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How an interview with a rapist fired up Serbia’s feminists | Women’s Rights

Belgrade, Serbia – Although six months have handed, Branka Blizanac nonetheless remembers the second she discovered {that a} tabloid in Belgrade had interviewed a serial rapist who had just lately been free of jail.

“The second I noticed the announcement for this interview, I felt humiliated,” the 22-year-old remembers, sitting in a espresso store within the centre of the Serbian capital, her giant glasses protecting a part of her face beneath a fringe and curly brown hair. “I keep in mind pondering: How ought to we, as girls, dwell in a society the place rapists inform us freely, by way of the media, how one can behave whereas they rape us?”

Within the interview printed in September by the pro-government Informer newspaper, Igor Milošević, who had served a 15-year sentence for numerous rapes and bodily assaults on girls, not solely instructed girls on how one can behave throughout an assault but additionally described how liberating it was for him to commit his crimes. “Whereas I used to be raping and robbing, I felt freedom,” he said. He additionally threatened the feminine journalist who interviewed him, telling her, “If I determine to rape you, I’ll.”

Blizanac, a historical past scholar and co-founder of Ženska solidarnost (Ladies’s Solidarity), a Belgrade-based girls’s collective, believes that in some ways, the tabloid made Milošević a star. His actions have been repeatedly reported on by Informer journalists, who suggested girls and women to purchase self-defence instruments and keep away from strolling alone at evening.

Displeased with the tabloid and decided that the voices of girls must be heard, Blizanac and different members of her collective urged girls to protest. Since September, 5 road demonstrations have taken place in Belgrade.

The demonstrations exceeded Blizanac’s expectations. Lots of of demonstrators whistled, held placards and chanted slogans like, “All to the streets! Justice for ladies and women” and “The ladies’s revolution!”

It was the primary time Ženska solidarnost had organised occasions of such significance, and Blizanac says she felt each pressured and thrilled.

Women protest in Serbia
Branka Blizanac, left, and Jelena Riznić are founders of Ženska solidarnost, a collective demonstrating for ladies’s rights in Serbia [Dariusz Kalan/Al Jazeera]

The collective started in 2018 as a Facebook group the place girls shared tales about home violence. The demonstrations helped it evolve right into a protest motion.

Now Ženska solidarnost goals to attract consideration to violations of girls’s rights in Serbian society and to advertise the thought of sisterhood and political solidarity amongst girls whereas pushing for legislative adjustments to guard girls at a nationwide degree.

“No girl is answerable for the violence which a person topics her to. We took that anger to the streets,” Blizanac says, including that the collective hopes to proceed its demonstrations when the snow melts.

‘Ladies in energy have completed little’

At first look, Serbia has made steps in the direction of gender equality. Since 2017, the nation has had a feminine prime minister, Ana Brnabić, whereas the variety of feminine lawmakers in parliament prior to now decade has repeatedly been about 35 % and is now the second highest (PDF) within the area behind solely North Macedonia.

However critics say political illustration hasn’t translated into actual equality for Serbian girls.

“Ladies in energy have completed little for different girls,” says Biljana Stojković, one in all three co-leaders of the leftist Collectively political get together and its presidential candidate within the 2022 election. “And despite the fact that they [female lawmakers] might have been extra energetic, they themselves determine to restrict their function and fulfil the expectations of their very own political circle. That is particularly unhappy with Brnabić.”

Brnabić, the primary girl and first brazenly homosexual individual to carry the workplace of prime minister, was nominated by Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia’s nationalistic president, and is taken into account a Vučić loyalist. Stojković mentioned she believes the nomination of a feminine prime minister was supposed to create a veneer of equality to advance the nation’s European Union membership and to distract worldwide observers from one thing extra sinister.

Ana Brnabić
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić is the primary girl and first brazenly homosexual individual to carry the place [Kiyoshi Ota/ pool/AFP]

Since taking workplace in 2017, Vučić has eradicated almost all home checks on his energy, crammed key posts with loyalists and helped them to say management over many state property. In accordance with a 2022 report (PDF) by the Lady to Lady (Kvinna until Kvinna) Basis, a Stockholm-based girls’s rights organisation specializing in the Balkans, this democratic backsliding has contributed to a worsening surroundings for feminine activists and unbiased journalists, a few of whom have confronted bodily assaults and threats. The report additionally factors out that ladies are considerably much less represented on the regional degree: In 2021, 13 % of native governments had feminine mayors or presidents.

“One can’t actually say that ladies are a driving pressure in Serbia,” says Stojković, Vučić’s contender within the final election – she gained 3.3 % of the votes. She factors out that Vučić himself stays the principle decision-maker. “In essence, nothing has modified,” she says.

Jelena Riznić, a 25-year-old sociologist and member of Ženska solidarnost, says the truth that somebody is a girl and a lesbian doesn’t assure her politics will probably be feminist.

Sitting within the espresso store subsequent to Blizanac, Riznić explains that Brnabić has by no means promised to battle for the rights of girls or the LGBTQ group.

“Her politics was clear from the very starting,” Riznić says. Shortly after taking the put up, Brnabić described herself as “a technocratic prime minister”, which many critics interpreted as affirmation that her function is to implement the insurance policies of Vučić.

Riznić factors out that the Serbian opposition is in some ways as misogynistic because the ruling get together. “[They] know precisely when to abuse Brnabić’s sexual orientation by referring to her as a person on TV,” she says.

Patriarchy and poisonous masculinity

Placing apart political energy struggles, there are numerous extra challenges that Serbian girls face. In accordance with a 2019 survey by the Group for Safety and Cooperation in Europe, 34 % of Serbian girls aged 18 to 74 have skilled bodily or sexual violence by a accomplice a minimum of as soon as since they have been 15.

Women protest in Serbia
Ladies protesters in Belgrade maintain the names of Serbian femicide victims from 2022 and 2023 [Courtesy of Irena Ljubenović]

In accordance with a 2020 report by the Council of Europe’s Group of Consultants on Motion Towards Violence Towards Ladies and Home Violence, Serbian girls and women are sometimes afraid to report their abusers as a result of convictions for many types of violence in opposition to girls are “extraordinarily low”.

In 2021, 20 instances of femicide, the intentional killing of girls or women attributable to their intercourse, have been reported in Serbia. It was the very best quantity within the area. Greater than 74 % of those crimes happen in a household or intimate accomplice context, based on a 2020 examine by the FemPlatz Civic Affiliation, a Serbian girls’s rights organisation.

Within the 2016 documentary film The Sufferer Has a Lady’s Face, which explores the issue of violence in opposition to girls in Serbia, journalist Ana Manojlović interviewed males who had killed their feminine companions. One in every of them instructed her that he had stabbed his spouse to demise as a result of she invited buddies over to their home and flirted at events.

That form of feeling of possession and superiority over girls is widespread in Serbia, as in lots of different post-communist international locations, based on Višnja Baćanović, a gender equality advisor and coach primarily based in Novi Unhappy in northern Serbia. She explains that there’s “no actual different” to “poisonous masculinity”, suggesting that fashionable beliefs of sensitivity in the direction of gender and sexual identities haven’t taken root in Serbia. “The patriarchal schemes of behaviour nonetheless dominate the [Serbian] panorama,” she says.

She explains that this conventional mentality is the bedrock of many different on a regular basis points, together with girls’s low participation within the labour market (44 % in contrast with 62 % of males in 2022) and family decision-making. Ladies in Serbia are nonetheless typically seen as being answerable for cooking and cleansing whereas males often have management over family spending, based on a 2020 report (PDF) by the US Company for Worldwide Growth.

“Many males are underneath stress from the society, which tells them what the person is ‘supposed’ to be,” Baćanović says, explaining that Serbian tradition usually promotes a picture of dominant males whereas girls are both seen solely as homemakers or sexualised.

Women protest in Serbia
Activists stand in entrance of the Nationwide Meeting of Serbia holding placards with the names of accountable establishments – the courts, police and social work companies – smeared with pink paint to symbolise that they’ve blood on their fingers [Courtesy of Ženska solidarnost]

Riznić says you solely must “drive on the freeway to see sexualised girls’s our bodies utilized in sports activities betting commercials or to get a sponsored advert on Instagram a few nightclub”. She remembers one promoting campaign final yr by the Serbian department of the worldwide environmental organisation World Huge Fund for Nature, or WWF, that was broadly criticised as sexist. One of many adverts confirmed a girl’s leg rising from what seems to be a bathe with the inscription “Don’t contact my fish.” It was supposedly supposed to attract consideration to the problem of endangered species of fish. When media retailers and social media customers criticised that advert and others within the marketing campaign, the WWF apologised and deleted them.


Stojković says girls who converse out or take part in public life danger being stigmatised. Society seems at them as “some form of excessive parts, troublemakers”, she explains.

Ženska solidarnost needs to fight this picture by encouraging girls to make themselves heard and battle for legislative change. Opposite to a well-liked native saying, “Lady is wolf to girl,” which means that ladies view each other as enemies, Blizanac and Riznić say the consider that solely collectively will girls make a distinction.

Baćanović, nonetheless, factors out that feminist organisations like Ženska solidarnost have a restricted affect on girls from Serbia’s rural areas, the place conventional cultural practices are extra persistent and entry to data extra restricted.

She feels they’ll contribute to altering Serbian society. “However not now,” she says. “The change must be outlined. They should know what they wish to obtain in addition to taking the individuals to the streets.”

Nonetheless, she praises the collective for its inventive and progressive approaches, elevating consciousness amongst youthful audiences and utilizing social networks and academic exercise to get their message throughout.

“They’re shaking the patriarchal constructions, that are robust in Serbia and consistently ship the message to girls, ‘It’s a must to be quiet and well mannered,’ even if our rights are repeatedly violated,” Baćanović says.

“Ladies in Serbia are actually p***** off, and we want these sorts of rebels to voice the issues.”

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