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Panel: “Culture, Art, and Media for a Society without Violence Against Women”

The panel “Culture, Art and Media for a Society without Violence against Women” was recently organized by the Mikser Cultural Organization and the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment UN Women in Serbia.

The new ambassador of Great Britain to Serbia, His Excellency, Edward Ferguson, together with the director of the UN Women Agency in Serbia, Milana Rikanović, addressed the journalists and participants, as a form of support for the important topic of gender equality and women’s safety in our society.

The conversation is part of the initiative to improve the safety of women in public spaces “She walks alone through the city”, which was created as part of the umbrella project “Safety of women and girls in public space” that UN Women Serbia is implementing with the support of the British Embassy in Serbia, and in cooperation with The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, local self-government units and civil sector organizations in five cities across Serbia.

Before the discussion, Maja Lalić presented the research results on behalf of Mikser, with a focus on the recommendations of citizens for long-term social measures to improve the safety of women and girls in public space, which were overwhelmingly (almost 80% of responses) focused on the role of the media, art, culture, education, as well as raising public and media awareness (55.4%) about the necessary fight against the culture of tolerance for all forms of violence against women in our society.

The topic of discussion was the role of culture and the media in suppressing tolerance of gender-based violence in public spaces and promoting gender equality. Prominent representatives of our cultural, public and media life in Serbia spoke about their experiences, as well as the concrete necessary steps towards a safer and more empathetic society, who paved the way for these important topics in public with their personal commitment and integrity: journalist Jelena Zorić, theater director Minja Bogavac, musician of the band E-Play Maja Cvetković, art historian Sanja Kojić Mladenov and literary historian Stanislava Barać, through a moderated conversation with Mikser team member, journalist Aleksandra Malušev.

Numerous representatives of the local public from the fields of culture, media, civil society associations, law, and diplomacy supported the event and topic with their presence.

When asked about the biggest challenges for the honest and dignified practice of the journalistic profession, bearing in mind that the results of the research showed that citizens see this sphere as both the source of the problem, but also the space for creating a solution, Jelena Zorić stated finding a balance between two imperatives: the right of the public to know the facts and the right of victims and families to dignity and privacy.

  • – Maybe I failed to afford expensive trips or to have some benefits, but my priority has always been not to hurt the actors of the case I am reporting on. I always think about the victims and their families and how they would feel if they read something about their loved ones. What we are seeing in the media is not just fast-paced and unverified tabloid journalism or a fight for clickbait, it is about pandering to the masses on whom this kind of content is imposed, and it is important not to surrender to it. For example, I don’t receive any push notifications, I’d rather check the portals I trust every hour or two than expose myself to such content, and when something important happens, there’s no way you’ll miss it – Zorić pointed out and added that the financial penalties, no matter how large they may be, for violating the legal and framework of the Code of Journalists of Serbia, has not proved sufficient, and believes that only influencing the audience’s awareness can help, which requires long-term engagement, and results can only come gradually.

In conjunction with representatives of institutions and editors and owners of certain media, Zorić noted, and their need to confirm mutual loyalty, it often happens that the media publishes details of the investigation that helped the perpetrator escape from the police and thus jeopardized the entire investigative and judicial process.

Minja Bogavac, the director of the play “Girls” pointed out that this play had about thirty performances in a short time and that the audience experienced it personally and invited their friends to watch it.

  • – These are true stories, and they are not even extreme examples. I like to joke that this is a play about the “growing up problems of privileged, white Serbian girls” but these are stories that each of us can identify with because we’ve all been through some of that. What should be done to change the discourse on violence against women and the tolerance of that violence is certainly the education of boys and men. We have done countless workshops with girls, but everything is clear and simple to us. We need to focus our energy on those who may not be aware that their seemingly nonchalant behavior is causing harm to someone, who do not understand that a loud comment addressed to a neighbor can really cause pain to her – believes Bogavac.

Maja Cvetković from E-play, who did the remake of the hit “Out” by Ekatarina Druga and followed the whole campaign with the chorus “She walks alone through the city”, recalled on this occasion how during the filming of the video for the song “Šamarčina” she and her colleague came out on the street with make-up as if they had serious injuries, with bruises and wounds, and none of the passers-by tried to help them.

  • – Since we weren’t really threatened, I’m glad we didn’t have to explain. On the other hand, the make-up was cinematic and incredibly believable, I looked at my face in disbelief… The video was talked about and commented on a lot afterward, but it comes to me that we are very brave when we leave anonymous comments on posts on portals, we are full of support on social networks, where our name is visible, but in direct contact we withdraw, out of some fear, the desire not to be part of something… – Maja pointed out.

Sanja Kojić Mladenov, when asked about successful visual artists who already have global recognition and who strongly use their female voice in problematizing gender roles, violence, the female body, etc., says that breaking through to the world stage is based on personal contacts and the persistence of each of an artist.

  • – Every exhibition, display, or program that I organized, I organized myself with the help of my own contacts and involvement. How should I say this… that we do not expect any systemic support in terms of official institutions for a long time now? This is because many decisive positions are occupied by individuals who should not have the power to decide and plan things because they simply do not have enough knowledge about them – explained Mladenov.

Stanislava Barać points out that something is changing in the field of literature and the representation of women’s creativity, but that it is also about individual initiatives and publishers that target the promotion of women’s creativity and content that deals with violence against women and the general position and treatment of women in society.

  • – At the end of the 1980s in Yugoslavia, women recognized that the way to change society and ensure the dignified position of women was through the media, and then several magazines and newsletters such as “Feminističke sveske” and “SOS bulletin” were created, which dealt in a very open way rape problems. During the war in the 1990s, extensive research was conducted that proved the connection between rape in wartime circumstances and rape in peacetime conditions – Barać reflected.

As a list of priorities for changing the culture of tolerance of violence against women, our interlocutors point out the following:

  • – Education of both media professionals and the audience to choose content rationally
  • – Education of men about the culture of tolerance of violence against women, primarily boys and young men
  • – The necessity for society to fight for responsible and decisive positions in all public institutions to be occupied by people with knowledge and professional integrity
  • – The necessity of association and self-organization of all actors of public life, along “guild” lines, but also in groups of like-minded people to form a critical mass
  • – Encouraging individuals in the education system to provide children with different insights and interpretations of traditional and outdated material
  • – Mutual encouragement of women to overcome the feeling of inferiority and more courageously take on decisive roles and functions in society and not to wait for someone’s confirmation and permission because it will not come from the outside.

More photos are available here.