In the new prEUgovor policy paper, Autonomous Women’s Center, ASTRA and Group 484 provide an overview of the key obligations of the Republic of Serbia in the area of protection of human rights and women’s rights related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women in Serbia – Between Human Rights and Pronatalist Policy

The paper summarizes legal and strategic regulations, followed by the state of health care and the formal education system, including information on two specific target groups - women migrants and asylum seekers and women victims of trafficking, as well as conclusions and recommendations for improvement. These recommendations should be guidelines for state action, especially in two areas - health and education, which are the focus of this analysis.

Summarizing all the findings of this analysis could lead to the general conclusion that domestic strategic documents, although following international standards, do not have adequate political support for implementation and change. Policy in this area is unambiguously pronatalist and is not sensitive to the specific needs and rights of women - especially not those women from (multiply) marginalized social groups - but also to the needs and rights of youth.

Bearing in mind that without collecting appropriate and gender-disaggregated data in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, i.e., in connection with the implementation of measures and activities from the Program, as well as without their processing and publicly available reports, it is not possible to conclude on this situation, and thus it is necessary to establish an appropriate administrative registration mechanism. This would (at least partially) prevent the dissemination of unverified data and its (mis)use in campaigns to restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights, a trend that is present in Europe, the region, as well as in Serbia, and which is contrary to international women’s human rights standards.

Based on the reviewed curricula in primary and secondary schools (formal system), it could not be concluded that this is a systematic and comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive rights and health of children and youth in education in Serbia, although it is a state obligation in relation to certified international documents that set the standard, as well as domestic laws and public policy documents. Certain topics and contents are present in certain general education subjects, often elective, without sufficient horizontal and vertical connection.

Curricular and extracurricular contents in the formal education system at all levels should be scientifically accurate, evidence-based, age-appropriate, designed to respect human rights (including the right to choose, to privacy, and confidentiality), as well as values ​​(such as equality, respect, autonomy, critical thinking, personal and social responsibility, personal development and healthy attitude towards oneself and others). The contents need to be specific to the needs of school students from marginalized social groups, including children and youth who are at higher risk of dropping out of education. The state education policy, synchronized with the policies in other areas, should also respond to the needs of children and youth who are outside the regular education system, i.e., who do not attend school

Appropriately educated teachers, professional associates, and educators should inform and train children about these programs and contents, but they could also include other relevant actors, such as experts from the community, parents, and students (through peer training). This includes the possibility of continuous professional education of school staff, mandatory training of employees involved in the implementation of these contents, development of manuals for educators (including methodological guidelines for interactive and participatory forms of work), associates and educators, and development of appropriate educational material for school students, so as to avoid all the shortcomings of the current practice.

Last but not least, it is necessary to provide adequate funding for the implementation of programs and contents related to sexual and reproductive rights and health, the way of monitoring their implementation and effects, as well as regular reporting concerning clearly defined indicators (both quantitative and qualitative), with research on the situation in the field that would indicate changes and directions of further systemic work.

Presumed/formally identified victims of trafficking should have compulsory health insurance. The certificate of specialized (accredited) service providers should have the same treatment as the certificate of the Service for Coordination of the Protection of Human Trafficking Victims in cases where beneficiaries do not want to be identified in the public service system. All victims of trafficking should have access to health care, including access to reproductive and sexual health. It is also necessary to work on the education of health workers and their sensibility in cases of human trafficking.

With regard to women refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and given the international legal framework, it is desirable to reflect on ways in which the issue of sexual and reproductive health should be made more represented in activities carried out to protect women from these groups, with full respect for cultural and sociological specifics, as well as the characteristics of the migration flow that takes place in the Republic of Serbia.

In addition, it is desirable to include the issue of sexual and reproductive health as part of regular practice when reporting to the competent authorities on the exercise of rights and protection of various categories of migrants. Considering that civil society organizations often appear as providers of psychosocial activities in the centers aimed at women and girl children, the reports of the competent state authorities should include information on the results of the activities carried out by these organizations.