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 because of 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. In 2011 the Women against Violence Network reported that women were killed on numerous occasions after reporting violence against them to government institutions.
Violence against women continued to be a problem. While high levels of domestic violence generally were acknowledged, there were no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. Media analyses from 2011 indicated that media reported on the issue in a sensationalist manner, often revealing the full identity of victims and thus contributing to secondary victimization. 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 because of 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. There were 11 safe houses for women in operation (three in Belgrade and one each in Nis, Kragujevac, Smederevo, Valjevo, Pancevo, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, and Sombor) as well as an urgent accommodation facility in Sabac. According to media accounts, most safe houses reported that the number of women who turned to them for assistance rose during the summer months. All safe houses also accommodated the children of the women who were in residence.
In August the Ministry of Interior, acting upon recommendations from several women’s NGOs, decided to develop a special protocol defining specific actions to be taken by police to protect women from family or partner violence.
On June 22, a toll-free hotline for women victims of violence was established in Vojvodina. The provincial Secretariat for Gender Equality provided training for hotline volunteers and other technical and financial support.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a common problem. The law provides that sexual harassment is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve abuse or a power relationship and for up to one year 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 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 were no restrictions on the right to access contraceptives. 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 generally were protected in practice. However, in March then state secretary in the Ministry for Labor, Employment, and Social Policy, Snezana Lakicevic, noted that there was a significant gap between legal and actual status of women in the country. Romani women often noted that they faced double discrimination on account of their gender and ethnicity.
The law provides for 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. Women over 50 reported more difficulty finding work than men of a similar age, and more women than men remained unemployed as a consequence of the economic crisis. Based on numerous reports, there were few women in leadership, management, and highly paid positions.
Generally, the social status of women was inferior to that of men, and women were not well represented in the business world. 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. The commissioner for equality reported that denying women right to sick leave to take care of their children was becoming a common practice. She also noted that women often suffered discrimination after returning to work from maternity leave.
Traditional views of gender roles, particularly in rural areas, often 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 offered stereotypical views of women and gender roles. According to many observers, working women also faced harassment as well as discrimination and derogatory treatment by their male colleagues. The vice president of Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Serbia, Olivera Popovic, noted that society was still not ready to support women in their advancement because the image of women remained dominated by stereotypes portraying them as less valuable than men and putting men in the center of social life.
During the year the government’s Council for Gender Equality, the parliamentary Committee for Gender Equality, the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy’s Directorate for Gender Equality, gender equality mechanisms and institutions in Vojvodina, local committees for gender equality, and the deputy ombudsman continued to work with NGOs to raise public awareness of gender equality problems. On March 13, seven major companies operating in the country --Actavis, Avon, Intesa Bank, Coca Cola, Carlsberg B92, Erste Bank, and IBM--signed a declaration on respect for women’s empowerment with the aim of improving the position of women in the labor market.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s annual report on compliance at http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_4308.html, as well as country-specific information at http://travel.state.gov/abduction/country/country_3781.html.