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On Saturday, 8th of March 2014 Mentoring Walk followed by a Public Debate was held in Novi Sad as a part of ’Share your knowledge - Become a Mentor’ Program. International Women’s Day Walk and „Women Rights and Gender Equality“ debate was organized in partnership with Vital Voices. Event was attended by mentees, mentors, Gender studies students, speakers, members of Women Government, as well as interested public.


The Walk began at the Freedom Square, and was continued through the central streets. During the walk statues of distinguished women were visited among, which of Jovanka Stojković, Mileva Marić Ajnštajn, Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja, Ninković sisters, Marija Trandafil, etc. Professor Svenka Savić, together with students of the Gender studies, shared with all present short biographies of these eminent women. They talked about their professional success, fights for women rights, excellence in science, literature and music.

Speakers of the discussion on Women rights and gender equality were: Ms. Nevena Petrušić, Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Ms. Danica Todorov, Deputy Provincial Ombudsman, Ms. Marijana Pajvančić, Dean of Faculty of European Legal and Political Studies, Ms. Svenka Savić, professor emeritaUniversity of Novi Sad, Ms. Dragana Todorović, Project manager, Guarantee Fund of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Ms. Julkica Stefanović, mentee of ’Share your knowledge - Become a Mentor’ 2013/2014 Program. 

Ms. Zorana Antonijević, National Programme Officer at OSCE Mission to Serbia was the moderator of the debate. In the introduction she spoke of Serbia as a country that has since 2000 entered social and economic transition. In this period mechanisms and laws regarding women rights and gender equality were discussed for the first time and she believed a lot has been done. Having quota system in the Parliament, which requires 30% of MPs to be women, she believed, was a sign of progress. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go.

Ms. Nevena Petrušić, Commissioner for Protection of Equality, agreed that a lot has been done and that the gender equality issue had become an important political issue. Every new law is another battle won and therefore, another mechanism to exercise rights. Even though we had some success so far, there are elements regarding this issue holding us back. Commissioner stated that out of 1600 complaints only 10% refers to discrimination based on sex. It is hard to say what should be done in order for more complaints to be submitted, since this is clearly not a realistic number. More complaints could lead to a successful solution. She stressed girls now are able to enrol the Military High School as a result of one such complaint. In the end, she added that a recent study showed 42% of citizens believe women are the most discriminated group in Serbia.

Ms. Danica Todorov, Deputy Provincial Ombudsman, presumed that majority of citizens are not familiar with complaint mechanisms and that more needed to be done in order to make institutions’ work on gender equality more visible. Experience so far shows there are more and more complaints. In those cases Ombudsman gave recommendations and informed the immediate superior authority. Out of 1200 complaints only 5% referred to issues of gender equality. She believed that Ombudsman as an institution was failing to recognize gender discrimination cases. Solution she said laid in education and awareness rising about this sort of discrimination, as well as knowledge and experience transfer between institutions.

Ms. Marijana Pajvančić, Dean of the Faculty of European Legal and Political Studies, said that in 2000 there had been no law recognizing act of domestic violence. Even though it is recognized as a criminal offence now, further examination of the penalty policy is necessary. Professor Pajvančić emphasized the fact that Province of Vojvodina is home of the first founded bodies for the protection of gender equality in Serbia. By introducing these institutions into the system of Republic of Serbia, history was made. She underlined the importance of a proper implementation of gender equality laws, primarily because of the future generations.

Professor emerita Svenka Savić, activist, founder of Gender Studies in Serbia, Roma rights advocate, spoke of Gender Studies at the University of Novi Sad and the obstacles graduates were facing. When asked of the influence of these studies in the future and whether graduates could become agents of change, she said the future was quite uncertain. Moreover, she said the new generation of graduates would show whether the trend of working in NGOs and going abroad would continue instead of finding employment in state institutions, where their expertise would be the most needed. Professor emphasized that knowledge paradigms needed improvement, decentralization and change, because „the more we share our knowledge, the more of knowledge we have“!

Ms. Dragana Todorović, Project manager and Labris activist, shared her experience and lessons she learned working on the Project „Business Linking of Women in Rural Areas”. She spoke about the position and opportunities these women faced and emphasized that woman were not a homogeneous group, but rather we needed to accept the fact that, depending on their background and life opportunities, they have different needs and challenges. Elementary education is the only education for 80% of women living in rural areas, 60% of them has never been outside their villages, and 60% is unemployed (they do engage in agricultural work, but only for their family needs). Moreover, patriarchal system and traditional gender roles are additionally making life more challenging for these women, since they are economically dependent on their families. Through the Program these women are acquiring ’soft’ skills, hearing other women’s experiences and getting an opportunity to connect with other women, ether on personal or business level. In Vojvodina there is around 300 women organizations that could potentially have a strong synergy effect and influence the decision making process, making lives of these women better. She also noted that there is a lack of legal protection for lesbians, and underlined that 36% of them had been physically assaulted at a work place by a recent study.

Young activist for the rights of Roma population, Ms. Julkica Stefanović, spoke about educated Roma women and the fact that they face double discrimination. Firstly, they are discriminated by their family, and secondly by the society. Furthermore, data is showing that 96% of Roma women are unemployed, 80% illiterate, and average life expectancy of a Roma woman is 48 years of age. She believed that in order to stop this trend we needed to create certain tools and programs in elementary schools (5th, 6th and 7th grade have the highest dropout rate, because of the early marriages) that could motivate these girls to stay in school. Additionally, after elementary school there ought to be mentoring programs, as well as organized internships and career guidance programs.

In conclusion, speakers agreed that legal framework for women rights and a gender equal society existed in Serbia. Unfortunately, authorities are the ones failing, as well as broader public by tolerating discrimination and violence against women. In order to have an equal and inclusive society we need to inform and educate the public and always bear in mind that we all hold responsibility to exercise our own rights.


*The "Share Your Knowledge - Become a Mentor 2013/2014" program is organized for the fourth year in a row by European Movement in Serbia with the cooperation and support of the Embassy of the United States and Erste Bank and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ). The goal of this program is the economic and professional empowerment of women in Serbian society through exchange of experiences and knowledge between professional women leaders from different professions (business, public and civil sector) and younger women with similar interests and a desire to be successful in their fields. This will help create opportunities for these women to improve their career path in order to achieve positive change and to set a sound basis for future long-term cooperation.


*In partnership with members of its Global Women's Leadership Network, an organization Vital Voices coordinate the mentoring walk in several countries around the world. All these walks take place on the same day and in addition to Serbia, this year will be part of this initiative to walk around the world. Since the establishment of the Global Women's Mentoring walks 2008th until today, this initiative has brought together thousands of women leaders on all continents.



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