(Last Updated On: March 8, 2024)

As we approach the “Women’s CEO Summit” on March 14, 2024, at Belgrade’s Madlena Art Palace, a conversation with Mr. John Kennedy Mosoti, UNFPA Director for Serbia, offers profound insights into the state of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region.

Highlighting the challenges faced due to demographic shifts, socio-economic disparities, and the alarming rates of gender-based violence, Mr. Mosoti’s perspective underscores the critical need for concerted efforts in addressing these issues. Drawing from the UNFPA’s transformative “three zeros” framework and his personal experiences as a father and advocate, Mosoti’s narrative aligns seamlessly with the summit’s mission to spotlight women’s leadership and advocate for tangible, equitable changes. This interaction not only sets the stage for meaningful dialogue at the summit but also emphasizes the urgency and importance of collective action in the quest for gender equality in Serbia and beyond.

What are the key challenges in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Serbia from the angle of the UNFPA, United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency? 

In Serbia, we’re witnessing a complex landscape marked by demographic shifts and persistent gender disparities. One significant challenge is the demographic aging trend, which poses various socio-economic implications including in the gender equality arena. According to the data from the latest Census and the publication Women and Men in the Republic of Serbia, the population aging index has increased notably for both men and women. These shifts underscore the need for robust social welfare and healthcare provisions, particularly for older populations. Moreover, statistics from Serbia underscore the prevalence of various forms of gender-based violence, with a staggering 45% of women reporting experiences of violence at the hands of a partner since the age of 15. Additionally, there persists a concerning disparity in contraceptive use, with only one in five women in Serbia utilizing reliable contraception, further compounded by inequalities among Roma and the general population.

Despite a slight uptick in the Total Fertility Rate, disparities persist, with women encountering numerous obstacles. Employment statistics reveal a significant gender gap, particularly among women aged 25–54, who experience markedly lower employment rates compared to men of the same age. These disparities exacerbate economic inequalities, contributing to higher rates of poverty among women, particularly those aged 55 and over.

A stark reality emerges from these findings: women in Serbia spend twice as much time on household chores as men, regardless of their employment status. This unequal burden renders housework akin to a second job for employed women. In conclusion, addressing these entrenched challenges requires concerted efforts to dismantle gender inequalities across various sectors, fostering a more equitable and inclusive society for all.

What approach does UNFPA in Serbia take to address these issues? Your organization often speaks about 3 zeros, what does it entail in reality?

The “three zeros” Transformative Results framework reaffirmed more than four years ago at the landmark Nairobi Summit —zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence—guides our efforts towards comprehensive and sustainable solutions. In Serbia, where access to sexual and reproductive health services remains crucial, we work to enhance access to these services while empowering women and girls economically and socially.

That is why we at the United Nations Population Fund together with our partners in Serbia advocate for women and girls, promoting legal and policy reforms and gender-responsive data collection, as well as supporting initiatives that improve the health of women and girls and expand their choices in life. Knowing that neither of these can happen irrespective of population dynamics that evolve as we speak, we will also continue to support the Government of the Republic of Serbia to strengthen their capacities to understand and predict demographic changes, as well as to build skills, tools, political will and public support to manage these changes while leaving no one behind. And all these interventions are complementary with the EU reform agenda and the EU path Serbia is currently on.

In 2021, UNFPA launched a bodyright campaign to tackle the widespread gender based online violence which is primarily affecting women and girls. What is the situation like in Serbia when it comes to this growing phenomenon?  

The “bodyright” campaign is a critical UNFPA initiative launched in 2021 globally, aiming at  shedding light on the pervasive issue of gender-based violence in the digital sphere and its profound consequences on mental and physical health, as well as social isolation. In the current societal landscape, where technology plays an increasingly central role in our lives, addressing this challenge is paramount. And as you said, primarily to protect women and girls who are more affected by this type of violence.

In Serbia, initiative is spearheaded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in cooperation with the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.  The statistics are indeed disturbing, revealing the urgent need for awareness and action. Research conducted by the UNFPA in collaboration with the NGO Atina in 2021, underscores the multifaceted impact of online violence, particularly on young girls aged 18 and 19 in Serbia. The survey highlights the pervasive sense of insecurity among internet users in Serbia, with a staggering 78 percent expressing feelings of unsafety despite spending significant time online. Alarmingly, the majority of girls surveyed had never participated in any awareness-raising campaign about gender-based violence through technology, indicating a critical gap in knowledge and education on this issue.

This is why we at UNFPA adapted a Glossary of Terms of this type of violence online, with explanations and examples, in Serbian language, to empower people to recognize and describe a form of  violence that they experience online. We implemented a number of activities to raise awareness among youth, parents, teachers and other people working with youth and also women of all ages across Serbia.  We are in constant communication with our partners, the Commissioner, Ministry of Education, and others to continue working on these issues that will continue to evolve.

Having lived and worked in diverse cultural settings and being married as well as a father to three daughters, how has your personal journey influenced your approach to advocating for women’s rights and gender equality in your professional role?

As a father of three daughters two of whom were born in Kenya and later lived in the US, my personal journey has profoundly shaped my approach to advocating for women’s rights and gender equality. Having experienced diverse cultural settings, I’ve witnessed firsthand the various challenges and barriers that women face across different societies. As the first son, I grew up in relative privilege in a community that elevated sons over girls. This never settled well with me. This has instilled in me a deep sense of understanding for the struggles and aspirations of women and girls. I promised myself that I would do more for women and girls. I am happy to report that my daughters will not go through these challenges within the family and can exercise their choices and achieve their potentials.

Moreover, raising daughters in two different cultural contexts has heightened my awareness of the importance of gender equality in shaping their futures. I am aware of the need to dismantle stereotypes and barriers that hinder their full potential and autonomy. My experiences as a father have fueled my commitment to creating a world where my daughters, and all women, can thrive without limitations or discrimination.

Professionally, this personal journey has translated into a steadfast dedication to advocating for policies and initiatives that promote gender equality and empower women. Whether through education, healthcare, or economic opportunities, I strive to contribute to creating a more equitable and inclusive society where every woman and girl has the opportunity to fulfill her dreams and aspirations.

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