Aug. 2014—Troubled by the lack of opportunity for women to participate in sports activities and concerned about potential health risks to young women not engaged in athletics, the Gender Equality Commission in Topola, Serbia, recently sprang into action.
Gender Equality Commissions (GECs) are formal government bodies tasked with ensuring that women’s rights are protected. They educate local officials about the need for gender-sensitive policymaking in order to implement important elements of the National Strategy on Gender Equality, which was adopted in February 2009.
With USAID assistance, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been working with GEC members across Serbia since 2010 to increase their leadership, management, advocacy, research and negotiation skills. Topola GEC members participated in the Institute’s 2013 program and used what they learned to launch a successful program promoting women’s health in their region.
During the spring of 2013, the Topola GEC and representatives of the municipal government conducted an independent analysis of the local budget that led to an increase in funding for girls’ sports programs. Using the knowledge and skills gained from NDI workshops on gender-sensitive budgeting and policymaking, the GEC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain gender disaggregated data about the local budget line for sports.
The FOIA request forced the release of documents revealing that over 80 percent of the resources allocated for local sports programs were dedicated to men, 11 percent were for “joint sports activities,” and just 9 percent of the budget was reserved for women’s sports.
“It is part of our local culture that we have many girls engaged in folklore and sport clubs that are exclusively women’s such as football, volleyball and handball,” said Topola Mayor Dragan Jovanovic. “In volleyball alone there are more than 30 girls who are engaged. We wanted to make them more visible in the community, to encourage girls’ fitness and to develop a spirit of competition and fairness.”
The GEC sought the support of the women’s handball club Kolibri, and together they lobbied local government officials for equal treatment of women in the budgeting process. They proposed, and the municipal government approved, a summer Festival of Women’s Sports held on July 16, 2013, to showcase women’s athletics, including handball and soccer tournaments.
The GEC used the success of the festival to pressure the local assembly to fund the event on an annual basis. They also drafted a legislative proposal to equalize spending on men and women’s sports in the municipality. In September 2013, the local government passed a law mandating that sports resources be reserved for the Festival of Women's Sports while another legislative proposal on equalizing spending on men’s and women’s sports will be part of the overall budget discussion.
In addition to creating more organized athletic opportunities for women and girls in Topola, the GEC “fairness initiative” demonstrated to citizens and community leaders that public resources must be distributed fairly between men and women. The initiative also ignited public conversations on the importance of transparency in the management of the municipal budget.
The USAID project is part of the five-year Political Process Support Program, which runs from October 2010 to September 2015. It aims to develop the institutional capacity of political parties, Parliament, targeted governmental institutions and civil society to advance key reforms, enhance the policy development process, improve accountability, increase civic engagement and support democratic elections.
Last updated: January 14, 2015