The longtime activist against domestic violence acknowledges the playing field is far from equal, especially for women and minorities.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade –25/04/11
Serbia's Commissioner for the Protection of Equality Nevena Petrusic. [EU]
In office for nearly a year now, Serbia's Commissioner for the Protection of Equality Nevena Petrusic has been deluged with issues.
In an exclusive interview with SETimes correspondent Igor Jovanovic, Petrusic, former dean of the Nis Law School, says forms of discrimination are deeply rooted in the community and that changing ways of thinking won't be easy.
SETimes: Although women account for 51% of the population, they are paid less than men for the same jobs and participate far less in executive and legislative power. What is your view of the position of women in Serbian society?
Nevena Petrusic: Despite the fact that women and men in Serbia have equal rights, women are exposed to structural, indirect and even direct discrimination and marginalisation -- the key causes of which are traditional, patriarchal stereotypes regarding the roles and obligations of women and men in the family and the wider community.
Research shows that women are in a more unfavourable position than men in all areas of social life, particularly members ... of ethnic minorities and minority groups, Roma women, disabled, displaced and refugee women, the poor and women from rural regions, single mothers, women of different sexual orientation and others.
On average, Petrusic says women make 16% less than their male counterparts. [Reuters]
Women are still not equally involved in the public decision-making process, as proven by the data that just 21.2% of Serbian MPs are women, 21.3% are members of local self-government assemblies and the percentage of female members of the state is 18.5%. Of municipal heads, just 4% are women.
Discrimination against women is also evident in the economic sphere. The rate of unemployment among women is twofold higher than it is for men. The difference in salaries between men and women is 16%.
Women account for 30.5% of management posts in society and the economy, 20.8% of them at directorial posts. The level of economic inequality, which is a consequence of multiple discrimination, is especially high.
When it comes to education, women are again in a poorer position. Truth be told, the inequality of men and women is nearly completely eliminated in the majority population at the lower level, but it still exists in certain minority groups, particularly among Roma children, those living in rural areas and children with developmental disabilities. At higher levels of education, there is a visible trend of growing involvement of young women, hence the percentage of female students exceeds that of their male colleagues, but this advantage is lost in postgraduate.
Domestic and sexual violence, the trafficking of women and other forms of gender-based violence are widespread occurrences. That is primarily underlined by research conducted by NGOs, given that certain forms of gender-based violence are not registered at state level. Women from marginalised and groups that are manifold discriminated against are particularly exposed to violence.
Existing mechanisms of legal protection from gender-based violence are not effective in practice, there are no protocols on police action, nor is there co-operation and multisector connection between the institutions authorised for handling the matter.
Roma women "make up the most endangered category of the population", Petrusic tells SETimes. [Reuters]
During court cases for protection from violence, women are exposed to secondary victimisation and do not receive appropriate psycho-social aid and support. Roma women are discriminated against in exercising their right to protection from gender-based violence, especially regarding their placement in safe houses and shelters.
SETimes: Are there any outreach programmes designed specifically to help Romany women participate in mainstream society?
Petrusic: The fact that the average lifespan of Roma women is 48 years is truly depressing. The position of Roma women in Serbia will not improve without adequate measures of affirmative action.
Apart from measures focused on improving the position of the entire Roma population, special measures should be designed for Roma women, as they are doubly discriminated against as both members of the stigmatised Roma community and as women. Measures for giving Roma women greater access to education and employment are especially important, since those rights are now highly limited precisely due to racial and gender prejudice.
SETimes: How many complaints has your service received since it opened? What sort of discrimination do citizens complain about the most?
Petrusic: We live in Serbia where discrimination is a widespread occurrence in both the public and private spheres and where cases of public outbursts of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, hate speech and other forms of discrimination are frequent and are still tolerated and justified.
That is why we are facing hard work in the battle against discrimination if we really want to develop a democratic, open and tolerant society that respects human rights and acknowledges differences. The making of anti-discrimination legislation is just the first step, which must be followed by anti-discrimination practice.
The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality has so far received over 200 complaints, most of them submitted by both male and female individuals, and about 20 by NGOs.
People predominantly complain about discrimination in the field of labour and employment, with ethnicity, membership or non-membership in political parties and unions most frequently listed as the basis for discrimination. There were also six cases of hate speech against members of sexual minorities.
Apparently our citizens are not yet familiar with the essence of discrimination, and consider it to be any violation of rights, any situation that is unfavourable for them and where they believe they are being denied certain rights. That is why we have a lot of work to do in educating people, so that they can understand what discrimination is, identify it and seek protection from it.
SETimes: Are you satisfied with the authority you have in determining sanctions for those who violate laws?
Petrusic: Serbia has a good legislative framework for protection from discrimination, and today provides efficient protective mechanisms, both in the fields of civic and criminal and misdemeanor laws.
When it comes to the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, it seems to me that the jurisdiction is fairly broadly established, so as to enable a successful fight against all forms of discrimination. A portion of that jurisdiction relates to acting on complaints in concrete discrimination cases.
The law regulates the manner of the Commissioner's acting on complaints and appoints the Commissioner, with consent from the person being discriminated against, to launch a court case and seek legal protection from discrimination, as well as to file a criminal report.
I would especially highlight the Commissioner's authority to recommend mediation in discrimination cases. Mediation allows for discriminators to take responsibility for what they have done, to understand the consequences their behaviour has had on the victim, thus raising awareness of the unacceptability of discrimination. As someone who has been engaged in mediation for a long time, I believe it is the best method for preventing discrimination.