Gender equality in Serbian politics

Politician, politician, woman, politician, politician, women, ….

The (mis)use of mathematics for successful avoidance of true gender equality

Gender equality is term very well known in Serbian politics, but there its prevalence stops. Recent general elections withheld on 24th April, confirmed that political parties are ready to meet legal requirements but have no initiative to go any step further. Most of the candidates lists featured women on every third place, respecting official 1/3 gender quota. Last convolution of the National Parliament featured 33.73% of the woman MPs proving that at the current stage it is only math that can keep women above the negligence line.

During her Women’s’ day speech, coordinator of Governmental Coordination body for gender equality said that everything we do vesnawe do for next generation of women to come after us. This might be just poetic sentence but more likely it illustrates how gender equality is rather seen as alienated status, to be achieved in far future because now its to far from our understanding of democracy and political system we live and work in.

Academy of women leadership conducted research in November 2015 on several aspects of gender equality in political parties in Serbia. Their research showed that women are more likely to run on local elections, compared to men running on national elections. This data becomes terrifying when confronted with statistic that shows only 16% of women holding positions on local level, after the elections in 2014. More over trend of all male local and municipal councils was rising as women are more likely to drop out during mandate and in most cases have been replaced by man.

Another finding of this study shows that 60% men and 50% women see gender equality as predominantly a women topic and in competences of exclusively women organizations/forums. It shows that there is no consensus on seeing gender equality as a transversal aspect. Thus distinction between women and men sectors gets strengthened and quotas get to be last stop instead of being last resort.

Mentioned Coordination body for gender equality was established in 2014 and after preliminary research it adopted National strategy for gender equality for the period 2016-2020, with action plan until 2018.  Participation of women in political and decision making processes is mostly regulated by introduction of quota system (30%) and administrative regulations. It is also mentioning active work with political parties on education and exchange of good practices to ensure strong participation of women in and between elections. But as we have witnessed, not a single percent changed yet and 30% quota still acts at the same time as cap, administrative requirement and supportive measure.

The tragedy of political underrepresentation does not start with inadequate quota, it is rather a mere repercussion of patriarchal matrix in Serbian society as whole. The re-traditionalization effect is enhanced by ever more present shift of the care work from public to private sphere, pressuring women to stay at home or work in the “care” sector (education, health, cleaning, NGOs). This situation leaves very little capacity for women to participate in institutional political life and/or running for positions.

How do we break through? Government and officials need to pledge their support and involvement in process of building gender equality, shifting from the notion of necessary measure to the notion of desired status.  Media and civil sector play pivotal role in indicating how this is transversal framework of all policies and processes.

Importance of gender equality in politics for Serbia is not only to ensure equal participation and representation. It matters also as step to further democratization by opening politics to diverse groups and reclaiming it from political elites.

/Vesna Jusup 

Works with member relations at the European Green Party secretariat 

Former project leader at Cooperation and Development Network of Eastern Europe 

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