The principle of gender equality and non-discrimination is one of the basic principles of human rights. However, gender inequality is still very present in a huge majority of social life aspects.
Even though the representation of women in the National Assembly doubled after the 2007 elections, women in Serbia continue to be unequal and the issue of achieving gender equality is yet to be tackled in its different forms. There is still a widely socially accepted domestic violence to which state authorities do not have adequate response (qualitatively and quantitatively). On a daily basis we can witness non-proportional representation of women in political decision-making positions, stereotypical and discriminatory presentation of women in media, but also in public and political speeches, even in school curricula. There is still a strong presence of institutional disrespect of equal opportunities in economic and social relations as well as significantly higher unemployment rate among women. Serbia still lacks gender sensitive official statistics; the use of female grammatical gender is not officially verified.
The National Strategy for Improving the Position of Women and Promotion of Gender Equality was adopted at the beginning of 2009 and it represents an important government document as the basis for further development of activities aimed at the improvement of gender equality. This system document determines the integral and coordinated state policy with the purpose of eliminating discrimination of women, improving their position and incorporating gender equality principle in all areas of institutional activities, as one of the elements of modernization and democratization of the society with the aim to achieve faster, more uniform and efficient social development. The strategy covers the areas concerning the participation of women in policy creation and decision making in the field of economics, education, health, violence against women, as well as the issues related to media and public opinion, since a wide and democratic discussion resulted in the assessment that these areas are crucial for the improvement of women’s position and promotion of gender equality.
In December 2009, the Law on Gender Equality was adopted and determined that everybody is obliged to respect equal participation of women and men in all areas of private and public sectors, in accordance with widely accepted rules of international law, ratified international treaties, the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and laws.
The Law obliges public authorities to develop active policy of equal opportunities in all areas of social life and to monitor the achievement of gender-based equality in all areas of social life, application of international standards and rights guaranteed by the Constitution in this area.
The areas regulated by this Law are employment and health protection, family relations, education, culture and sports, political, public life and judicial protection.
The Law defines the notion of discrimination and its subtypes: direct and indirect discrimination. It is emphasized that the adoption of special measures for the elimination and prevention of unequal position of women and men and fulfillment of equal opportunities for genders shall not be considered discrimination or violation of the principle of equal rights and obligations. Any of the following shall neither be considered discrimination: special measures and programs for victims of domestic violence through which they are provided with social, legal and other assistance and compensation, with the aim to protect them from domestic violence and remove and alleviate its consequences, and through which they are provided with accommodation, in order to prevent violence and exercise their right to life without violence (safe houses, etc.).
The Law defines sex as a term referring to biological properties of an individual, while gender denotes socially established roles, positions and status of men and women in public and private life, out of which, due to social, cultural and historical differences, arises discrimination based on biological sex. The Law also defines the notion of equal opportunity, gender-based violence, harassment, sexual harassment and blackmail.
It is not allowed to make difference between genders in advertising vacancies and requirements for job performance or when deciding on the election of job applicant with whom an employment agreement will be concluded or who will be engaged otherwise. The employer is obliged to ensure that all employees have equal opportunities and treatment, regardless of gender, in relation to the fulfillment of their labour rights.
According to this Law, spouses and common-law partners are equal. The provision stipulating that gender equality education constitutes a part of pre-school, elementary, secondary and higher education, as well as permanent education, is also important.
Sex-based discrimination in exercising and enjoyment of social protection rights is prohibited, regardless of the entities that organize and implement such protection. Sex-based discrimination is also prohibited in exercising health protection rights.
It is interesting that the Law determines as very urgent the contentious proceedings initiated in order to get legal protection against sex-based discrimination. It is also important that the Law provides for the obligation of each body in local government units to establish a standing working body or appoint an employee responsible for gender equality and equal opportunities, within the existing organization and acts concerning internal organization and job classification.