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How ARE Women Treated in Serbia?

by Laura on November 11th, 2013

“We don’t know how they treat their women in Serbia.”

Wait, what?

Photo credit: “Female Icon Background” by fotographic1980

The (Serbian) teenage son of a close friend asked if he could bring his girlfriend on his yearly visit to the Balkans. The son reasoned that since his girlfriend was over 18; it wouldn’t be an issue with her parents.

Major miscalculation.

You see, the girlfriend and her family are decidedly American. And Catholic, to boot. I doubt they realize that Croatia is a Catholic country.

When all was said and done, the parents forbid the girlfriend to visit Belgrade, because (among other excuses), We don’t know how they treat their women there.

Well, let me educate you as to how they/we* treat our women:

1. We give them generous maternity leave

In Serbia, women receive one year of maternity leave. Paid. And by paid, I mean 100%.

Compare that with the way Americans “treat their women.”  Women supposedly receive 12 weeks of leave, with absolutely no guarantee that any part of that time they will be compensated, at all. [Read how other countries fare in maternity leave.]

2. Affordable, reliable daycare

Fees for clean, safe, state-run daycare for children ages 1-5 are subsidized by the government, making it feasible and yes, even desirable,for women to return to work—to use the education and skills that they worked so hard to attain. Plus, families need the money, so it’s less a matter of choice than necessity.

3. Free education women (and men!)

Yep, you read that right. Education is free. Through graduate school.

Up until recently, even school textbooks were covered in college.

Women are encouraged to enter STEM fields. Education is rigorous, to the point where parents are concerned that school is too hard for kids. I know, crazy.

4. Equal pay

There is no such thing as a quasi-institutionalized wage gap between men and women in Serbia. Although, that may start to change, with more capitalistic policies coming on the heels of Serbia’s application to the EU.

What does this mean for the average city/suburban educated woman trying to “have it all”?

It means you get help from the government, your parents and extended family to achieve in your career and have a strong marriage and healthy kids.

Granted, life isn’t perfect. It’s busy and messy and tiring and frustrating, even in Serbia. But here are a few examples of “average” moms, (bi- or trilingual) friends of mine here:

- Graphic designer

- Lawyer, formerly elected judge

- Pediatrician

- Architect

- University professor, PhD in education

- Telecommunications engineer

- Nurse

- Landscape architect

- School teacher

- Marketing specialist

“Global Education” by jscreationzs

Maybe you’re thinking … this is a new thing, what about previous generations? 

First, remember pre-feminist America … where the primary jobs outside the home open to women were nurse, school teacher and secretary? (Mad Men and all that.) Or better yet, just stay home and don’t over-tax your wittle-bitty bwain!

Off the top of my head, I can think of the careers of a few Serbian grandmas I know. Let’s see … electrical engineer (with master’s degree); chemical engineer and medical doctor, among others.

Hey, I’m the first person to satirize talk about the social problems in Serbia.

The infrastructure which was destroyed by the wars in the 1990s has sadly, not recovered.

Wages, even for highly educated individuals, are far below Western standards.

The credit and mortgage system are in their infancy; most people rent, or live in the apartments that were given to their parents by the social communist government 30-40 years ago. Accordingly, “upward mobility” as we understand it in the U.S. is difficult and generally not worth the hassle.

Unemployment is high.

Entrepreneurial spirit is low-to-non-existent.

But the way we treat our women? Um? We educate them, support them and encourage them to achieve in their chosen fields. (Talk about an anti-1%.)

Too bad your daughter didn’t get to come over here and see that for herself.

* I’m not a dual citizen yet, but in the process.


From → Expat Mommy

  1. Gaye permalink

    Nice one Laura. Love to see our prejudiced perceptions challenged – in all areas :).

    • Laura Dennis permalink

      Hey, thanks Gaye!!! Yes, this thing bothered me and I did keep quiet about if … for a few months. But that's as long as I could wait!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Wow. This is amazing! Why don't more people know about this???

    • Laura Dennis permalink

      I know, right?! I guess because preconceived notions run deep, other than that, I'm not sure!

      • Rebecca Hawkes permalink

        My husband read an article once by a man who had traveled around the world, and everywhere he went the people warned him about the next place he was about to visit, claiming it was very dangerous and he should be careful. He'd get there and the people would be kind and hospitable, but they'd warn him about the _next_ place he was scheduled to go.

  3. MamaB permalink

    Lovely. 1 year maternity leave is a total gift…and I wish it was 100% of my ACTUAL salary!

    • Laura Dennis permalink

      Yes! I can only imagine! (Good thing salaries are fairly low, here, I guess).

  4. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid maternity leave. And yet many people here in the U.S. still somehow manage to hold the belief that we are on the cutting edge of women's rights, with the rest of the world lagging behind us. Uh, no. The reality of our public policies doesn't line up at all with the perception, yet the perception persists. It's crazy!

  5. natasa jovicic permalink

    Dear Laura, I am reading your blog for some time and I realized that comments are mostly from USA. Your blog is interesting and I rarely have something to add although I believe that you deserve comment from your Serbian readers.

    So, at first I must say that I am really moved with this last one. I am one of those women and when I am reading your blog I realized that we are actually not realizing how happy we are here. Living here in Belgrade you believe that it is normal to do all that: be a mother, be a wife, be working women with great ambitions and to have family support. That is our life, it looks normal for us, but it is privilege and I realized that now.

    Good for you Laura. Nice observation. I did not know that you are dealing with this problem at all.

    Thank you for writing such a great stuff about us (working mums, wives, women in Serbia).

  6. mumugb permalink

    Right. You know what: after reading your post, I think that I should come to Serbia for a while. I am tired of the casula sexism over here and could do with a bit of change…

  7. Gosh, in that regards Serbia is so well ahead of many of the westernised countries, Australia included.

  8. Dushan permalink

    Great post Laura.
    I know there are many misconceptions about Serbia and Serbians. We are just villains for Hollywood. I am born and raised in Belgrade, but left to live and work overseas. After first shock of capitalism (it was not so dream-alike as we imagine in post-communist country), I started appreciating many things in Serbia. Education is on very high level. Urban culture is strong too. I am happy I had a chance to be raised there. I have to admit that North European countries treat women even better, but we are not that bad. What more, looking at your article I would say very good, some things coming from our communist heritage. I hope to see more women in Serbian politic and hope more foreigners will read this article. Thanks for coming to Serbia and writing this magnificent blog. Maybe your next book can be Serbia-related…

  9. Mrs.Hall permalink

    I truly enjoyed your post about Serbia. My husband's company is currently talking about locating a factory in Serbia, not sure what town yet. They asked that we start looking at places there to find a home. Due to My husband and our children and I will have to relocated there. Thank you for all the information it was a blessing to find your post.

  10. Maggie permalink

    It realy nice to find somebody that's not criticizing my poor country ^w^.

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