For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Albanian election: Parties chose fines over women

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Yesterday, parliamentary elections were held in Albania. However, women’s diminishing role in politics was decided upon already in the beginning of the election campaign.
”Despite the advocacy conducted by civil society and promises from the leaders of political parties, the 30 percent gender quota for candidates’ lists wasn’t met” says Armela Bejko, Project Director for the Albanian women’s rights organisation Association of Women With Social Problems.

Prior to the official start of the election campaign, Albania’s three main political parties – the Socialist Party (SP), the Democratic Party (DP) and the Socialist Movement for Integration – all spoke of their positive view on gender equality and of the necessity of increasing women’s participation in decision-making. Therefore the lack of women candidates on the party lists came as quite a surprise, says Armela Bejko

Armela Bejko, Project Coordinator, Association of Women With Social Problems.

Armela Bejko, Project Coordinator, Association of Women With Social Problems.

”The reality revealed that their promises were not serious and the lists reflected gender inequality and proved once again the discrimination and patriarchal attitudes of the political leaders. This was unexpected for the women’s movement and women in general, who have worked continously for the improvement of legal framwork on these issues and with encouraging women to be involved in politics on the local and national level.”

Instead of putting more women on their lists, the parties chose to pay the fines connected with not fulfilling the quota.

Ranked low on the lists

Many of the women who made it onto the lists are also ranked so low that they basically have no chance to get into parliament. And not many of them have run any campaign of their own.

”Women candidates for MPs (Members of Parliament) generally have supported the top candidates on their lists. Partly this can be explained by the fact that you vote for the political party and not the specific candidates. But it also reflects women’s limited power and independence within their own parties” says Armela Bejko.

Important for EU

Sunday’s elections were marred by a shooting near a polling station in the northern city of Lac, where a candidate for the Democratic Party was wounded and an opposition supporter was killed. A tragedy in itself, this, together with an election campaign characterized by political tension and hostile comments between opponents, is a clear problem for a country trying to show its readiness to join the European Union. According to Armela Bejko, the election process is seen as a key test of the democratic progress in Albania and a determining factor in the country’s efforts to take its seat in Brussels.

After polling stations closed, both the ruling Democrats and the Socialist opposition declared they had won, while an exit poll gave the opposition a nine-point lead, reports the Balkan Insight. So far the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, only has announced partial results representing less than two per cent of the national vote. These results put the left-wing opposition in the lead.

Foresees decrease

But no matter which party wins, the political participation of women seems to have lost. In the last election women recieved 15 percent of the seats in the parliament, and Armela Bejko is not optimistic regarding the outcome of this election.

”Analyzing the ranking of women candidates in the first places of the candidates’ lists we foresee a decrease of the number of women MPs” she says.

Malin Ekerstedt

Continuous protests against Macedonian abortion law

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Protests against the adoption of the abortion law outside the parliament building in Skopje in the beginning of June. The sign reads "My body, my decision". Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emilija Dimoska.

Protests against the adoption of the abortion law outside the parliament building in Skopje in the beginning of June. The sign reads "My body, my decision". Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emilija Dimoska.

Despite strong protests from civil society organisations and the political opposition, June 17th Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov signed a decree for restrictions of abortions. Still, activists have not given up hope of overturning the decision.

The draft law was pushed through in a rushed procedure and many NGOs claim that the whole process has been a clear evidence of the lack of democratic capacities among Macedonian institutions. We talked to Bojan Jovanovski, Executive Director of H.E.R.A, Health Education and Research Association, which has been one of the most active NGOs organising actions against the abortion law.

What were the reactions on the draft law from the women’s movement and civil society organisations?

”Many women’s and human rights organisations were active in trying to stop the adoption of this law. In just one day, 72 organisations signed a request to the Minister of Health and members of parliament not to vote for the law and to ensure a transparent and consultative process in writing a new one, involving interested parties like gynecologists and civil society organisations (CSOs). At the parliamentary public hearing, organised by the Health Commission, CSOs were also very active, putting forward the same request.”

Are you planning any new actions to protest against the law?

”H.E.R.A sent a letter to the President asking him not to sign the law, using many arguments. We have also had a meeting with collaborators of the President, to thoroughly explain why the law is harmful from a human rights perspective. Now, CSOs are looking into the possibilities to send a submission to the Constitutional Court to dispute the law. Most probably there will be a working group established to coordinate this work.

We are also planning on doing more international advocacy. All parliamentary groups on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the European Parliament sent a letter to the President not to sign the law and we will look into how these groups perhaps can influence our decision makers further on. The Center for Reproductive Rights will also provide support in terms of human rights analysis of the new legislation and especially in relation to all international obligations that our country has ratified.”

What do you think will be the consequences of the law? Do critics see this as a first step to criminalize abortion?

“The law will definitely obstruct women’s access to legal abortion services as they will have to go through a lot of bureaucratic procedures, which are non-scientific and not in line with international human rights treaties. There is off course also the possibility that the number of non-safe abortions will increase and that could be lethal for women. We have seen this conservative government trying to introduce many pro-natal politics that stigmatizes and delegitimize women’s rights and it will not stop here.”

More on the contents of the Macedonian abortion law.

 Emilija Dimoska/Malin Ekerstedt

Proposed law restricts abortion rights in Macedonia

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Last Tuesday, Lithuania took its first step towards forbiding abortion. At the same time the government of Macedonia put forward a draft law to the parliament with the purpose of restricting the abortion right. Women’s rights organisations are now mobilizing to stop the proposal.

The draft law was put forward without any heads-up and is being pushed through in a speedy procedure, making it difficult to have a public debate about it. If the law is adopted, women will have to write to a committée appointed by the Minister of Health, to get approval to have an abortion. The father will have to be informed ahead of the procedure and the woman will not be allowed to have another abortion within the same year.

Campaigning for more children

At the same time, the Macedonian government is campaining for families to have more children, trying to persuade them by using financial benifits as incentive. The Orthodox church recently made a public statement accusing women who want to work to cause divorce. In the eyes of the church, women should stay at home and take care of reproduction and family.

“The draft law is very worrying. It limits women’s right to decide over their own bodies. If the law is adopted there will be an increase in the number of illegal abortions, which means great risks for women’s health” says Emilija Dimoska, working for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Skopje, Macedonia.

Demonstration outside parliament

Last Wednesday, around 100 people demonstrated outside the parliament against the law. Among them were women’s rights activists that The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation supports and cooperates with. Due to the swift and forceful mobilization of civil society, NGOs have managed to get a meeting with the ministry next Wednesday, to discuss the draft law.

The right to legal abortions is constantly being questioned. This past year there have been states who have put ”traditional values” high on their agenda. After an initiative from Russia, the UN Human Rights Council  last autumn adopted a resolution putting traditional values in the center of the work for human rights. Among other things, the resolution highlights the role of the family and traditional values’ importance for humanity. Human rights organisations fear that this will have negative consequences on the work for women’s and LBGT persons’ human rights.

Annika Flensburg/Malin Ekerstedt

Political tension as Macedonia goes to the polls

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Yesterday was election day in Macedonia. The picture shows Macedonian activists in the global manifestation One Billion Rising 2013. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna |Johanna Arkåsen

Yesterday was election day in Macedonia. The picture shows Macedonian activists in the global manifestation One Billion Rising 2013. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna |Johanna Arkåsen

In the run-up to yesterday’s local elections in Macedonia, violence and political tension have increased. And women who involves politically meet tough resistance. It’s a male dominated political culture” says Emilija Dimoska, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s program officer.   

Macedonia is characterized by political tensions between the two largest groups in the country, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The two groups are largely segregated – they live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools and have different curricula. Since 2011 tensions have increased, with several outbreaks of violence, to an extent that the country has not seen since 2001 when armed ethnic conflict rose between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and security forces in Macedonia.

Since 1999, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has an office in Macedonia, in the capital Skopje. Program officer Emilija Dimoska gives an explanation to the current turmoil.
“The situation erupted over the controversial appointment of former ethnic Albanian rebel commander Talat Xhaferi as Macedonia’s new defense minister. The demonstrations, which begun on March 1, were started by ethnic Macedonians furious at the appointment of the new defense minister,” Emilija Dimoska says.

Several women’s organisations in Macedonia are informing women about the importance of voting and getting involved politically. They have also built a partnership with politically active women, to support them. Furthermore, they assist policy makers with information about how the situation for women in the country.

Before the election, the organisation Women’s Center Kumanovo – run by twelve women’s organisations of various ethnic affiliations – has worked with lobbying to get more women interested in politics. Representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say that parts of the Macedonian population will abstain from taking part in the elections due to the bad economic situation, the high unemployment rate, low pensions and increased living expenses. They describes the social situation in Macedonia as disastrous.
“There is a democratic political crisis in the country, which is of course negative, and the issue is that voters can decide only between two political parties. Moreover, political issues need to be addressed within the Parliament, and not out of it.”

What are the main obstacles for women who want to engage politically?
“Women are slowly winning the requested percentage on the candidates’ lists; however it is necessary to work on improvement of their representation in the executive bodies of the party where there are fewer women, both at local and national level.”

To get more women to vote and engage in politics, Women’s Center Kumanovo try to strengthen women and increase their presence in public. They also try to increase their debating and argumentation skills.

What do you think about the election? What are your hopes and fears?
“In our view, the 2013 Elections are essential for the public and the international community’s perspective about Macedonia’s EU accession. We hope the campaign will be fair and democratic and that the will of the people will win. Our fear is related to the different irregularities that might occur in certain areas of Macedonia,” representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say.

Emilija Dimoska explains that there are several obstacles for women’s participation in the elections, such as the existing gender stereotypes both in the society and among political parties’ structures.
“It’s a male dominated political culture including the lack of support of the political parties for women candidates, which is also evident during the pre-election campaign in which a very little space is given to the female candidates; and the lack of support to women by the public in general,” she says.

How engaged are women in general in the election?
“From the most recent list presented, the number of candidates running for mayors throughout Macedonia is 286 candidates total, out of which 28, or 10 percent, are women. At the moment, there are no female mayors in Macedonia. In addition, with very few exceptions, women in general have not been much visible during the pre-election campaign in Macedonia,” Emilija Dimoska says.

How are the women’s organisations working to make women more active in politics and vote?
“Women’s NGOs around the country implement activities promoting gender equality, including the importance of participation of women in politics that is crucial for building a democratic society.”

Ida Svedlund

“EU should lead by example”

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The unique mapping was presented at the conference. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Ida Udovic.

The unique mapping was presented at the conference. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Ida Udovic.

On October, 11th the Equal Power – Lasting Peace report made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation on women’s participation in peacebuilding was presented at a conference in the European parliament. Based on the interviews with women-activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia, the report is a unique mapping of obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating in peace processes on equal terms with men.

The Equal power – Lasting Peace conference gathered more than 100 participants, EU and NATO officials and politicians, as well as civil society representatives – in the audience and among the panelists.

The opinions and discussions at the conference were many, all of them though sharing a common stand: something has to be done to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations. The question is how and by whom.

– Women’s political participation and decision-making are the key issues, underlined Ms. Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs at European External Action Service (EEAS).

At her opening speech she mentioned Egypt, where the draft of the Constitution does not make any provisions for gender equality and where there are only six female MPs.

– We focus our assistance in the EU neighborhood to civil society and women’s issues, in particularly legal rights and equal access to decision making and to the power structures. Gender cannot be an excluding factor in the political processes from an early stage of mediation in the process and onwards, said Ms. Helga Schmid.

Gender-blind agreement

Ensuring that gender equality is guaranteed from the very beginning when designing a peace agreement has proven to be a crucial factor for the sustainability of the peace. How bad a gender-blind peace agreement can turn out Alexandra Petric, Programme Director of United Women Banja Luka, BiH, testified on.

– Bosnia and Herzegovina has gone eight years without any women ministers, 17 years without any women members of the BiH Joint Presidency, and 17 years without any women in negotiations about crucial political issues that affect lives of women and men citizens of BiH, such as security sector and constitutional reforms, says Alexandra Petric

Read more
  “EU should lead by example”, The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation’s Secretary-General Lena Ag highlighted in her introduction. While the EU has adopted a comprehensive approach on UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security, the reality reflected by statistics leaves much to be desired. EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy) are all led exclusively by men, and only two of EU:s ten special representatives are women, just to name a few examples.

This statistics, says Mr. Olof Skoog, Chair of the Political and Security Committee at EEAS, was a lesson from the day:

– Not a single woman leads our missions. We are choosing the best of the best, but the problem is that member-states are not nominating any women. What we can do is to explicitly ask them to nominate more female candidates, says Mr. Skoog.

NGOs not GONGOs

The topic of giving room to the voices of women from conflict-affected regions was discussed by many of the panelists and raised in questions from the audience. Finding the authentic grass-root organizations can be a challenge when a lot of GONGOs (governmentally organized NGOs) are entering the scene. Still it is crucial in getting a comprehensive understanding of the situation in a region:

– When EU officials are visiting a region, they really need to  seek contact with, and talk to, real civil society organizations, including women organizations, not those who will tell the convenient things that the officials want to hear, says one of the panelists Gulnara Shahinian from the Armenian organization Democracy today.

Slander, violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes, the report shows. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Sara Lüdtke.

Women has important role

The role of women’s organizations and women activists in peace processes was stressed by many panelists throughout the conference. Monica McWilliams, one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland dwelled on it at her presentation at the conference, as well as Teresita Quintos-Deles, advisor to the President of the Phillipines on the peace process, who sent her greetings on video, as she herself was occupied with the upcoming peace agreement. Both women provided striking evidence of the importance of women’s empowerment.

Long-term support neeeded

A long-term strategic approach and continuity are what women activists Alexandra Petric and Gulnara Shahinian would like to see from the EU:

– The EU needs to develop strong and coherent strategies to address women’s human rights and gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina to address both direct and indirect support of perpetuating ignorance toward these issues by BiH authorities. This requires the EU’s commitment to a long-term support of women and gender equality – specific programs that focuses on the prevention of and fighting against gender-based violence and that underlines women NGOs positions as watch-dogs and partners to BiH government institutions. This would both strengthen women’s human rights in practice and the NGO’s work on empowering women, says Alexandra Petric.

– We would really appreciate sustainable and strategic involvement from the EU. What we see now is that the EU finances short projects, where partnership with civil society has a formal character, says Gulnara Shahinian.

New report: Violence, corruption and unequal laws keep women from peace processes

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The findings from the Iraqi field study show that the US occupation increased secterian thinking within the country and severly crippled women's rights. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes. Another big part of the problem is that the international community gives priority to men for senior positions in peace operations. This according to the new report Equal Power  Lasting Peace made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Equal Power – Lasting Peace is based on field studies made in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia. Although the countries and conflicts differ, the patterns are strikingly similar.

In all the regions women and women’s organizations play important roles in resolving conflicts in local communities and in handling everyday life.

But when it comes to formal decision forums the doors are closed for women. This contrary to the statements of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes that women must participate on the same terms as men in all parts of peace processes, for the peace to be sustainable.

The exclusion of women is present both within the international missions and negotiating team at national level. Equal Power – Lasting Peace shows that very little has happened, despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Resolution 1325 was adopted.

– Peace Processes that excludes half the population are imperfect. Women’s needs and experiences are made invisible, says Lena Ag, Secretary General at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Common obstacles

Equal Power – Lasting Peace’s survey shows that the most common obstacles for participation that women face are:

  • Legislation and standards
  • Rumours and threats
  • Domestic violence, including sexual violence
  • Poverty and corruption
  • Ignorance of the international community

- As in other policy areas, the male dominance within the peace and security area needs to be broken. It is a question of democracy and a basic condition for sustainable peace processes. It is also important to push for the appointments of more women to key positions within the EU and the UN. How else can the international community credibly argue that equality is important? says Lena Ag.

No female UN Chief Mediator

Examples of the representation of women and men in key positions related to peace and security:

  • At the 24 largest peace negotiations held between 1992 and 2010, only 7,6 percent of the negotiators and 2,5 percent of the mediators were women.
  • The UN has never appointed a female Chief Mediator.
  • 89 percent of the UN’s special representatives and envoys are men.
  • 84 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations are led by men.84 percent of the UN member countries’ UN ambassadors are men.
  • There are only men leading the EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy).
  • 2 of the EU’s 10 special representatives are women.

Download:

Equal Power – Lasting Peace, the report

Equal Power – Lasting Peace, summary

Statistics of women and men in key positions within the EU and the UN

Pride and prejudice Belgrade style

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Belgrade police and anti-gay rights crowd

The block surrounding the cultural center in Belgrade where the exhibition Ecce Homo was displayed was roped of by police. Many people were gathering, displaying anti-gay rights opinions. Photo: Stina Magnusson Buur/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

We received a blog post from Stina Magnuson Buur, working for the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Belgrade. Yesterday the Gay Pride parade planned to take place in Belgrade on Saturday was banned by authorities citing security concerns. The parade would have marked the culmination of the ongoing Serbian Pride week, where seminars and events on the theme of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons human rights have been taking place.

This is the report from Stina Magnuson Buur:

“There’s a creeping sensation going through my body. I am meeting a friend at a cozy outdoor café around the corner from where I live. Tonight is the opening of the exhibition Ecce Homo, by the Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin (a series of photos incorporating LGBT persons into biblical scenes) at the Centre for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade. I usually love to go there, it’s a really nice place for activists, with a cozy courtyard, a large showroom and a lovely atmosphere.

Today, my entire block has been fenced off: my street, the street where the cultural center is located and two other streets. The place is literally crawling with “ninja turtles” – police officers with vests, helmets and shields. The whole town center is full of them, there are easily over a hundred just in our neighborhood, and I can count to 10 police officers on horseback riding down the closest main street, in addition to all the officers in cars and on foot.

My friend does not want to go to the exhibition directly when it opens, for fear of being filmed and end up on youtube. Instead we stay for a beer at the café. There’s a large crowd gathering. Someone in the crowd is being interviewed and there are TV cameras and photographers everywhere. A man from the Orthodox Church is making a speech against homosexuals in general and Ecce Homo in particular, and when he’s finished everyone applauds – including all the people at the café.

Two perfectly made-up, smiling women in their 40s are handing out leaflets with the message that the Pride parade must be stopped (which it also has been, after a ban earlier the same day by Serbian authorities citing security concerns).

I feel like I’m being suffocated by all this hate. It’s like a parallel version of my normally so friendly Belgrade neighborhood. People at the café are in high spirits, the man next to us offering everyone roasted almonds, and everyone look perfectly normal. But my friend and I feel like total aliens and I can only think about the staff at the café not caring about the flyers being handed out and that we usually go here me and my family and that the waiters always are so sweet and play with our son. That all these seemingly ordinary people are behind all this hate. That they devote energy to try to hinder other people from making life choices that do not really affect dem. And I wish that football hooligans were the only haters in this world, how much simpler everything would be!

The creeping sensation in my body is escalating and we leave the café. We approach the barricades from another street, without any cafés or crowds and the police officers let us through when I tell them that I live there. There are still ninja turtles everywhere and we feel like all eyes are on us. But we continue to the cultural center. It is packed with people, familiar faces, happy faces and no police officers. I can breathe again.”

Learning about rights helps Roma women in Montenegro

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Women are discriminated against in most societies. But Roma women are often even worse off, since they are faced both with the strong patriarchal culture within the Roma community and the sometimes blatant racism from institutions as well as individuals.
- I wasn’t allowed to move around freely or make decisions about my own life, says Fana Delija, one of the founders of Center for Roma Initiative (CRI), the only organization working for Roma women’s rights in Montenegro.

Jovana Mrkaic, Fana Delija and Fatima Naza, the Center for Roma Initiatives.

Jovana Mrkaic, Fana Delija and Fatima Naza from the Center for Roma Initiatives during the award ceremony for the Anna Lindh Prize in Stockholm, Sweden. Foto: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Karin Råghall.

CRI has just received the 2012 Anna Lindh Prize (yearly award in memory of the Swedish Secretary of State with the same name who was murdered in 2003), and Fana Delija and the co-founder of CRI, Fatima Naza, are still a bit overwhelmed.

- The award means a lot to us, it gives us the strength to continue our work. And hope and optimism, says Fana Delija.

Besides from founding CRI, Fana Delija and Fatima Naza have also started a network for young Roma women and are advisors to the Montenegrin government in matters concerning Roma women’s situation and rights.
But just ten years ago their lives were very different. They lived in a Roma area and were almost never allowed to leave their own homes.

- I used to wonder why I couldn’t move around freely when girls from the majority population could, says Fana Delija.

Discussion groups changed their lives

The change came when Fana and Fatima started to participate in activities for young Roma women, arranged by the organization SOS Hotline in the town of Niksic. There they were taught about human rights, and eventually they began to lead their own discussion groups with other young Roma women, about the importance of education and to have power over your own life.

The discussion groups grew and in 2004 CRI was created as a separate organization. And their hard work these passed years has not been in vain. For example, the proportion of Roma women who give birth at home went down from 60 percent till less than 30 percent between 2000 and 2005, and today almost all Roma women give birth in a hospital.

- The changes are also noticeable in terms of education. The number of Roma children attending public schools have multiplied and now there are also Roma women with university degrees, says Fana Delija.
Roma women have also started to work outside the home, something that was almost never heard of ten years ago.

Biggest problems within the Roma community

Fatima Naza thinks that the Anna Lindh Award will help to bring more attention to the work of CRI and to Roma women’s situation.

- The biggest problems we encounter are within the Roma community, in particular Roma leaders who try to keep some negative aspects of the Romany traditions, such as arranged marriages. Parents sell their daughters to their future husbands, which is a crime against women’s and children’s rights. In our work we focus a lot on reducing the number of early and arranged marriages, says Fatima Naza.

CRI also informs Roma women about different types of violence against women and distributes information on where abused women can receive help. But their work is not solely focused on their own group.

- We also provide training for the whole community on prejudice against the Roma. It’s an extensive job, says Fatima Naza.

Karin Råghall

Serbian women refrained from voting

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Election posters in Belgrade, Serbia

Election posters in Belgrade. The nationalist Kostunica only recieved about 7 percent of the votes in the first round of the Serbian presidential election and didn't move on to the second round. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Stina Magnusson Buur.

Last Sunday former nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic was elected as Serbia’s new president. But a majority of the Serbs refrained from voting. And with the political parties only talking about women as mothers, women don’t have much hope of getting a government that deals with inequalities in the society.

According to the Serbian Electoral Commission official figures, Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Progressive Party got 49,7 percent of the votes in the second round of the presidential election. The Democratic Party’s candidate Boris Tadic, who won the first round, got 47 percent. That means revenge for the challenger Nikolic, who lost against Tadic in the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.

But the turnout was low, only 46,3 percent of the Serbs voted.

- Many women I’ve talked to didn’t bother to vote, because they are tired of voting for the least bad candidate, says Stina Magnusson Buur, working for the women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Belgrade.

 Vote blank-campaign

One positive thing with the election, she says, was a campaign that encouraged people to vote blank. A spontaneous grass-roots initiative, that grew significantly during the election campaign. In Belgrade, more than 5 percent voted blank.

- That is a strong message to the political leadership, that people are tired of the situation and want to see political alternatives.

Many voters also wrote messages on their blank notes. One of the messages read: “I want Tadic to go, but I do not want Nikolic instead”. A feeling shared by many Serbs. That the result should be interpreted as an increased Serbian nationalism is denied by Milica Gudovic from the women’s organization Zena na Delu. She means that it’s more a reaction to the financial instability in the country and to a government that hasn’t been able to deal with the high unemployment rates, problem’s within the healthcare system and corruption.

In the parliamentary elections, held on the 6th of May, Tomislav Nikolic’s Progressive Party won the most votes. But it is unclear what the government will look like, because the Democratic Party are likely to continue to cooperate with the Socialist Party, thus having a majority. Negotiations are underway.

No political will to change inequalities

If women have been mentioned at all during the election campaign, it has been in their role as mothers. There has also been a discussion about the law of quotas that should ensure that all electoral lists contain at least 30 percent of representatives of each sex. Tomislav Nikolic is said to have apologized to his male voters for the quota law. According to Stina Magnusson Buur, the political will to do something about inequality is virtually nonexistent.

- It’s rational for women not to vote, for no matter who they vote for it’s a party that sees women only as reproduction machines, she says.

EU membership at the top of the agenda

The neighboring Balkan countries has reacted differently to the election results. While politicians in Sarajevo, Bosnia, said that it didn’t mean that much, there were politicians in Kosovo who argued that Kosovo now must prepare for another war. But Serbian women that Stina Magnusson Buur has talked to do not believe there will be a renewal of the armed conflict. Instead they think that the question of an imminent EU membership will dominate the future political agenda. Nikolic has said he wants to continue to work to bring Serbia into the EU, but not at the expense of having to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

- The women’s movement in Serbia, especially the Women in Black, tries to remind people that the EU is not the solution to everything. A fact that neighboring Greece is a good example of, says Stina Magnusson Buur.

Women in Black means that the EU adds to a kind of virtual reality in Serbia, where laws are being pushed through in order to reach EU standards. Meanwhile there has been no improvements for economically disadvantaged people and groups that are facing discrimination – including LGBT people and Roma – in the country.

Karin Råghall

Successful work for local equality in Serbia

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Aneta Dukic, Fenomena, shake hands with Krajelvo mayor Ljubisa Simovic, holding the signed European Charter for Equality of Men and Women in Local Life. Photo: Bojana Minovic/Fenomena.

After several years of hard work the women’s rights organization Fenomena celebrated last Friday, when the mayor of their town Kraljevo in Serbia, signed the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life.
- We want to use the significance of this document and the organization behind it, CEMR, as the means for gender mainstreaming in our town, says Aneta Dukic, project coordinator at Fenomena.

The European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life was launched in 2006 by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR). CEMR is an organization working to promote a united Europe based on local and regional self government and democracy. At present it has over 50 national associations of towns, municipalities and regions, from 40 countries, as members. With the charter CEMR wants its members to ”commit themselves to use their powers and partnerships to achieve greater equality for their people”.

Law not implemented

Serbia already has a national law on gender equality and every municipality is obliged to set up a local council for equality. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that these issues are being sufficiently delt with.

- Implementation is a big problem in general, and especially at local level. The councils are more of a formal construction, and can be put into question from many different points of view. There are no local action plans for gender equality improvement in Kraljevo and such is the situation in most of the cities and municipalities in Serbia, says Aneta Dukic.

Project with three other cities

With funding from the European Commission and The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Fenomena started a project toghether with three other organizations, one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, one in Montenegro and another one in Serbia. The organizations have involved their local governments and they are now all exchanging ideas on how to work with gender equality. The aim is for all the local governments in the project to sign the charter, and on May 4th Kraljevo became the first. Signing means that the city government makes itself morally and politically obliged to adopt a local action plan for the improvement of gender equality, within two years from the date of the signing. And Fenomena is already on the next step.

- We have applied and got a formal decision issued by the mayor for creating a local action plan, and we also have one member in the working team. Now we are collecting gender sensitive data, which will be used to define priorities, aims, activities and budget. And when it’s finished, the local action plan will be submitted to the local parliament for adoption, says Aneta Dukic.

The six fundamental principles of the European Charter of Equality for Men and Women in Local Life:

  • Equality of women and men is a fundamental right
  • In order to ensure the equality of women and men, multiple discriminations based on ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, religion, socio economic status… must also be addressed
  • The balanced participation of women and men in decision making is necessary for a democratic society
  • Gender stereotypes and the attitudes and assumptions that arise from them must be eliminated
  • A gender perspective must be taken into account in all activities of local and regional government
  • Properly resourced action plans need to be drawn up and implemented