To continue reducing the gender gap, a joint effort by all actors is needed: the state, companies, politicians, the media and women themselves, who should take responsibility for their careers and present the results of their work to the public without hesitation, something they often leave to men
If you Google the name Violeta Jovanović, executive director of NALED and president of Ethno Network, you immediately see the portal Women’s Government, which contains a database of about 1,500 professional women in Serbia.
We asked Violeta how much closer we are symbolically and realistically to what this platform advocates today: equal respect for women and their ability to lead the most demanding departments in all spheres of social life.
“In recent years, concrete progress has been made in improving gender equality in Serbia – a coordination body and the institution of an ombudsman for this area have been established, good practises such as gender budgeting, programmes for the prevention of domestic violence and strengthening reproductive health have been introduced. The recently adopted law on gender equality is an important incentive for achieving equality and gender balance, which encourages an increasing number of women to take on leading positions in government, parliament and local government”, says Jovanović.
You lead an organisation that over time has become the right hand of the Government of Serbia in many reforms. Have you ever been told that a man would do your job better?
At the beginning the job was almost nonexistent because the organisation needed to be built from the ground up. Today that is simply not an issue because NALED’s success has a strong stamp of capable and smart women. As the first employee in the organisation, I am proud that in its 15 years of existence, NALED has grown into one of the most recognisable and successful associations and think tanks in Serbia, and an unavoidable partner of the Government in key reform processes.
As an advocate of the programme for economic empowerment of women, I especially emphasise NALED’s support for the 1000 Women Initiative and Ethno Network, which has enabled hundreds of women to be trained and empowered to build their handicraft skills and create their own jobs, creative business from which they generate income, after years of unemployment and exclusion from the labour market. More importantly, with this action, we have restored the importance and status of handicrafts as bearers of our identity, and women as the custodians of cultural heritage.
Although you lead NALED, there are still many more men than women in the governing bodies of the organisation. Why is this so, and what internal policies do you pursue to achieve equal gender representation at all levels of management?
NALED always strives to lead by example and live gender equality in practice, because most of our team consists of aware women who are ready to stand up for themselves, but also to support each other. We emphasise good role models and we try to help our colleagues at the beginning of their careers to network and build self-confidence as a foundation for achieving equality.
One important element of equality in society, as in NALED, are the men who, together with their female colleagues, achieve the results of the largest public-private association in Serbia. It is true that in the structure of NALED’s governing bodies, there is a marginal participation of women who lead companies and local governments in Serbia, not enough to encourage participation because we must all work together as a society.
I am proud that in its 15 years of existence, NALED has grown into one of the most recognisable and successful associations and think tanks in Serbia, and an unavoidable partner of the Government in key reform processes.
Where is it harder for a woman to make a career, at the local level or in Belgrade? How much are local government members of NALED interested in fostering gender equality?
The consequences of traditional upbringing and patriarchal society are mostly suffered by women in the countryside and villages, but they are also felt by educated and employed women who are expected to be the predominant carers for family and children, which limits their progress towards equality. Psycho-social support is often a neglected component in our society, although experts repeatedly point out that a lack of self-confidence mostly affects women to give up their ambitions.
The state, and especially local administrations, can help through concrete measures such as increasing the number of state nurseries and lowering the price of private ones, flexible working hours to support parenthood, and campaigns to remove gender stereotypes and strengthen gender equality.
In your programme, one of your main projects promotes a legal solution to enable women’s work, housekeeping or child and elderly care to be recognised and for these women to receive at least a minimum of social and health insurance. Is that enough, and do we need to offer these women more complete protection?
The unpaid work that a woman performs every day is a lot higher than the average salary in Serbia. If the jobs that are assigned to women were evaluated financially, we would see that each employee would earn 546 euros a month, or 6,550 euros net annually. At least 17,000 people work in household chores in more than 55,000 households, 90% of them are women, and at least half are engaged informally, without rights based on their work. Some of them have been informally engaged in cleaning for decades, which is usually their only source of income.
With the extension of the law on hiring casual labour to jobs in this area, we would provide them with the right to a pension for the days they work, and insurance in case of injury at work, and in legal employment they would not lose their acquired social rights. We see such a solution as a transitional one to get them into legal measures and realise rights as workers, and the ultimate goal is certainly to gain stable employment and a secure source of income.
Thanks to e-administration, we know today exactly how many people are vaccinated. How close are we to taking more serious steps in digitalising healthcare?
Given the specificity and importance of the health sector, NALED formed the Alliance for Health in 2018, to work systematically on establishing a more efficient health care system both locally and nationally. This year, the Government of Serbia recognised our initiative, and today we have formed the Coordination Body for Digitalisation of Health, which is working with NALED’s support to introduce a single e-dossier that will follow a patient through all the institutions he visits. The goal is to enable e-SickLeave and e-Referrals, and reduce the waiting time for healthcare, to avoid repeating laboratory tests and returning to the base doctor for new referrals, and to connect key actors in the health system, especially the public and private health sectors. The programme is complete and from 2022 we will launch its implementation together with the relevant institutions.
How much have we managed to maintain the momentum of the digital transformation that the outbreak of the pandemic forced us to accelerate?
Concerning the digitalisation of public administration, the data indicate that the public and businesses are satisfied with what has been done so far. According to a recent NALED survey, as many as 83% of people and 84.5% of companies are satisfied with existing e-Government services. Every novelty in the procedure is a challenge because it requires a change in the behaviour of those who need to apply electronic procedures. Almost 60% of people and businesses recognise that it is faster and easier for them to perform administrative services via the Internet, which means that they accept changes much faster than officials, especially older ones, with whom we work through training to recognise the benefits of working in a new environment.
As an advocate for women’s economic empowerment, I can especially emphasise NALED’s support for the 1000 Women Initiative and Ethno Network, which has empowered hundreds of women to build their handicraft skills and create their own creative business from which they generate income
For example, NALED, in cooperation with GIZ and the company SAGA, launched a virtual assistant service in Sombor and Šabac, which takes over communication with inhabitants about the necessary steps and documentation for going through certain procedures. We believe that officials who have spent a lot of time just answering questions will soon see how much this technical solution helps relieve their workload. Businesses are also adapting to technological changes, so we can already work with many of them on the introduction of artificial intelligence, blockchain and other new technologies in business. With Philip Morris International and with the support of the Government of Serbia, at the end of 2020 we launched the StarTech project in which we want to support innovators to develop their ideas. During 2021, we awarded the first 29 grants to Serbian companies, and by 2023 we will support about 100 companies with the goal of digital transformation of our economy.
Some recent research suggests that small and medium enterprises, which were not keen on changing the way they work, have now woken up and are moving much faster towards introducing various e-services. What can you tell us about this?
In a survey we conducted in the business community, every second business leader preferred eServices to perform administrative tasks, while more than 80% positively assessed the whole process. When we talk about businessmen and traders, the dominant need at the moment is the development of online sales, which is shown by the fact that the number of shops and companies that sell products through their sites has increased sevenfold.
To support especially small businesses in their efforts to modernise and keep pace with world trends, we launched a digital caravan in cooperation with the government and with the support of the British Embassy. This will visit 500 small businesses in five cities in Serbia to help them develop online sales, introduce cashless payment and increase their visibility by registering on Google Maps. Also, with the German Development Cooperation GIZ, Visa and Mastercard and in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, we have launched the National Cashless Payment Initiative, by which we want to equip up to 25,000 points of sale with devices or software solutions to accept non-cash payments to gain new customers and improve their business.
It is important to work on policies that value men and women equally and mentoring and empowerment programmes to boost their self-confidence but also their skills to start a business
Women must believe in themselves and their abilities work hard and make independent decisions for which they take responsibility according to their function and before the law
The low level of participation of women at the head of companies and local governments in Serbia results from the lack of systematic support for working mothers from institutions, but also in families around joint parenting