Women’s CEO Summit: Brankica Janković – On the frontline of the defense of equality

In anticipation of the Women’s CEO Summit conference, which will be held on March 14, 2024, at the Madlena Art Palace in Belgrade, we have the honor of speaking with Brankica Janković, Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.

Photo: Nebojša Babić
Property of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality


With many years of experience in promoting gender equality, Janković stands out as a key figure in the fight for the fair position of women in Serbian politics and economy. Her expertise and reflections illuminate the current challenges facing women in leadership positions and offer a roadmap toward creating a more inclusive and just society. We discuss her strategies, the obstacles she faces, and her vision for the future of gender equality in Serbia.

How can the representation of women in key positions in Serbia’s politics and economy be improved, bearing in mind the importance of their presence not only in the executive but also in the legislature?

I am deeply convinced that more women in public and political life will affect the better position of all citizens and overall economic and social inclusion, and women in key positions in politics and the economy have a special value and great potential. Certainly, there is no democracy without adequate representation of women in decision-making positions in politics and the economy because, without them, there are no quality public policies, the creation and implementation of which require both perspectives – both male and female. The introduction of a mandatory system of quotas for the underrepresented sex in the highest authorities brought significant results. We know that no one wants to be in any position because of a quota or a number, but I am sure that without quotas, in a society in which patriarchal values and norms about the place and role of women are deeply rooted, the composition of the parliament, the government would be completely different and all other institutions, as well as companies. I have no qualms about that; that’s why we gave recommendations and initiatives for changes. The recommendation of the Commissioner’s institution addressed to municipalities and cities to ensure greater participation of women, as well as for young people to be more involved in all spheres of political decision-making at the local level, had evident effects. However, although the percentage of women in the highest positions in local self-governments is increasing – in 2022, they were represented by 13.8%, while this percentage was only 7.1% in 2017. Still, the president of the municipality or the mayor is proportionally small compared to the mandatory representation on electoral lists. The changes that have taken place in the economy are encouraging because, if we consider that our social context does not support business in general, and especially not women’s business, then the success is greater and more significant since, during the past decade, many more women have found themselves in key positions, and many decided to start their own businesses. Not a single change comes overnight, especially not when it comes to such a complex process that takes place in a still dominant patriarchal value system and in an atmosphere in which the prevailing attitude is that it is more appropriate for a woman to engage in other “female” jobs. That is why it is crucial to work on education and to break stereotypes and prejudices. These changes depend significantly on the change of consciousness of women, who should discover how much their true potential is and how important it is to support each other. But the changes also apply to men, who should be an important support and support for women.

How do the Women’s Parliamentary Network and other similar initiatives contribute to the promotion of gender equality in Serbia, and how can their influence on decision-making and policy-making be further improved?

At one time, the Women’s Parliamentary Network made a big shift in public and political life and significantly changed our political ideology. However, today, we see a weakening of its influence. The Women’s Parliamentary Network is a very important organization whose dedication and continuous, non-partisan work led to significant improvements and a change in political culture. Lately, we have also witnessed certain delays in its functioning, but let’s be optimistic. Parliamentary mechanisms for achieving gender equality are important and should be used more because they provide women who have become members of parliament the opportunity to encourage other women to get involved in political or public life by their personal example. Individuals, civil society organizations, and initiatives that deal with the improvement and promotion of gender equality also contribute in a similar way. Additional opportunities and equal opportunities can be provided through mentoring, networking, and other incentive measures. The support of institutions, such as the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, is undoubtedly important, and, in the end, it has, in addition to the concrete effect, the psychological effect when a woman knows that it is important for others to succeed.

How do you face the problems in achieving gender equality at all levels of government in Serbia, and what are the key strategies for overcoming these obstacles?

The attitude towards the promotion of gender equality has changed in recent years, so we went from full support and something that was promoted as a priority to the point where it became a problem over which we have divisions. It only says that once won, rights are not won forever and that they must be constantly defended and improved, which is the obligation of an institution such as ours and the entire society. So far, however, a lot has been done. But decades of experience and work tell me that all laws, strategies, action plans, and other important documents are just papers if there are no real women and men in the right place to implement them and breathe life into them. Sometimes, even small “victories” are important, especially in times when the whole world is facing numerous challenges in creating a fairer society tailored to all citizens. In the institution, we continuously monitor and analyze the participation of women in public and political life; we look at and indicate what needs to be done to achieve progress in this area. Many of our recommendations and initiatives have already produced results, but there is still much work to be done. This particularly applies to the field of work and employment, and the priority is certainly all that we must do to combat gender-based violence. In the end, what we all must understand is that only together, as equals, next to each other, can we make a full contribution to achieving all social and political goals. Without this awareness, the whole process will stagnate.

You can register for the Women’s CEO Summit here.

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