Women in Black Research on reproductive and labor rights in Serbia

The research on women’s reproductive and labor rights in Serbia was led by Prof. Idiko Erdei and Prof. Lidija Radulovic, both of them from the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, and it was carried out thanks to (mostly voluntary) survey work on the field by the women activists of the Women in Black Network across Serbia. The goal of this research consisted of achieving insights into the impact of the growing tendencies of clericalization on the women’s viewpoints on reproductive and labor rights, through examining women’s viewpoints on their own reproductive and labor rights, as well as the degree of their own awareness of the respect or violation of these rights.

The research showed how women in Serbia see their position in the society, what they think of the situation of their reproductive and labor rights, what viewpoints they hold and what they think about all these issues. This research provides reasons to hold on to a very certain optimism: despite all efforts, neither the Church nor other factors of the repatriarchalization of the state and society did not, for now, manage to perform a change of consciousness. It was shown that the values and goals that the fundamentalist and “patriotic” propaganda is imposing onto women are not of a great significance when it comes to women’s choice to not give birth, or to give birth to more children. Women are to a significant (although maybe still unsatisfying) degree aware of their labor rights and problems they face in the work sphere. The results of this research show that they are, to a great degree, familiar with their reproductive rights, and that they emphasize great importance in independent decision making when it comes to whether, when, how much and with whom they will have children. The women who were surveyed have pretty clear expectations from the state when it comes to legal codification and protection of their reproductive and labor rights. They expect from the state to engage more in real improvement of life conditions for families with children, instead of declarative statements and adopting measures, plans and strategies that remain a dead letter.

Based on all the results it is possible to continue with the struggle to suppress retrograde tendencies of repatriarchalization and clericalization of the society, tendencies which are especially dangerous when combined with the logic of neoliberal capitalism in the Balkan way, as is the case in Serbia. (Peer review of Lino Veljak).


Presentation of Research on women's reproductive and labor rights in Serbia – Women in Black Network, September 2020. In Vrnjačka Banja.

The research, as well as the publication of the same name were presented in WiB Network meeting, September 2020. by: Dr. Lino Veljak, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb (reviewer of the publication), Anđelija Vučurević, statistician and Staša Zajović, author of the foreword.

Andjelija Vucurevic, who dealt with statistical data processing, made some remarks about the research and the research method:

The research lasted for two and a half months, from March to mid-May 2019. Fifty interviewers took part in it and 1,050 respondents from all over Serbia answered the survey, according to a random sample. Representation by regions was determined on the basis of data from the Statistical Office of Serbia, based on the results of the 2011 Census. In relation to the representation in the general population, in the sample of this research, highly educated women are more represented, as well as employees (more than 65% of employees are in the sample, while in the general population there are about 45%). Also, younger respondents predominate in the sample - the representation of those under 50 years of age is higher than in the general population, while older women are underrepresented, especially those over 65 years of age. These sample characteristics should also be kept in mind when interpreting the results. Statistical processing of survey responses took about a month.

The interviewers approached the respondents in different ways. The survey was conducted in person, in direct contact of the interviewers with the respondents. We decided on a random sample, in which the interviewers included respondents among neighbors in multistoried buildings, visitors to social centers, colleagues in the schools where they work, members and users of some women's networks (for example, women from Rasina district), women they met at the market and on the street… The survey was conducted in two ways: mostly the respondents filled in the survey independently, while in a small number of cases the interviewees read the survey and recorded the answers.

Stasa Zajovic: This research builds on the research made by Women in Black on reproductive rights and retraditionalization, which was conducted in 2008. However, previous research did not talk about labor rights, so the current research allows us to see how women assess their place in the labor market and the conditions under which they work, in the time after the economic crisis and more intensive introduction of neoliberal economic measures.

The integral results of the research are presented in this publication, and now we will present the most important findings from the analysis of the empirical material made by the authors of the research.

This research showed that hard-won reproductive rights and freedoms for most women are an integral part of their identity, self-awareness of the right to choose and control their own body, which they will not give up so easily despite the clerical and pronatalist ideology to which they are exposed, the authors stated.

Based on religious affiliation, 50.7% of women were religious, 19.0% were not religious, 30.3% did not profess; in all categories of education, religious women are the most numerous. The least number of respondents declared themselves as religious in the Belgrade region, and the most in the region of Šumadija and Western Serbia. Respondents who do not declare themselves on the issue of religious affiliation are the most numerous in Vojvodina, while in the Belgrade region most respondents are non-believers.


Reproductive rights - the most important issues

Who makes decisions about whether, when, how many and with whom they will have children?

  • 64.7% support the right for a woman to make her own decision on whether, when, how much and with whom she will have children.

In all regions, more than 60% of respondents believe that it is important for women to decide on childbirth independently, except for women from the Region of Southern and Eastern Serbia, who considered this to be important at a negligible percentage of 58%.
Significant differences appear between women who declare themselves as religious, those who are not religious and those who did not want to identify themselves as either. Namely, more than half of the respondents believe that a man and a woman should jointly decide on having children, while the percentage of women who are not religious but share that opinion is 19.4%. However, when we include the right of women to decide on childbirth independently, over four-fifths of non-religious women believe that they should decide on giving / not giving birth (84.3%), compared to more than half of religious women (52.9%) who think the same.

Abortion - a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy

  • 2/3 of women (questionees) consider abortion one of their basic rights

The right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy is most important for respondents in Vojvodina (44.4%), and least important in the Region of Southern and Eastern Serbia (28.5%).

  • 3/4 of women who consider themselves religious do not approve of the right to abortion.
    However, religious women also oppose the frequent qualifications of abortion as murder, crime and immoral and selfish act by religious officials and right-wing organizations advocating pro-life ideology;
  • More than 3/4 of religious women (83.2%) do not consider abortion to be a murder of a child - despite campaigns in public discourse over the last two decades and despite the frequent labeling of women as infanticide in speaches made by church leaders;

About banning abortion

  • 76.4% of religious women believe that this is an unacceptable measure. There is no doubt that the religious norms and values of the mentioned institutional and non-institutional opponents of abortion in Serbia does not significantly affect women who have declared themselves as religious, as well as that reproductive autonomy and rights are more important for them.
  • 99% of questionees do not accept that abortion is characterized as a crime - regardless of religion or level of education.

Who is being asked about abortion?

Most women approach abortion as a matter of private choice that remains exclusively in the circle of partnerships. This could mean that the women questionees believe that this issue must remain in the sphere of privacy and that the state and other agents of society should not interfere in this sphere.

A significant number of women renounce reproductive autonomy and the exclusive right to decide for themselves on childbirth and abortion, and are determined, especially religious women, almost 3/4 of them, to equally decide with their partner about whether to abort or not, while slightly more than 1/3 of those who are not religious have the same opinion.

Justified reasons for terminating pregnancy:

  • if pregnancy endangers a woman's life - between 83% and 88.5%;
  • if there are fetal deformities or genetically transmitted diseases - between 60.9% and 69.5%;
  • in the case of rape - the results are very uniform when it comes to justified reasons for terminating pregnancy;

Unjustified reasons for terminating pregnancy / abortion:

Lack of financial resources for child support is not considered a justifiable reason for abortion: these results contradict the answers to the question about the most important reasons for not having children, namely 50.2% believe that the cause is a bad financial situation. However, when the question of the justification of abortion is asked, then the financial situation is not a sufficient and justified reason.

The least important are the wishes of the women themselves - the reason "if a woman does not want to have children" is justified for 23.3% of women in eastern and southern Serbia, and for 33% in the Belgrade region.

It is the least acceptable if a woman decides to have an abortion because she wants to dedicate herself to her career - from 1.9% in southern and eastern Serbia to 5.8% in the Sumadija Region. The ingrained traditionalist understanding that a woman's careerism is incompatible with motherhood comes to the fore in this case as well.

Opponents of abortion:

  • about 50% assessed the abortion ban as unacceptable because it violates their rights;
  • for 35.4% the ban is unacceptable due to the concern for reproductive health and life of a woman who, in the case of a ban, finds ways to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and resort to unsafe abortions;
  • for 8.4% of questionees this measure is acceptable because it would reduce the number of abortions;
  • 6.8% believe that this protects the life of an unborn child;
  • for 23.6% of religious women, this measure is acceptable;
  • for 38.3% of religious women, this is unacceptable because women will find a way to have an illegal abortion and endanger their health.

Therefore, for 76.4% of religious women, the ban on abortion is an unacceptable measure. There is no doubt that the religious norms and values of the mentioned institutional and non-institutional opponents of abortion in Serbia do not significantly affect women who have declared themselves as religious, and that reproductive autonomy and rights are more important for them as well.

Contraception

In Europe, 70% of women use modern medical contraception, while in Serbia this very low level ranges from 18 to 22%, it is lower than the average in the least developed parts of the world where it is 28%.

Pronatal measures

In several speeches regarding the concern for the demographic decline of the population in Serbia, the President of the Republic, Aleksandar Vučić, announced pronatal state measures, criticizing, among other things, the large number of abortions in Serbia. One of the solutions to reduce the number of abortions is for authorized doctors to show the mother an ultrasound and to hear the baby's heartbeat, and then to make a decision whether she wants to give birth or not. We asked the questionees whether the introduction of counseling and "listening to the baby's heart" before making a decision on abortion 1) is an acceptable measure because it would reduce the number of abortions; 2) morally acceptable; 3) an unacceptable measure because it is a form of violence against women; 4) an unacceptable measure because it violates the reproductive rights and freedoms of women. The way this question was posed was that it did not state that this measure was proposed by the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, although they are certainly familiar with it from the media.

  • for 48% of the respondents, it is an acceptable measure, while for 52% it is unacceptable;
  • 47% of religious women believe that introducing counseling and listening to the "baby's heartbeat" would reduce the number of abortions;
  • 45% of women who are not religious, this measure is unacceptable because it violates women's reproductive rights and freedoms

Religious affiliation has a great influence on the formation of respondents' attitudes on all issues related to abortion: women who are religious attach less importance to socio-economic factors in relation to women's health, as a reason for not having children. This could be interpreted as a strong influence of pro-natal church policy, as well as religious socialization, which puts the role of women as mothers in the foreground.

Why should you have (give birth to) more children?

  • 76.6% of women believe that the decision to have more children should be made in accordance with the needs, interests and desires of women, and this statement is supported by a large percentage of women, regardless of religious affiliation. This attitude can be interpreted as a desire to maintain an autonomous space for deciding on issues of birth and family planning, and to separate this issue from the issues and discourse of demographic patriotism and demographic mobilization;
  • 4.8% of respondents said that having more children is associated with nationalist fears and fantasies that ethnic groups with a high birth rate will endanger the majority of people in Serbia. The danger from other ethnic groups with higher birth rates is equally irrelevant to religious and non-religious women.
    The least represented are the answers that suggest there is a connection between the birth of more children with political or social goals, which are imposed from outside, from various institutions, primarily from the Church and the State.


The most acceptable form of partnership for having children

  • For more than 65.2% of women, this is an irrelevant question; civil marriage (which was chosen the most) is the most acceptable to respondents from eastern and southern Serbia (44.6%), and the least acceptable to respondents from Vojvodina. This shows that Vojvodina is at the same time an area in which the tradition of modernization has left its mark on the emancipation of the population and liberalization of women, but at the same time clericalization is present in this area, which is statistically expressed in a higher percentage than in other regions.
  • 7.0% of religious women opted for the institution of church marriage as the most acceptable form of partnership for having children, which is a surprisingly small number of respondents among religious women.

Who should take care of children?

  • 93.5% of respondents believe that both parents should take care of their children together and equally;
  • 41.4% of respondents believe that public and private institutions should be involved in child care, which shows great trust that women still have in the institutional care of children, whether in the public or private sector;
  • 17.4% believe that the extended family should be included in the care of children;
  • 6.9% believe that caring for children is exclusively the obligation and role of a woman-mother.

Expectations from the state

For about 70% of respondents in all regions of Serbia, financial security and stability is the most acceptable - i.e. the ability for the state to provide earnings that would be sufficient to meet the needs of the family in raising children.

Does the state respect and enforce the laws?

  • 59% of respondents believe that laws and regulations are selectively enforced;
  • 78% of respondents believe that the state avoids and selectively respects the rights of pregnant women and mothers.

Respect / violation of labor rights of pregnant women and mothers

The state and employers are equally responsible for the violation of labor rights of pregnant women and mothers. The questionees in all regions reached a high degree of agreement that termination of employment by the employer is the most common form of violation of the rights of pregnant women and mothers.

Which labor rights do women consider as the most important?

  • 75.6% believe that their most important employment right is regular payment of wages;
  • for over 50% of respondents, safe working conditions and the absence of violence in the workplace are important;
  • less than 1/3 of respondents believe that eight-hour working time is an important labor right: it would be important to examine what led to eight-hour working time, as a historical legacy of the struggle for dignified and humane work, becoming less important as recognized labor law;
  • 46.5% of highly educated respondents believe that equal pay for men and women is an important labor right, 30.3% of those with secondary education and 17.4% of those with primary school agree with them.
  • 26.7% of religious women believe that equal pay for equal work is an important labor right, while 51.3% of non-religious women and 43.0% of those who do not profess religion believe the same.

Are women's labor rights respected?

When asked how their labor rights are respected, 908 respondents answered validly. This number represents a number of answers lower by almost 10% and can indicate the insecurity of the respondents when it comes to knowing their labor rights.

Respondents' answers provide a relatively good picture of the state of labor rights in Serbia: 76.2% of respondents say that their labor rights are generally respected, while 23.8% believe that this is generally not the case.

Who is most responsible for violations of women's labor rights?

Women are more willing to answer questions related to their reproductive choices than when asked about work and labor rights. Namely, a small number of responses was recorded to this question as well, which brings to conclusion that there may be a fear that their answers to these questions can in some way compromise them against their employers and lead to losing their job.

70% of respondents believe that the state is responsible for protecting their labor rights - respondents in their answers unequivocally stated that the state is more responsible for protecting their labor rights than employers.

Lack of trade union organization responsible for violation of labor rights - violation of labor rights is possible, and becomes normalized, in the context where the possibility of connecting employees through trade union and their joint struggle for labor rights is weakened or completely lost.

Who can protect women when their labor rights are endangered?

  • 61.2% opted to seek free legal aid;
  • 37.7% would contact the union,
  • local politicians enjoy a very low reputation and trust of respondents in all regions, and are in last place among those whom respondents would turn to to solve their problems;
  • Non-government organizations, as those that could help solve the problem of violations of labor rights, have the highest trust among non-religious women (40.3%), followed by those who do not identify with any religion (27.5%), and have by far the least trust among religious women (17.2%).

Assessment of the quality of life and life satisfaction

The largest number of respondents believe that their quality of life is tolerable (38.8%), 32.7% rated it as good, 10.3% as bad, 3.4% as excellent and 2.4% of them as unbearable.

The most important indicators for a life of high quality are:

  • health (from 92-95%) in the first place in all regions;
  • economic and social security are very important for all women respondents;
  • life in harmony with family is ranked high on the scale of life satisfaction, for almost 2/3 of respondents;
  • engagement in society is the least important (3% in the region of eastern and southern Serbia are for it, while in the Belgrade region and Vojvodina about 10% of the respondents).

Participants' comments:

Đokica Jovanović: The research showed that the respondents do not trust the church. Insisting on increasing the birth rate is terrible, children are unhappy, they are hiding their identity. During the SFRY, there was social security. In the 1974 Constitution, there was social security, and now social justice means nothing. I think the research should be expanded with in-depth interviews.

Andjelija Vučurević: People here have no idea about labor rights and that is dramatic.

Snezana Chongradin: Women talked about their life situation. The problem is not whether you are a woman or a man, the problem is existential insecurity.

Binasa Jigal: I participated in the survey of women and all the women said that their life was unbearable. None of them said her life was good.

Vladimir Joić: It is hard to admit to yourself that your life is unbearable, it is easier for you to say that your life is good.

Senka Knezevic: In my time, women had great security offered by the state, they could not be harrased, that was not possible.

Andjelija Vucurevic: At that time, it was not even known that such a thing as harassment in the workplace existed.

(Prepared by: Staša Zajović)


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