in the journey of refugees; NGO Atina is the only Serbian-based NGO that focuses on this issue.

I hope to understand the complex issue of gender-based violence and the refugee crisis at a deeper level. I am once again reminded of how lucky I am to be a woman today, with the privileges that I have — the security, mobility and opportunity that I sometimes take for granted. While at the same time, other women are exploited and discriminated against simply for being a woman. How gender is constructed in our society plays a major role — and with most refugee women conditioned to think that they are inferior and many men thinking that they are superior, gender-based violence is inevitable. Mutual respect is necessary to solve this problem at the root cause, but that is of course much easier said than done.

Ideally, we should all treat each other with the same respect, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, amongst other circumstances. Yet, we are still a long way away from even slightly achieving this.