A group of people sitting around a table. - Photo:Svetlana Bogdanović
Svetlana Bogdanović

A story from a woman’s life - Svetlana Bogdanović

My name is Svetlana Bogdanović. I come from the wonderful village of Trbušani, situated in the plains surrounding Čačak, where I have lived all my life. I was born on October 9, 1966, in Čačak. My zodiac sign is Libra. I am supposed to be gentle, subtle, artistic, and indecisive, but life has given me a completely different role. Since 2008, I have been a widow and a single mother of a boy, born in 2005, which meant that I had to be strong, determined, combative - everything opposite of who I essentially am.

I live alone with my son, a high school student, on the estate in the village of Trbušani that I inherited from my father. I own a registered rural household for about twenty years. I cultivate the land I inherited, but since I don't have enough manpower, nor machines for high-quality land cultivation, I take other jobs in addition to agriculture, because I cannot support my son and myself from agriculture alone.

I adore living in the countryside and the peace it offers me. I love to watch the plants I planted myself, how they grow, bloom and bear fruit... I love to sit in my yard late in the evening, when I'm done with my work, and drink coffee, listening to the sounds of crickets and birds, watching the fireflies fly around...

In one sentence, summed up - my life is not easy, but I am a happy woman.

How did you become part of the project, namely, how did your cooperation with the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality begin?

My cooperation with the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Ms. Brankica Janković, began in 2021, via a friend of mine, Ms. Malina Stanojević, from Priboj, the president and founder of the Women's Association "Save the Village" from Priboj.

I met the Commissioner for the first time in Čačak, at a round table held within the project "Improving the safety of women in Serbia", which is implemented by the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway.

At this gathering, I was personally impressed in particular by the presence of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway, Jorn Gjelstad, and the Commissioner. I was fascinated by her straightforwardness and willingness to hear women's problems at all times.Svetlana

How did you participate in the project?

The Women's Association "Save the Village" participated in the project as a strategic partner. The Commissioner and Ms. Stanojević approached me and proposed that I join the work of the Association, by suggesting a couple of women from the Moravica district to receive a greenhouse as a donation, in compliance with the project goals.

Thus, my first concrete participation in the project was to select and propose, according to certain criteria, two women from the Moravica district, who would each receive a greenhouse - which I did. Both are formally unemployed but work in agriculture.

After the distribution of the greenhouses, I was invited to participate in a seminar in Vrnjačka Banja, where I listened to very useful lectures on "Entrepreneurship and digital marketing" held by Tijana Sekulić, consultant for digital transformation, and "Contribution and knowledge of women and girls from rural areas in improving and preserving the environment", where the lecturer was Aleksandra Gajović.

After those lectures, I participated in the study trip Slovenia-Austria-Croatia, in June 2022, which was extremely useful for me in many aspects.

At Malina's suggestion, I continued to follow all the lectures organized on the Zoom platform by the Association of Businesswomen of Serbia. That's how I came up with the idea to form an association with the women from the village in my neighborhood, so that we might, building on the experiences of the Women's Association "Save the Village" from Priboj, help women and empower them to gain equal status.

Do you think the position of women in rural areas has improved in the last 10 years?

Yes, I think it has improved, but we still need to work on that issue. Also, I think that the more rural the environment is, the more inert it becomes, the changes are slower, and the traditional behavior (here I am primarily referring to the relationship between women and men) is more rooted.

In your opinion, how should the position of women in rural areas be improved, namely, what types of support are needed?

I believe that the fundamental problem of rural women is economic dependence. Even though her working day lasts at least two shifts or 16 hours, a woman personally does not receive any money for it. That is why I think that the gathering of women in associations, such as "Save the Village", which enables them to acquire equipment, such as devices for making natural juices, greenhouses, etc. is very useful. In this way, within the association, women can offer their products, advertise them, and reach the users directly, therefore gaining some money.

Women in rural areas do not have guaranteed maternity leave, nor any kind of pension, which becomes a big problem later, in old age. I believe that in a country with a negative birth rate, all women, without exception, should be granted a certain remuneration during maternity leave. Also, I believe that we should fight to create a fair pension system, in accordance with the real possibilities of every person in the countryside, which would be mandatory for both women and men.

Given that women from rural areas have a very limited circle of daily movement and that they only leave their surroundings when necessary (shopping, visiting the doctor, celebrations, visiting relatives...), I think it would be useful to organize trainings in the field of digital literacy, as well as live workshops, so that women can gather, meet, exchange experiences, gain confidence, see and learn something new that they can apply in their household.Svetlana

Do you consider yourself a fighter for women's rights?

Absolutely. I am a fighter for women's rights always and in every place and I always fight with arguments.

How do you plan to continue fighting for the empowerment of women in rural areas?

Observing the work of the Association "Save the Village" from Priboj, headed by Malina Stanojević, and talking with the members of that association, I came to the conclusion that such an association is very useful for women from rural areas, and I am seriously considering creating my own association with the goal of educating and empowering women in every possible way.

How did participation in the project affect you and your life?

New perspectives opened up for me and I realized that women, united and engaged through the application of new technologies, networking and exchanging experiences, can make their lives much easier and provide more free time for themselves.

Would you recommend other women to get involved in similar projects/activities?

Not only would I recommend it, but I also undertook certain activities in that direction. I sincerely hope that the result of my engagement will be the formation of a women's association that will be at least to some degree as successful as the "Save the Village" Women's Association, which is my personal role model in that field.

Have you thought about passing on your knowledge and skills to other women?

Yes. I shared with them my experiences from Slovenia, Austria and Croatia, in words and through pictures and videos. I also spoke with the women to get their opinion regarding the establishment of the association, which was met with a very positive reception.

What motivates you?

I love the countryside, I live in the countryside, and I am ready to get involved in any way that can help improve the living conditions in the countryside, which would motivate its inhabitants to remain in the villages. The key element in that struggle is the rural woman - she is the pillar of the household, which is why I would like to try to help these women, at least some of them, in any way I can.

What would be your message to women?

As I have already said, women in rural areas are the pillars of households and work very hard. With all that work, they forget to think of themselves. I want to tell them that they must devote part of their time to themselves, that they must be self-conscious and aware of their value, and that they must fight every day, in various ways, in this world, still a world of men, for their standpoints, for their opinions, for active participation in decision-making, for economic independence - for what is called equality.