Photo: www.publicpolicy.rs

On March 8th, International Women's Day we present you with a story of Nevena Petrusic, women’s rights activist and former Commissioner for Protection of Equality: 

Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle!

I am a Law professor at the Faculty of Law, Nis University, and from the very beginning of my academic career I was aware that there is a huge difference between what is written in legislation and what goes on in practice. I realized that it is not enough to deal with important issues on a theoretical level, and that I wanted to use my knowledge to help real-life women facing violence and discrimination.

For me, being an activist means to take initiative, gather a group of like-minded people recognizing the problem, use the knowledge and resources we have, to jointly come up with ideas and solutions that would bring about the change. As I keep saying to my students, don’t curse the darkness, light a candle with your contribution!

I often like to quote the Serbian Constitution, which says, in the Article 15, that gender equality is now guaranteed, and men and women should have equal opportunities. However, I remember, back in 1993, women in Serbia facing domestic violence did not have an institution, a system to turn to, so several colleagues of mine and I started the first SOS Help Line for women survivors of violence in Nis, where I live and teach. Later on, in 1997, we have also established the Women’s Research Center, carried out comprehensive research, organized many trainings and feminist summer schools teaching women on gender relations and the rights of women, increasing their knowledge on the problems women are facing and negative consequences of gender inequality. At my Faculty, in 2007, we founded the Legal Clinic, in which our students, supervised by professors and lawyers, offer free legal aid to women victims of violence and discrimination, providing them with legal information and counsel and preparing petitions in court and administrative proceedings. It was a great opportunity for my students to gain an insight into real life situations, face women’s authentic experiences, and use their legal knowledge and skills to help these women solve their problems.

For many years in Serbia, only women’s groups were dealing with the issues of gender based violence and discrimination. The situation is much better now, particularly when it comes to legislation. I am proud to have been part of the group of people who worked on the Draft Law on Gender equality, who lobbied and advocated for its passing. We succeeded in the end, despite having faced huge resistance, and the fact that the Draft Law was returned to the Parliament three times, prior to being enacted. Of course, this law was just a first step when it comes to the establishment of gender equality and restraining gender-based discrimination. However, good legislation is very important as a cornerstone that enables introduction of systematic mechanisms that help individuals to protect and exercise their rights.

As educators, our role is to break the shackles of patriarchal mindset for the younger generations, to help overcome gender stereotypes and prejudices, and enable them to build a world in which men and women would have equal opportunities to develop their full potential, unbounded by predefined gender roles.

Meet more men and women change-makers from Europe and Central Asia, supporting women’s economic empowerment, combating violence and discrimination: 


View the messageUnited Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on International Women's Day2018: https://www.facebook.com/unitednations/videos/10156309015720820/

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