Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. Advocates believed that only a small percentage of rape victims reported their attacks due to fear of reprisals from their attackers or humiliation in court. Few spousal rape victims filed complaints with authorities. Women’s groups believed that sentences were often too lenient in practice.
On April 1, the government adopted a National Strategy to Prevent Family and Partner Violence against Women. Some NGOs, notably the Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC), criticized the strategy, which had been drafted initially without adequate consultation with stakeholders. Following complaints by the AWC and others, a working group was founded to develop a new strategy with full participation of women’s organizations. On April 21, the AWC and European Women’s Lobby Network launched an initiative to establish a Monitoring Center for Violence against Women, an independent expert body that would monitor gender-based violence.
Violence against women was a problem. While high levels of domestic violence were generally acknowledged, there were no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. On July 29, Snezana Lakicevic, a state secretary in the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs, warned that violence against women was on the rise. According to Lakicevic, from January through June, 29 women were killed in instances of family or gender-based violence. Women were 5.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than men. More than half of women were subject to psychological, physical, sexual, or other forms of violence at some point in their lifetime.
Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers. Such cases were difficult to prosecute due to the lack of witnesses and evidence, and the unwillingness of witnesses or victims to testify. The few official agencies dedicated to coping with family violence had inadequate resources. Civil society played the primary role in combating violence against women. NGOs operated shelters for female victims of violence, and the government continued to provide financial support to safe houses for victims of family violence throughout the country. Several new safe houses for women were opened during the year, including the first regional safe houses in Nis, Smederevo, and Sombor.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a common problem. The law provides that sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment for a case that does not involve abuse or a power relationship, and up to one year’s imprisonment for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. Public awareness remained low, and few complaints were filed during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Health clinics and local health NGOs were permitted to operate freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. There is a National Center for Family Planning and local health centers frequently also had family planning centers. There are no restrictions on the right to access contraceptives. According to the UN Population Fund, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women age 15-49 was 19 percent. The government provided free childbirth services. Women used nurses and midwives for prenatal and postnatal care unless the mother or child suffered more serious health complications. Men and women received equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal rights as men, including under family law, property law, and in the judicial system. These rights were generally protected in practice. During the year the government’s Council for Gender Equality, the parliamentary Committee for Gender Equality, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy’s Directorate for Gender Equality, gender equality mechanisms and institutions in Vojvodina, local committees for gender equality, and the deputy ombudsman worked with NGOs to raise public awareness of gender equality problems. The law on gender equality guarantees equal opportunities and treatment for men and women in employment and requires state bodies to ensure that the less-represented gender occupy at least 30 percent of the positions in each organizational unit, including management. Both the ombudsman and the commissioner for equality believed that women remained underrepresented in numerous sectors of public and economic life. Romani women often noted that they faced double discrimination on account of their gender and ethnicity.
Traditional views of gender roles, particularly in rural areas, resulted in discrimination against women. In remote rural areas, particularly among some minority communities, women could not effectively exercise their right to control property. School textbooks sometimes offered stereotypical view of women and gender roles.
The social status of women was generally considered inferior to that of men, and women were not well represented in the business world. Women over 50 reported more difficulty finding work than men of a similar age, and more women than men became unemployed as a consequence of the economic crisis. While maternity leave is provided for by law, there were reports that private companies did not always meet legal obligations. NGOs reported that women without children experienced discrimination during the hiring process because employers feared they would take maternity leave in the future.