During a year in which, according to feminist activists, most women’s rights were erased by COVID-19, the new Serbian government achieved a gender balance. Most women in Serbia are somewhere between gaining appreciation, on the one side, and breaking under numerous responsibilities – at work, at home, with children and at the helm of their household’s defence against the pandemic – on the other
Serbia has achieved significant results in gender equality over the previous few years, in terms of its legislative framework, including gender-responsible budgeting. Furthermore, Serbia was the first non-EU country to introduce the Gender Equality Index.
The Gender Equality Index for Serbia stood at 55.8 points in 2018, and the difference compared to the EU has since been reduced. However, according to the latest results – with 67.9 out of 100 points – the EU itself has a long way to go to achieve gender equality. Specifically, the Gender Equality Index score has increased by only 4.1 points since 2010 and 0.5 points since 2017, and at this pace of progress (1 point every 2 years) it will take years for women to become equal.
If we read the stories of some of our most successful women, we will see the deep roots of inequality. Every success was achieved with great effort and only after our interlocutors endured tough times and overcame numerous challenges, and rarely did so with the support of their community, family and colleagues.
Indeed, even percentage targets for the representation of women in parliament are good examples for tracking whether equality is being achieved, while they also say a lot about societies that are not strong and enlightened enough to naturally choose female candidates. We still recall some evidence that came from secretly recorded meetings of our future MPs, who claimed that women have to be on the voting lists of the parties just because “it was said so”, not because they deserve it. We have also witnessed examples of male MPs showing strong disregard for female MPs.
Gender equality must be sought in all areas of life and by everybody, regardless of their gender, if society wants to harness the true potential of women
While women are slowly but steadily accepted in the leading positions, one of the most persistent problems, and one that worsened during the COVID-19 crisis, is domestic violence. More than 300 women have lost their lives due to partner and domestic violence in Serbia over the last 10 years.
Although significant changes have been made to legislation and the protocols of institutions responsible for acting in such cases, furthering the culture of non-violence and fighting gender stereotypes have to be much more agile and embraced by all members of society. Furthermore, the strict application of gender principles in all public policies still has to be implemented.
New inequalities emerged during COVID-19 that have yet to be tackled. For example, our labour law is lacking many rules. For instance, on the basis of government recommendations, women with children aged under 12 were allowed to stay at home, but many women nonetheless lost their jobs just because their employers refused to adhere to this recommendation and resorted to the tenets of the labour law, which include no such stipulation. Furthermore, women lost jobs more often than men during pandemic, while at the same time bearing the biggest burden of the pandemic. For better and worse, the struggle for gender equality continues to require persistent effort.