Interview: “Rural women must realize their value and fight every day, in various ways, in this male-dominated world”

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Svetlana Bogdanović is a rural woman from central Serbia and participates in the UN Women project “Improving Women’s Security in Serbia”. Photo: Courtesy of Svetlana Bogdanović.

Svetlana Bogdanović, 56, is a single mother from the village of Trbušani in central Serbia. She leads a rural family and grows corn, wheat, barley, clover and plums on the land she inherited. She is one of more than 300 participants in a UN Women project implemented by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade. The project aims to increase rural women’s awareness and confidence in protection against gender-based violence and discrimination. It focuses on their economic empowerment, as economic stability is a key factor in ending the cycle of violence.

How did you join this project?

The women’s association “Save the Village” participated in the project as a strategic partner. The commissioner, Ms. Janković, and the head of this CSO, Ms. Stanojević, approached me with the idea of ​​joining the project and proposing some women from the district of Moravica who could be allocated a greenhouse. This project has also provided me with useful lectures on entrepreneurship, digital marketing and environmental conservation. In June 2022, I took part in a study tour organized by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality for Women in Agriculture. We visited Slovenia, Austria and Croatia and the experience was extremely useful to me in many ways. We exchanged experiences with women from the European Union, but also gained new knowledge about starting and improving small agricultural businesses.

How useful is the knowledge gained from this project?

Rural women do not have many opportunities to improve their knowledge of digital marketing. Thanks to high quality lectures, I learned to use digital tools in product placement and marketing. Social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and others that are visible to a large number of people, are a great way to present products to potential customers. These are great channels for showcasing products for free, and they’re easy to use. I passed on the knowledge acquired on this subject to the women around me and some of them have already created their own pages on Facebook to present their products. The first results are already visible.

The conference on environmental protection was also very useful. We all know that plastic and other man-made materials pollute the environment, but we don’t know exactly how much. During our field trip to Slovenia, I learned about the process of producing eco-friendly oils. Since there are a lot of walnuts in the area where I live and I have walnuts on my property, I intend to start the production of cold pressed walnut oil.

How have these experiences benefited your personal and professional life?

New horizons have opened up to me. I realized that when women in rural areas come together and exchange experiences, and when they improve their knowledge of new technologies, they can make their lives easier and have more time for themselves and their personal development. I continued to follow all the conferences of the Association of Businesswomen of Serbia and also, inspired by the work of the association “Save the village” elsewhere in our district, I am thinking of creating my own association of rural women with the aim of educating and empowering them, and I have already taken some steps in this direction.

How to improve the status of women in rural areas?

The main problem of rural women is economic dependence. The grouping of women into associations enables them to acquire equipment to improve their activities, publicize their products, reach customers directly and earn money. Women in rural areas do not benefit from any guaranteed maternity leave or any type of pension. I believe that all women, without exception, should be paid during their maternity leave. We must also fight to create a fair pension insurance system, which should be compulsory for everyone, including rural women. I think it would be useful to organize educational workshops on digital literacy so that women can come together, meet, exchange experiences, gain confidence and learn something new that they can apply in their homes.

What is your message to rural women?

Rural women are the backbone of the household and they work very hard. In the midst of all this work, they forget themselves. I want to tell them that they have to devote some of their time to themselves. Rural women must realize their value and fight every day, in various ways, in this male-dominated world, for their opinions to be heard, for active participation in decision-making, for economic independence – for what is called equality.

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