• 2021-06-14

Debate: New Gender Equality Law within the Context of Economic Empowerment of Women and Improvement of Labour Rights

Labour Rights are Our Rights project

The Center for Democracy Foundation organised the following debate on 14 June 2021 within the framework of the Labour Rights Are Our Rights project: New Gender Equality Law within the Context of Economic Empowerment of Women and Improvement of Labour Rights

Last month the National Assembly of Serbia adopted the Law on Gender Equality and the Amendments to the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. By definition, the Law on Gender Equality implies equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities, as well as equal participation and balanced representation of women and men (gender-balanced participation) in all areas of life. Reality, unfortunately, is altogether a different matter. Women face all forms of discrimination at work, such as unequal pay for doing the same job as men, mobbing, sexual harassment. What are the disadvantages and the advantages of this law? Are these new mechanisms applicable in practice? To what extent will this law contribute to the equal representation of men and women? What preconditions exist in order for this law to be applied in practice? Is our society ready for this type of law?

Keynote Speakers: Brankica Janković (Equality Commissioner), Jelena Stojanović (Deputy Ombudsman), Prof. Marijana Pajvančić PhD, Melanija Lojpur (Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, Nataša Vučković (Center for Democracy Foundation), Miloš Đajić (Centre of Modern Skills), and the discussion was moderated by Ljubica Gojgić (journalist).

Nataša Vučković, Executive Director, the CDF, said that this is a topic of great importance to the Center for Democracy Foundation, which continuously deals with economic and social development and considering the protection of economic and social rights. We are trying to consider the new Law on Gender Equality from the viewpoint of how it will contribute as an important component of the fight for gender equality, but also for the socio-economic development of society as a whole, the fight against poverty, and how it will economically empower women. The fight against poverty is also implied as is the economic empowerment of women, when women are impoverished, so are families and so are children and this is an integral component of this battle.

The public did not pay due attention to this law, its adoption took place almost inaudibly and practically without anyone taking notice. Today we are talking about its influence on establishing women’s labour rights, how it will encourage women to start their own businesses, to be self-employed, to become entrepreneurs and how women will be better able to protect their rights. An important issue is its application, that is, its ability to oblige, to expand its application to include not only public authority but employers as well, and this will have a great impact on social partners, trade unions and employers. An important and continual hot topic is how the institutions act and rights protection procedures. This law is extremely ambitious, as it should be, but the question is: in what way will the institutional framework, which includes institutional capacities and procedures be able to secure its efficient application? It is important in this initial phase, when the law has freshly entered into forced and while we wait for its by-laws to be adopted, that we define and map issues, both institutional and procedural, in order to ensure the actual implementation of this law.

Brankica Janković (Equality Commissioner) commended the adoption of the new law. In the public eye, the law was basically reduced to a linguistical issue as it was simply passed for political use and misuse, with the absence of public policy. I think that somehow unjustifiably high expectations have been set for this law and I agree it is ambitious, which is a good thing, as we should be moving things forward. I think it will be a while before we feel its benefits and it is my belief that the country does not possess the capacities required to implement this law. Sanctions to violating individual provisions of this law are sound, as are measures for harmonising work and parenthood, but I fear that this issue cannot be resolved by passing laws, but rather by changing cultural forms, which is why the section in the law referring to gender equality in terms of education is important. I applaud the provision pertaining to gender-balanced participation, but am not optimistic that we will be able to reach it in certain areas as the situation in the labour market is unfavourable. Furthermore, an extremely important segment of the law is that it allows for exercising the right to healthcare insurance on the grounds of unpaid housework. 

Jelena Stojanović (Deputy Ombudsman) has highlighted that the adoption of the new Law on Gender Equality is crucial, in particular, when we take into account the deficiencies of the previous law, which were highlighted by the Ombudsman institution. Jelena contributed to this change by actively participating in the working group established to draft the new law. The introduction of the term and definition of ‘gender-balanced participation’ is of particular importance as is places value on housework. The law is ambitious, but it provides an all-inclusive framework, includes private employers, state institutions, envisages specific measures, competences of state bodies and penal provisions. I agree that there will be difficulties in practice, but we have to start from somewhere. I think as a society we are ready for this law, but things don’t change overnight and this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Prof. Marijana Pajvančić, PhD agrees that the new law is ambitious and has explained that it is so for a reason, that it has been long awaited, which is why many things have changed with its adoption. The advantages of this new law are that it envisages sanctions, places value on housework, provides for equal renumeration for equal work, equal treatment, not just of employees, but also of temporary employed persons, thus alleviating tension between work life and family life. State administrative bodies are more obligated, the inclusion of women in social dialogue has increased, as has exercising the right to healthcare for women in agriculture and on the grounds of unpaid housework. This law is the reason for the establishment of many new institutions, the actors of which have in their hands and instrument that should be put to use and future generations will be there to monitor its use, and to respond and precisely identify any progress or setbacks.

Melanija Lojpur (Association of Independent Trade Unions Serbia) emphasised that the new Law on Gender Equality has enormous capacities and that the right instruments are required for its application. We are moving toward EU values, and we in the trade unions think that this law could be even more ambitious and that has a good base from which to build and that it opens up the opportunity for dialogue in this society, for collaboration among trade unions, the public sector, NGOs and employers.

Miloš Đajić (Centre of Modern Skills) assessed that it is dangerous to use this topic for politisation. We’ve arrived at a Law on Gender Equality that has good elements, and now its implementation is important. I believe that it could have dealt more extensively with the reform of political parties that are most unreformed, yet are supposed to be initiators of societal reform.

The debate was organised through the Labour Rights Are Our Rights project with the financial support of the Olof Palme International Center.

Media reports of the debate: 

Janković: Zakon o rodnoj ravnopravnosti u javnosti sveden na problem lingvistike (N1/FoNet)

Pravo na zdravstveno imaće i žene koje obavljaju kućne poslove (Tanjug)

Novi Zakon o rodnoj ravnopravnosti uzeo u obzir i marginalizovane grupe žena (Novosti)

Novi zakon donosi velike promene: Benefiti i za još jednu veliku grupu majki (Blic)

Pravo na zdravstveno imaće i žene koje obavljaju kućne poslove (RTV)

Novi zakon menja sve za nezaposlene majke, ali i ove grupe žena! (Mondo)

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Center for Democracy Foundation 


Debate: New Gender Equality Law within the Context of Economic Empowerment of Women and Improvement of Labour Rights

Brankica Janković (Equality Commissioner)

Jelena Stojanović (Deputy Ombudsman)

Melanija Lojpur (Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia)

Miloš Đajić (Centre of Modern Skills)