The Bill on Gender Equality privileges the financing of specialized services for perpetrators of violence over services for victims, while the Bill on Prohibition of Discrimination omits sexual harassment as discriminatory behavior, warns the coalition prEUgovor, noting that the proposed solutions were not the subject of public debate.
The proposed amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination and the proposed new Law on Gender Equality are the subject of discussion at the 12th session of the National Assembly and the 8th session of the parliamentary Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality during this week. The coalition prEUgovor appealed to the members of parliament (MPs) to change the inadequate proposed legal solutions.
When it comes to the Proposal of the Law on Amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, prEUgovor points out that the definitions therein and in the Bill on Gender Equality are not harmonized with the Criminal Code and the Labor Law when it comes to sexual harassment. Namely, Article 5 of the Bill regulates "harassment, degrading treatment, harassment based on gender and sex", but does not mention sexual harassment as such.
If the National Assembly adopts amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in such a way as to omit to define the term sexual harassment so that it is clear that it refers to harassment in the sphere of sexual life, Serbia will be the only country to have an umbrella anti-discrimination law where sexual harassment will not be considered a form of discriminatory behavior.
Surprisingly, the Proposal of the Law on Gender Equality (in Articles 58 and 77) gives priority to the financing of specialized services for perpetrators of violence (referred to in Article 56) over specialized services for victims of violence (provided for in Article 55). Namely, according to the proposed solution, the specialized service for perpetrators of violence will be financed from the state budget from the day the law enters into force, while Safe Houses and Crisis Centers for Victims of Sexual Violence will be financed only from the budget of local self-government units as of January 2024, when the financing of the SOS hotline for victims of violence is planned.
In this way, specialized services for victims of violence are placed in an unequal position in relation to specialized services for perpetrators of violence, which is contrary to the Constitution of Serbia and the ratified Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention). Article 16, para. 3 of the Convention explicitly requires that "safety of, support for and the human rights of the victims [of violence] are of primary concern". Although in Art. 56 of the Bill contains an identical provision as the Convention, this provision is rendered meaningless by the fact of providing a privileged way of financing specialized services for perpetrators of violence insteasd of specialized services for victims.
Coalition members could not establish how this article was amended after the public debate on the Draft Law on Gender Equality, conducted by which the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, given that the public debate was concluded without changes to this article.
The Coalition prEUgovor believes that, if the Government of the Republic of Serbia decided to finance a specialized and very expensive service for perpetrators of violence, which does not guarantee a positive outcome and safety of victims, then it had to do so only under the same conditions as for specialized services for victims of violence. In other countries where there are specialized services for perpetrators of violence, those services are mostly paid for by the perpetrators themselves, because in that way they show a real intention and will to change their behavior, and to take responsibility for the damage done.
By not retaining the text of Article 58, as stated in the Draft Law that passed the public debate, in the adopted Bill, not only great damage was done, but also direct discrimination of victims in relation to perpetrators of violence as service users. The Draft provided for the division of responsibilities and funding between the republican, provincial and local self-government budgets, which is only possible for regional services, and acknowledged the fact that poor local governments financed by earmarked transfers are unable to fund specialized services for victims of violence.
The Coalition appeals for the mentioned omissions to be corrected during the parliamentary debate on both bills. It is necessary to explicitly enlist sexual harassment as discriminatory behavior in the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, and to provide funding for specialized services for victims of violence from the budget of the Republic of Serbia, the budget of the autonomous province and the budget of local self-government units.