Strong political will exists in Serbia, but also a willingness of the society to advance gender equality in all areas of political, economic and social life ~ Maja Gojković
Serbia has improved its legislative and strategic framework over a significant period, as a prerequisite for the creating of equal opportunities for women and men. A set of strategic documents was adopted in 2021: the new Law on Gender Equality, amendments to the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, the Strategy to Suppress and Eliminate Gender-Based Violence against Women and Domestic Violence for the 2021-2025 period and the new Strategy for Gender Equality for the 2021-2030 period. The law on gender equality envisages, among other things, a balanced representation of the sexes in political and public life and gender-sensitive budgeting, while the term unpaid domestic work has been introduced, as well as the obligation for employers to work on establishing the equal representation of women and men. There has also been the clear defining of the protection of employees and their enjoyment of all rights following maternity/ parenting leave.
The coordination body for gender equality should represent the focal point in the connecting of different policies and monitoring the achieving of targets set by strategies and action plans.
That’s why we discussed the upcoming work of that body in 2023 with Deputy Serbian Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Maja Gojković, who is also president of the Coordination Body for Equality.
“The Coordination Body for Gender Equality was founded with a mandate to coordinate the work of state administration bodies and other institutions with the aim of advancing gender equality and the position of women and men in Serbia. We are an institution that brings together all state initiatives, activities and efforts in the area of empowering women in all areas of life, as well preventing and fighting all forms of gender-based violence. Our plans to advance in this work imply a firm political will and decisiveness to continue strengthening the capacities of every institution and individual, in order for the normative and strategic frameworks to be effectively applied in practice. Improving gender equality includes not only legislative bodies and decision-makers, but rather also cooperation with international partners, the civil and private sectors, but also the media, which plays an important role in promoting a culture of non-violence and building a society on foundations of respect for human rights,” says Gojković.
The coordination body provides expert opinions and sets the direction of the work of state bodies on jobs that have a direct or indirect impact on gender equality, and also coordinates the work of state administration bodies and other institutions with the aim of promoting gender equality. For example, despite numerous approach protocols, it seems we still don’t always have conformity when it comes to domestic violence. In your opinion, what should be done for us to have fewer deaths and generally less domestic violence?
Violence in the family and domestic partnerships represents an extremely important and complex topic. Unfortunately, no country anywhere in the world is exempt from the battle against this scourge, and women and girls represent the group that’s disproportionately impacted the most by this form of violence. Violence against women represents an extreme violation of human rights, which mustn’t be tolerated under any circumstances. However, in Serbia, like in many other countries, there are stereotypes that still prevail, and thus also prompt feelings of shame in reporting violence among victims, which only complicates the fight against gender-based violence. As many as 84% of women killed by a partner or family member never turned to institutions for help. It is for this reason that we will continue working on the empowerment of women, both through the normative framework and through projects that we implement with local and international partners. We can see from numerous statistics that the number of women deciding to report violence increased over the previous year, which is very important. Although certain progress has been made, the Coordination Body for Gender Equality will continue working at full capacity to ensure all women and girls feel safe in our country in the future.
In its further work, the Coordination Body for Gender Equality will continue including the gender perspective in all public policies and practices, including those related to climate change
How do you intend to cooperate with the numerous NGOs dedicated to improving the position of women?
We have good cooperation with numerous civil society organisations that are active in the area of improving the position of women and fighting for women’s rights, as well as preventing and eliminating gender-based violence. Through the projects that we implement in partnership with UN Women, women’s civil society organisations receive support to implement initiatives in the domain of gender equality and women’s empowerment. These initiatives focus on increasing the active involvement of women in policymaking, raising awareness of gender equality issues, overcoming stereotypes, increasing the access of women to the labour market and striking a balance between the private and business spheres of life. Numerous initiatives have also been launched and implemented with other partner organisations in the area of strengthening female entrepreneurship, which we intend to continue and develop further. In the period ahead, we will focus in particular on supporting women’s activism aimed at improving the position of women living in rural areas and women engaged in artistic creation.
We had electoral lists on which 40% of the candidates were women, but at the local level of government, in public companies and public institutions, we don’t see such advances being made. To what extent are you able – in your capacity as minister of culture, but now also in this coordination body post – to influence change in these practices?
The Law on Gender Equality introduces a balanced representation of the sexes and defines that such a balance exists when the representation of one of the sexes is between 40-50 per cent in relation to the other, unless stipulated otherwise by a separate law. All public authority bodies must apply the gender balance principle. An employer should take care of the equal representation of women and men in their establishment or state institution. In the case that the representation of the sexes is unbalanced, an employer is obliged to adopt one of the special measures from Article 11 of the Law on Gender Equality. From the instant this law came into force, the Ministry of Culture applied the principle of a balanced representation of the sexes. With the August 2021 amendments to the Law on Culture, we harmonised it with the new Law on Gender Equality.
We have envisaged, for example, that representation of at least 40% of representatives of the less represented gender be ensured during elections for the National Council for Culture. Additionally, we have established an obligation to ensure the composition of the supervisory and management boards of cultural institutions includes at least 40% representatives of the less represented sex. I hope that other employers will also respect the law and provide for the creation of equal opportunities for all.
Serbia is the first non-EU country to introduce the Gender Equality Index into statistics. Where are we lagging behind the EU the most in this segment?
Serbia is the first country outside the European Union that introduced, back in 2016, the Gender Equality Index. This instrument enables us to evaluate our country’s progress in the field of gender equality, but also to compare the results we’ve achieved with those of EU countries. Statistics from the Index also serve as an important benchmark for the adopting of future laws, strategies and measures for improving the state of gender equality in Serbia. When we compare our results with EU member states, Serbia has an index value 10.4 points lower, though this difference has reduced compared to 2016, when it totalled 12.6 points. The differences between Serbia and the EU average are at their greatest in the domains of power, time and money, while they differ the least in the domains of health, knowhow and labour. Compared to the EU average, Serbia made greater progress between the two reporting periods. Compared to 2016, the value had increased by 3.4 points in 2018, while progress of 1.2 points was achieved in the European Union during the same period. Progress was also recorded in the third report, in 2021, and this all serves to confirm to us that we are on the right track, but that we still have a lot of work ahead.
Serbia is the first country outside the EU that introduced, back in 2016, the Gender Equality Index. Reports for 2018 and 2021 showed that progress has been achieved, but we still have a lot of work ahead
Women are unequally represented in the domains of power, money and free time. In your opinion, where is it easiest and hardest to alter this state of affairs, in relative terms?
I don’t consider any change as being easy, and the progress we’ve achieved to date certainly indicates that a strong political will exists in Serbia, but also the willingness of our society to advance gender equality in all segments of political, economic and social life. Gender equality is one of the key priorities set by the Government of Serbia in the area of public policy reform. I believe that creating a society where all citizens will be able to fully exercise their rights requires a multisectoral approach from all relevant actors, from state institutions to civil society organisations and important international partners.
Finally, imposing itself alongside the issue of climate change is the issue of women’s inequality in accessing agricultural land, water and other resources, and their greater exposure to environmental pollution. How much does the Coordination Body intend to engage in this area?
This question is complex and there are multiple factors that impact on women’s unequal access to resources and exposure to the consequences of climate change. They impact everyone, and that impact hits women harder due to their limited access to resources and reduced representation in places where decisions are made.
Traditional models still dominate and are reflected in the division between “men’s” and “women’s” jobs, which results in women being the primary consumers of energy in their households. According to research conducted jointly by the Coordination Body for Gender Equality and UN Women, women cook all meals in 82% of households, while the same is true for men in only 8% of households. Women are exposed to negative impacts coming from indoor air pollution caused by heating and cooking using old and inefficient wood stoves. Rural women represent a particularly vulnerable group, considering that only 16% of them own land or the means of agricultural production, while as many as 36% of them renounce their inheritances in favour of their male relatives. This fact further limits access to resources and ensures the economic potential of rural women is insufficiently utilised.
In its further work, the Coordination Body for Gender Equality will continue including the gender perspective in all public policies and practices, which includes those related to climate change. Support is essential at multiple levels in this area, and that includes increasing the participation of women in decision-making processes in relevant areas, support for initiatives aimed at improving the position of rural women, protecting agricultural holdings against natural disasters, supporting access to more efficient energy sources, as well as essential public awareness raising with regard to social patterns that impact the equality of women.
We have a firm political will and decisiveness to continue strengthening the capacities of every institution and individual, in order to realise gender equality in practice
As many as 84% of women killed by a partner or family member never turned to institutions for help. It is for this reason that we will continue working on the empowerment of women
We have good cooperation with numerous civil society organisations that are active in the area of improving the position of women and fighting for women’s rights