UNRC Opening Remarks at the Social Dialogue for Gender Equality in Serbia
18 January 2021
I am honoured to be with you in this room today, with so many committed people and so much knowledge. I thank the Minister of Human Rights and Social Dialogue for establishing this platform. This is the second high level event I attend on the issue of Rights, and you keep to your promise to make your agenda a whole-of-government and whole-of-society agenda.
In 2020, a general elections year, the country achieved parity in the government, and elected a parliament with 39% of women. In Western Europe, this would place Serbia 5th in terms of gender equality at the highest political level.
I see this as a very good step forward on the path to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, which, amongst other targets, call for women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. And by the way, Let’s aim for parity at the Parliament in the next elections.
However, women continue to be under-represented in decision-making bodies at the local level, in the private sector, and in many processes that shape our lives, our workplaces, or our safety: Women represent 20 out of 165 mayors (12%) after the 2020 elections, and 31% of representatives in municipal councils.
In Serbia, gender mainstreaming is already part of several strategic documents, such as i) the current national strategy for Gender Equality, ii) the plan for gender responsive budgeting, iii) the national plan for international priorities; there are gender focal points and gender responsive budgeting teams in most ministries, and a gender equality index is in place to monitor the performance in the administration.
And I also want to say, there is such a very vibrant and committed community of Civil society organisations. So, for me, most seeds for the future are planted, and we need to tend to them well.
I see 4 areas where we need to focus our efforts:
Expand and finish the law formulation and adoption, and the development of strategies or action plans, whether it is the law of prohibition of discrimination, or the law on gender equality, or the strategy for prevention and elimination of VAW, as per the recommendations outlined the Convention of Elimination of All Discriminations against Women, the GREVIO report, and in the spirit of the Istanbul Convention. We are at a time where there is a fairly good political consensus in country around these topics, so together, we can push in the same direction and accelerate that process.
The second area where we need to intensify our focus, resources and our coordination is on implementing these laws and strategies, in all spheres of the social, economic and political rights, and across Serbia. Implementation is challenging, because need to work on social bias and prejudices, while we tackle system inefficiencies and expand capacities. I am talking about very pragmatic, real life issues here, such as equal pay, education for girls in specific communities, better recognition of the care work, and more.
That leads me to my third point: I believe that we need to communicate a lot more to a wider audience, on public advocacy with a positive narrative, and using real time data to influence policies, financing, and attitudes. I was reading in a recent ILO report that globally, companies with the highest levels of gender diversity on their executive teams are 21 per cent more likely than others to experience above-average profitability. I also really believe that we need to reach out outside our regular constituencies a lot more, including with youth from all horizons. In that respect there is a lot that we can do on communication and advocacy with schools and universities. I would also like to mention the role of the media, both social and traditional, in influencing a positive agenda or a hate speech.
My last point is on Violence Against Women. Many of you in this room are directly involved with that. We need to accelerate the action on the ground, on prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies. I have a particular spot for prevention, and I do believe that we need to work a lot more with boys and men.
The UN is committed to continue and support the republic of Serbia, and the Serbian people in the implementation of international standards, fulfillment of obligations and ensuring that no one is left behind in the ongoing reform processes. In the past so many years, work on supporting the gender agenda has of course been led by UN Women, but many other agencies have been involved substantially, such UNFPA, OHCHR UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, UNOPS, in their respective areas of expertise. Gender is a critical cross cutting topic of our next cooperation framework with the government, to which I am personally committed, along with my peers heads of agency.
Social Dialogue, such as this one today, and including collective bargaining, has enormous potential to contribute to the achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in Agenda 2030, notably those on gender equality (SDG 5),decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), equality (SDG 10), and effective institutions (SDG 16). This type of forum should help the decision makers in the process of designing laws, strategies and action plans that ensure inclusiveness and ownership of the process by the multiple stakeholders, and build a safe and prosperous lifestyle for all women and men together.
I thank everyone in this room for their leadership and solidarity, and I look forward to the discussion today, and the joint work in the years to come.