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Another 59 Years To Break The Glass Ceiling?

The EU directive aimed at improving the gender balance on corporate boards, which was finally adopted on 22nd November 2022, took a decade to negotiate. Here in Serbia, women face the same challenge at every step in the employment process. And just how much that could be changed by the Law on Gender Equality remains to be seen.

It took 10 years of negotiations to reach a milestone achievement like the Women on Boards Directive, which seeks to improve the gender balance in corporate decision-making positions at the largest listed companies in the EU. The directive was finally adopted on 22nd November 2022. The successes, and the period needed for a consensus to be reached, show how hard it was to tackle – so far only in the form of a document – one of the strongest bastions of male power and source of female inequality.

Women in Serbia are fighting the same battle. According to a survey conducted by tobacco company Philip Morris in Serbia and the Coordination Body for Gender Equality, the so-called “glass ceiling” – which refers to obstacles faced by women in advancing in business – is very much present in Serbian society. The survey showed that 54 per cent of women have lower incomes than their partners, and 56 per cent have lower incomes than their male counterparts. In addition, 78 per cent of respondents claimed that women and men are not treated equally in the workplace.

In accordance with EU directives, the new Serbian Law on Gender Equality, adopted in 2021, establishes the legal framework for the equal representation of men and women, which public authorities and employers in public institutions must take into account

Along the lines of the EU directives, the new Serbian Law on Gender Equality, adopted in 2021, sets the legal framework for the equal representation of men and women (40-50% women unless otherwise stipulated by a special law), which public authorities and employers in public institutions must take into account. As an example of such a principle, the Ministry of Culture applied the principle of balanced representation of genders immediately upon this law entering into force. It remains to be seen whether other employers will also adhere to the law and provide equal opportunities to all.

Indeed, like many countries, Serbia is – at least through its official acts – striving to improve social and economic outcomes for women by creating possibilities for equal access to education and employment, securing the right to live free from discrimination, violence and exploitation, and enjoying the same opportunities to realise their full potential as men and boys.

Even the legislative framework is not fully in place. Serbia is still awaiting the Action Plan for the National Strategy to Combat Gender-Based Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2021- 2025), as well as the new National Action Plan (NAP), with the latest one having been in force for the 2017-2020 period.

Of course, changes in real life are much more subtle. According to the third Gender Equality Index in the Republic of Serbia 2021 – measuring changes in the domains of work, money, knowledge, time, power and health – Serbia has increased by 5.6 points compared to 2016. Yet, according to the results, if gender equality improves at the same pace, full gender equality might only be achieved 59 years from now.

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