BRANKICA JANKOVIĆ, Commissioner for the Protection of Equality: Courage is Implied

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Considering how important is promoting equality and dealing with its opposite – discrimination – to people, these have become important political topics and the subject of public, parliamentary, economic and cultural life. Nevertheless, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Brankica Janković, believes that politicians use those terms too frequently to promote their political agenda, considering that the terms like equality and discrimination are the instruments that always boost ratings and are mainly reduced to talking about man-woman relationship.

“When it comes to discrimination on an ethnic, religious, sex and gender basis, politicians run away from such issues,” she says.

“I knew,” she adds, “that I would often stand alone on this issue, as I am aware that it is solved primarily with enthusiasm, and then by building the system. Of course, courage is implied, because it is not always easy to decide that, for example, a Serb discriminated against an Albanian or a Croat, or that someone in the state administration has curbed the rights of a transgender person.”

In challenging times, it is difficult for individuals to explain what discrimination is, because everyone perceives injustice in a different way, which does not necessarily have to constitute discrimination – the Commissioner adds.

“From the viepoint of someone who is at the helm of an umbrella state institution which works on suppressing all forms of discrimination, it seems to me that, in most cases, people are able to recognize when they are discriminated against, and they know who to contact, as evidenced by numerous complaints and daily calls we receive from a number of them. As far as I am concerned, this is the most important proof of trust. We also have support for our
work from international partners such as the OSCE and UNICEF, the EU delegation, but also the Government of Great Britain, Norway, Germany, USA, Canada, France… ”

How much those people who discriminate listen to your warnings and recommendations? Do courts take the side of the injured party enough?

— The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality has no instruments of punishment or coercion, but the credibility of our institution ensures that our the majority of our recommendations are taken on board. About 90% of our recommendations are respected. It is important that schools, hospitals and kindergartens, as well as ministers and municipal presidents to act according to our recommendations, because by doing so, they are sending out a
message that they not only do not want to discriminate and be publicly labeled as discriminators, but also that they are respecting institutions, laws and the Constitution of our country. Judicial practice is also very important. So far, since I have been at the helm of this institution, we have not lost a court case. It is important to mention that courts, after we filed a lawsuit, did rule against politicians, public figures, university professors… I consider this an important step in the protection of equality.

Why does public administration appear as a protector of rights and at the same time, as the most common discriminator?

— Serbia does not have a long tradition in having such institutions and it will take time until we are able to say that the state and its employees fully and equally protect the rights of all. This is the goal we strive for. Cooperation with
state institutions is more or less good, depending on the credibility of the authorities, because the quality of work in our public sector is not completely balanced. The security sector, and by that I am referring to ministries of interior and defense, as well as the ministries of infrastructure and trade, fully respects the Commissioner’s recommendations and opinions, as does the majority of local self-governments. There are, unfortunately, also those who are not exactly sure what their obligation is, but luckily, they are in minority. Still, as the “youngest” state body, we are satisfied with the international evaulations of our work but the most important evaluation for us is the one given by the Serbian Parliament. Of course, the feeling that you have helped somebody trumps everything. Most often we talk about discrimination against women, sexual and national minorities.

How widespread is discrimination in schools and do parents,children and teachers know how to recognize it?

— Discrimination in schools is particularly dangerous especially because oftentimes it is dificult to identify. This kind of discrimination appears as a consequence of social and cultural differences, and it deeply impacts children. Unfortunately, it often evolves into violence and this is when all the weaknesses of our society bubble up to the surface. Reaction to discrimination in schools has to be swift regardless of what the relevant action plans and strategies say. Children’s lives are the most important, and schools, as educational institutions, are the best investments in the better future for Serbia. Now, that another Pride Parade has taken place without many problems, what is your view of the status of the LGBT community?

Is there enough reason to be satisfied because many rights are still denied to this community?

— If we go back to 2001, and the first attempt to organize Pride Parade, or 2010, when Belgrade was set on fire during the parade, we can say with confidence that Serbia has made a leap forward. This year’s parade will be remembered as having more participants than police officers securing it. I consider this a success. This shows
that Serbia has become a more mature and more tolerant society, since there is no longer the need to talk about the security of the participants, but about the issues that are important to this community. This does not mean that
the problems of this community are solved, but people now talk about them more openly. Nevertheless, reality should not be ignored. The LGBT population still has problems in everyday life, such in issues like inheritance of
property or pension and health insurance, and this should be regulated. This will also ensure equal opportunities for all citizens of Serbia who have chosen the path of progress, including respecting human rights. It is a matter of culture, tolerance and dialogue and an indicator of a society’s progress.

How do you, as a Commissioner, view digitalization? Is this a positive or a negative process?

— Digitalization is the most important measure of progress of modern society. I am pleased to say that over 70% of people in this country use the Internet. Apart from the advantages, such as improved communication and
technological advancement tantamout to an industrial revolution, digitalization also carries a danger of abuse. Social networks, with all the benefits they bring, have unfortunately become a platform for spreading hate and expression of discriminatory attitudes. Recently, I recommended a set of measures for websites in Serbia how not to allow offensive comments on their content, including sexist statements, hate speech and discriminatory attitudes. There is an increasing number of complaints about discrimination in public media. We treat them very seriously.

As the Commissioner, how many opportunities do you get to speak about / have impact on a more balanced involvement of women and other minority groups in IT?

— As the Commissioner, I have the authority to organize numerous activities in this field as well. We regularly celebrate the Girls in IT Day together with big companies; we encourage girls to be engaged in science as possible. We also promote our Code of Equality, accepted by the leading companies in our country. We visit schools and
frequently educate on the topic of eliminating prejudices when choosing occupation. I am glad that there is an inreasing number of female students (more than 30%) at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering which is currently organizing a conference about the use of free software and open hardware that I will officially open. The conference
will also focus on the importance of women and other minority groups and their role in the IT sector. Soon after that, I am speaking at the opening of a conference on empowering women through innovation and technologies, organized by our partners from the AFE. Better times for women in this sector are coming and this rare opportunity for women’s equality in the digitalization process should not be missed, since women in digitalization will be one of the main features in the future.

WHAT CAN TAXES SHOW US ABOUT GENDER INEQUALITY

What does the number of complaints filed with your office show us about the trends in work area and respecting rights of women and minorities?

— Generally, we can say that we are now dealing with 20% complaints more than before which is to be expected. It is important that citizens report these infrigements. Those who violate the law and deny rights should be scared. Successfully resolved cases send a message about the inadmissibility of such behaviour. The highest number of complaints relate to discrimination based on sex and disability, and then on age and other grounds. The current
situation, in which we live and work, and I am mainly referring to a liberal and often unregulated market, creates big problems with “the worst” in people surfacing. Today, when the dominant belief is that success depends exclusively on individual effort, knowledge and skills, and that all responsibility is on us, as individuals, the so-called „older workers”, namely those over the age of 50, are perceived as less effective and as a burden. Can you imagine a
man or woman in their full capacity and with invaluable experience, being perceived as anything but especially valuable and as an institutional memory? On the other hand, young people, just out of school, are not given a chance to prove themselves because employers usually require work experience or they are perceived as less credible because they are young. They are also facing a lot of difficulty in labour market. How are they going to have work
experience if they are not given a chance to work?! As far as women are concerned, I would like to mention
interesting data – 23,238 citizens filed annual income tax for 2017. Ninety percent of them, mostly managers, directors and engineers, are men. This shows a lot. We have a great deal of work to do to achieve true equality.

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