Women leading the change

Svetlana Stefanović

29. March 2019

Women leading the change

On Tuesday, 26 March, the team of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence organised the final conference of the project “For more women in decision-making places”, whose aim was to encourage greater participation of women in decision-making at all levels of government through the transfer and exchange of good practices in the region and the world.

The conference was opened by Sonja Licht, President of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, who first emphasised the importance of empowering women to get involved in decision making. She presented the project, which was implemented through interviews with women working at the local level of government, either as employees in local governments, representatives of political parties or NGOs in 8 cities across Serbia (Zrenjanin, Novi Pazar, Backi Petrovac, Presevo, Niš, Paracin, Novi Sad and Kraljevo). The collected data shows that resistance is felt by both decision-makers and women because they do not feel sufficiently encouraged and supported to engage more actively. She especially emphasised that the importance of work at the regional level, in addition to local and national ones.

The Commissioner for Gender Equality, Brankica Jankovic, began her address by addressing the past weekend, when three instances of abuse and discrimination against women were reported. She pointed out that the state’s response should be firm, but that unfortunately, because of the smaller presence and influence of women at the local level, such acts often go unpunished. The reasons for this may be found in education and gender roles that hinder women, greater presence of men in decision-making processes, and the lack of solidarity among women, which condemn one another while men are much more forgiving to their sex. She concluded that solidarity should be above political loyalty, and more work should be done through mentoring programs.

Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Henk van den Dool emphasised that he was extremely pleased that the Embassy had the opportunity to finance such an important topic. He particularly emphasised the importance of the transformation of societies in order to empower women because they represent half of the world’s population and their opportunities, freedoms and rights are often impeded in the current order. He also pointed out that gender gap can be reduced only by the joint work of women and men on new policies.

Gordana Čomić, the vice-president of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Tanja Tomić, former member of the Parliament of Macedonia, Nedžada Avdić, politician from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Karolina Leaković, a member of the Social Democratic Party, Croatia, spoke on the panel entitled “Empowering women at the regional level” on their experiences in politics. Sonja Lokar moderated the debate. They presented the factual situation in the countries they came from, talked about their experiences and explained why the quota system has had no expected effect. The conclusion is that quotas are most often used to justify women’s involvement in the decision-making process, but ignore the fact that parties or political representatives are the ones who propose women candidates; it is mostly about women who are genderless and, therefore, subject to manipulation. They emphasised that it is our task to work on gender awareness, education, visibility and solidarity at the local, national, and regional levels, because only together we can change something. In addition, regional women’s cooperation is also important for the advancement of friendly and neighbourly relations in the region, as the ongoing policy does not lead to peace and stability. Women could contribute to the changes.

A panel entitled “Learning first hand with mentoring support” followed by moderator Svetlana Stefanovic, Program Coordinator of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, where Biljana Stepanov, member of the Board of Directors of the Academy talked about the importance of mutual support of women through mentoring, Biljana Maletin, activist in the Women’s Development Platform of Serbia, Maja Sedlarević, Member of the Assembly of AP Vojvodina, and Nevena Petrušić, a professor at the Law Faculty in Niš. They shared their experiences with the participants in mentoring program, and the path they went through to become what they are today. They did not all have mentors, but they agreed that mentoring is a very important aspect of career progression, because it speeds up many processes and helps direct energy, especially when it comes to important decisions. Each of them was, however, inspired by another woman. Inspiration is the most important part of mentoring, and it helps mentors and mentors to “grow”. At the end of the discussion, they advised women not to give up and not to be ashamed of their ambitions, to stand out and constantly seek partners for the creation of coalitions, and mentoring is precisely such a system in which they can achieve it.

The last panel brought together the ambassadors of Australia, H.E. Ruth Stewart, Canada, H.E. Katie Chaba, and Romania, H.E. Oana Kristina Popa. The moderator was the president of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, Sonja Licht. The ambassadors discussed the problems women face both in decision-making, in the private sphere in the countries they represent, as well as on projects that have been carried out, concerning the direct or indirect empowerment of women. Because of their “feminist foreign policy”, Australia and Canada should be a bright example to all countries. The conclusion of this panel is that we need more women to make major changes in the world, but also in the domestic political scene.

The meeting was concluded with screening of a film, created as a result of the Kopaonik Business Forum and is about achieving gender equality in the world of economics and industry. Svetlana Tesic presented it, as well as the work of the Alliance for Gender Equality (AFA).

The conference was realised in cooperation with the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, with the financial support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy through the MATRA program, as well as with the support of the Swedish Embassy and the Swedish Institute.