Belgrade. Nearly three-quarters of a century after they almost ‘stormed heaven’, Serbian women remain firmly in second place in a society in which they make up more than 50% of the population.
In post-war Yugoslavia -born out of the epic struggle of Josip Broz Tito’s (1892-1980) guerrilla armies- awareness of the equality between women and men deepened, forged by the fight against German occupation.
Throughout the actions taken to rebuild the country and reach higher levels of development -increasing education, industrialisation and modernisation, and humanising agricultural activity- the presence of the female population in every sphere of life was consistently beyond remarkable; they shared the work as equals.
Thus, women reached the heights of public and professional life; of culture, the arts, journalism, scientific research, and the corridors of power, at all levels of the federation -comprised of six former republics- of which Serbia was an important part, and Belgrade the capital.
Reviewing the statistics from that era, it is interesting to note that in terms of salary, for example, there was no distinction between men and women, because the maxim of equal pay for equal work prevailed.
Yet, all of this social framework came to nothing following the break-up of the country, which was cemented in 1999 by the 78-day-long NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) bombing. This resulted in the deaths of not only soldiers and police officers but also innocent civilians, many of them children.
Serbia, the area most afflicted by this attack from the most powerful military bloc in the world, was left in ruins; its overall infrastructure was decimated, almost to the point of starting from zero, for the umpteenth time in its history.
Despite the massive reconstruction and modernisation efforts, this panorama is still reflected in society today, with the introduction of the market economy, which is more interested in macroeconomic numbers than people’s lives.
In a parliament of 250 members, 92 (36.8%) are women; and political factions exist which call themselves democratic but don’t have any female members. Moreover, in the 22-member government Cabinet, only five women hold portfolios.
The most recent statistics, from an investigation by the Foundation for the Development of Economic Science, confirm what is vox populi: in the country’s working population men outnumber women by 13.5%.
And even more unjustly, women with the same training and work experience as men, receive salaries which are 12% lower.
It is also more difficult for women to find a stable job due to biological reasons.
Employers, especially in the growing private sector, reject them due to potential pregnancy and maternity. According to the studies carried out, women are only irreplaceable when it comes to family responsibility and caring for children and the elderly. Recently, the Commissioner for the Protection of Gender Equality, Brankica Jankovich, addressed this inequality and workplace discrimination suffered by women in Serbian society today.
In addition to the preference and higher pay given to men, undercutting women due to age is an entrenched practice, making it almost impossible to get job from around the age of 50.
Furthermore, if a woman is employed, she does not progress, despite being qualified, because she is categorised as less productive and more prone to absence and sickness.
Women who are find themselves without a job within five to 10 years of retirement age are also left behind.
The Commissioner judges Serbia’s workplace legislation as good, similar to that of the European Union, but she attributes the presence of such inequalities to the cultural and working environment.
Another contributory factor stems from social regime change; for quite some time the education system has not responded to the needs of the labour market, and women also bear the brunt of this. (PL)
(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)