Giving up on women – absolutely illogical!
The traditional Mentor Walk, this year also organized by both the “Share Your Knowledge” program and the Academy of Female Leadership, was held in Kruševac on March 9th and had the goal of highlighting the need for more visibility of women in public life and of their contributions to local socio-economic development but to also showcase the solidarity of women and promotion of mentorship.
The mentor walks are made for the occasion of International Women’s Day worldwide every year, illustrating the commitment of women to the development of global leadership and pointing out the achievements of women across the world. The walks are part of the Global Women Leaders Network work and the Vital Voices organization. The initiative has so far brought together several thousand leaders on all continents. This year will see 174 mentor walks in 62 countries under the #balanceforbetter moto.
Serbia saw the first mentor walks in 2008, in Belgrade and Niš and subsequently in Novi Sad, Niš, Kraljevo, Valjevo, and Subotica. As part of the “Share Your Knowledge” program, the Mentor Walk is a chance to promote the program on economic empowerment and the professional amelioration of women and the exchange of opinions on women’s rights and equality.
After the walk there was a public discussion on “The Role of Women in Local Socio-economic development” featuring Biljana Malentin, an expert on gender equality and Academy of Female Leadership representative, Milkana Pavlović, activist with the Women’s Association Peščanik Kruševac, and Danijela Vučković, Kruševac ERSTE bank branch Director shared their views on the position of women on the local level and spoke on good practices but also on what these practices are lacking. The discussion was moderated by Marija Srdić, member of the Program Council of the Academy of Female Leadership.
Marija Srdić, member of the Program Council of the Academy of Female Leadership gave the opening address, pointing out that women are the ones driving economic growth and that “despite them having capacities, knowledge, and interest, and being part of the division of labor and the economy, they are not part of its development equally.” The differences in employment rates show a large gap between men and women, the numbers of female entrepreneurs is rising slowly, there is lacking development and these are only some of the problems demanding local community involvement.
Biljana Malentin, an expert on gender equality and Academy of Female Leadership representative, calls for changing laws and policy to further gender equality. Their vision of development is a sustainable and inclusive society in Serbia with a high standard of life. Biljana points out that Serbia unfortunately has no clear vision of what society it is aiming towards, making defining and working on the improvement of women in the economic sphere. Only when we establish the right values and strategy, we can use the gigantic potential of women. However, missing values are not the only critical piece but so is, as Biljana emphasizes, the more difficult process of connecting local actors.
Milkana Pavlović, activist with the Women’s Association Peščanik Kruševac, is working on the empowerment of women and improving their position in the local community, claiming that “it is very important to include men in issues of gender equality.” Peščanik successfully maintains the SOS phone line since 2009 but they realized that protection in not the only field needing work for proper provision of aid. Milkana calls for the reintegration of women suffering violence in the family because the visibility of women is very slight, and, in her own words, “only an economically strong woman is a free woman.” During the discussion she placed emphasis on how non-existent services of social protection concerning women and continuously funded by local self-government presents a significant issue.
Danijela Vučković, Kruševac ERSTE bank branch Director, highlighted that this bank has 50% female executives. She let attendees know that this banks aims to support the civil sector, making calls for various projects and programs of social entrepreneurship and through providing funds to people with an idea and a business plan. Danijela let us know of a string of examples showing successful projects made by women like the “Green Woman Knight,” where a single mother started a tea business intended for diabetics.
The discussion was concluded with consensus on not just the missing measures but lacking initiative for social and economic empowerment of women. A stabile society must stand for the interest of women, establishing clear values, increasing the number of inclusive measures if it wants economic development. The potential of women is exceptionally large and a final message was that “giving up on women is ultimately absolutely illogical!”