Although women are the more educated gender in the Serbian population, they face higher unemployment, lower wages and discrimination. In order for these statistics to change to the benefit of creating a gender balance, it is necessary to combine the efforts of all stakeholders: the state, companies/policies, the media and women themselves, who should fight for their rights.
The consequences of traditional upbringing and patriarchal society are mostly endured by women in the provinces and the countryside, but they are also felt by educated and employed women who are expected to predominantly take care of the family and children, which limits them in making progress and achieving equality, – says NALED Executive Director and Ethno Network President Violeta Jovanović.
According to her, the conditions of the pandemic strengthened gender stereotypes, because the closure of schools and nurseries meant that parents – and in our country mostly mothers – were compelled to dedicate themselves to the family at the expense of their work and to do another shift at home for which they aren’t paid or often even valued, notes our interlocutor.
Even before the pandemic, obstacles to the greater participation of women in positions of influence in the public and private sectors were already coming from socially imposed burdens outside of work and achieving a balance between business and family responsibilities. There is also a lack of greater child care support from public institutions, as well as personal ambitions as a result of a patriarchal upbringing, because it is considered that a career endangers family obligations that women are traditionally predetermined to do, insists Jovanović.
“Also testifying to the problem of the gender gap in the household is the first economic study on unpaid work, which showed that women are twice as heavily burdened as men when it comes to household chores and caring for children and the elderly. The pandemic that the whole world is facing has further burdened women with additional jobs, despite them often being on the front lines of the fight against the virus – in hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets,” says NALED’s executive director. “That’s why what we do at NALED and the Ethno Network is to strive to build a society of equal opportunities in which both women and men have every opportunity to develop and affirm themselves, and to achieve what they want in life.”
Many believe that this will be a permanent change that will nullify all the previous victories of the feminist movement. What do you think about that?
I believe that no change is permanent, whether positive or negative, and I’m sure that this backwards step can be overcome by working to develop society’s awareness of the need for gender equality and increasing the willingness of women to stand up for themselves within their families, working collectives and society. It was a few months ago that I noticed a great campaign of UN Women and the Coordination Body for Gender Equality that encourages an equal division of care for children and co-parenting. The campaign is called “#HalfHalf – Care is not (only) a woman’s job” and it calls for the recognition and equal distribution of unpaid work caring for children and families. One important aspect of this campaign is encouraging and motivating men to get more involved in caring for children from the earliest age, and for them to realise that they are not helpers of the members of the household but rather equal participants. In that sense, under the scope of the campaign, baby changing facilities were set up in men’s toilets in five public buildings in the country, in order to build an awareness of the need for equal and active parenting.
Fifty per cent of the members of the Serbian Government are women. Did that seem like an impossible goal to you just a year ago?
It is encouraging that there is an ever growing number of women taking over leadership positions in the government, national assembly and local governments, and I hope that, as decision-makers, women will contribute to more equitable public policies that aren’t not only good for women, but for society as a whole. In order for that to happen, it is also necessary for women to believe in themselves and their abilities, to work hard and to make independent decisions for which they take responsibility on the basis of their function and the law.
The ‘1000 Women’ initiative, which is implemented by the Ethno Network, in cooperation with the Coordination Body for Gender Equality and NALED, is an excellent example of mutual support
How much do women support other women, and how much are they soldiers of their parties or their companies that are run by men?
It is absolutely vital for women to network with each other in order to create an ecosystem of support and to highlight the benefits of women’s economic independence and their future contribution to society. Joining sector-specific and professional associations, such as the Ethno Network or the Association of Business Women in Serbia, provides an opportunity to connect and share experiences, as well as recognising excellence, while the promotion of sporting and career programmes intended for girls helps them develop their personality and awareness of the right to personal choice. The role of the family and the equal treatment of male and female children is therefore key to the further development of the individual and society as a whole. It is also interesting to note the statistic that successful female entrepreneurs in Serbia are often the only children in their families, and they say that their confidence in their own work and sense of self-worth are based on the attention and encouragement they received during their upbringing.
In contrast to that, although women are the more educated gender in the Serbian population, only 43.7% of women are currently employed in Serbia, compared to 56% of men. As many as 71% of men work in management positions, and apart from the large discrepancy in employment figures, a difference still remains in earnings to the advantage of men, as key decision makers. In order for these statistics to change to the benefit of creating a gender balance, it is necessary to combine the efforts of all stakeholders: the state, companies/policies, the media and women themselves, who need to take responsibility for their own careers and not to hesitate in presenting the results of their work to the public, which they often leave to men.
Which of your experience from managing NALED would you share with your young female colleagues who are just advancing to managerial positions?
We endeavour to lead by example, to highlight good role models and be supportive of female colleagues at the beginning of their careers, to help them network and build selfconfidence as a foundation for achieving equality. We also run work mentoring and professional advancement programmes in order to empower women at the beginning of their careers and help them to understand that they are creative members of society who represent neglected economic potential with abilities and knowhow that can contribute significantly to our faster development. An important element of equality in society, and thus also in NALED, is represented by men, who account for 30% of our employees and who, shoulderto- shoulder with their female colleagues, achieve the results of the largest public-private association in Serbia.
Another excellent example of mutual support is the ‘1000 Women’ initiative, which is implemented by the Ethno Network, in cooperation with the Coordination Body for Gender Equality and NALED, and which brings together women in their later years and those just starting out in their careers to work together in building the conditions required for their social and economic affirmation. This initiative has helped to train for work and empower hundreds of women after they’ve experienced years of unemployment and been pushed to the margins of the labour market, enabling them to develop handicraft skills and thus forge for themselves a creative job that they can use to earn an income. Even more importantly, with this activity we’ve restored the significance and status of handicrafts as carriers of our cultural identity and women as guardians of our cultural heritage.
Our focus is on amendments to regulations that will enable employers to hire workers legally and with minimal administration
In your opinion, what is a necessary precondition for us to be able emerge from this period with the minimum possible damage inflicted on us as an economy and a society?
It is essential for us to continue talking and listening to each other, at least online until conditions change. We also need to lead a dialogue within institutions and foster exchanges of opinions in order for us to more quickly reach harmonised solutions for the pandemic and the crisis, together with gender equality.
That dialogue should continue the successes of simplifying the procedure for maternity leave, the automatic registering of property acquired in a marriage as being under shared ownership and result in amendments to regulations and a gender-sensitive policy of public employment and labour that equally values men and women and provides opportunities for the equal participation of women in managerial positions. The social platform for empowering women should be included in strategic documents and have cross-sector implementation so that it becomes an integral part of all governmental programmes and measures to achieve more comprehensive effects. It is necessary for children to learn about equality from an early age, through the education system and public campaigns that teach children to respect each other. Public policies should also be upgraded with support programmes that appreciate the needs of women and the wider community and provide carefully designed measures that can have an economic effect and help to affirm women.
Another important support measure for working parents is increasing the number of public institutions and reducing the costs of private childcare institutions with flexible working hours, as well as a more tolerant attitude in society towards women who are successful and accomplished in their work.
What are the priorities of NALED in this domain?
NALED is paying special attention to support for hiring employees and maintaining employment in this period. Our focus is also on amendments to regulations governing this area that will enable employers to hire workers legally and with minimal administration, i.e. those who lose their jobs will be able to secure engagements and thus earn an income. There is a special focus on home help jobs that are currently carried out by more than 50,000 women, for whom amending regulations would enable them to gain an opportunity to be insured and to exercise their right to a pension. With such an approach, the state will certainly benefit from the preserving of income tax revenues and the reducing of social tensions caused by rising unemployment.
It is encouraging that there is an ever growing number of women taking over leadership positions in the government, national assembly and local governments
The pandemic has burdened women with additional jobs, despite them often being on the front lines of the fight against the virus – in hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets
We need to lead a dialogue within institutions and foster exchanges of opinions to more quickly reach harmonised solutions for the pandemic and the crisis, together with gender equality