Rights for Moms: Mothers Make A Power Shift in Serbia

August 12, 2014 in Organizing, Spotlight by Ana Babovic

Problem:

Ana BabovicBeing a parent is not an easy job. It is full time, requires proficiency, love, patience, and of course money. No matter how difficult it is, everybody says it’s one of the most precious moments in your life when you get that screaming small creature. However in Serbia, many moms don’t have the luxury to enjoy those moments, even though they are entitled to paid parental leave. In fact, their salary can be delayed for months, putting them in the position of worrying about how to find sufficient means to satisfy all the needs of their newborn kids.

To be clear, we are talking about fully and legally employed women whose salary during 11 months of maternity leave is guaranteed by the state. However, the government irresponsibly hid itself behind the employers who are in charge of making the payments, which are then reimbursed by the state. This of course functions only on paper since in real life, the government is late with these payments which puts employers in the situation of financing the state at their own cost. At the end of the story, new mothers don’t get paid by their employers and are left without salaries at the moment when they need money the most.

To address this problem, Serbia on the Move started a campaign to push the government to take full responsibility for new mothers, and pay them directly from the state budget.

 

OUR PEOPLE:

Pregnant women and moms with kids under five who have been experiencing problems with maternity leave payments.

 

WHERE TO LOOK FOR THE POWER:

While planning this campaign, we analyzed the actors map, realizing that the Prime Minister and cabinet had the power to change this law as we wanted. However, we remembered the rule to “never go for power to those who have it”, so we decided to do something completely unexpected. We decided to empower the parliament and create power there, and to use that power to push the ministers to make the change.

According to the Constitution. Serbia is a Parliamentary democracy. However, for many years or decades, the ministers of the majority party decide on everything and rule over the whole country. The position of the parliament is as such that it is responsible only for passing all the laws that the party in control suggests.

So the theory of change was quite simple, if we organize enough women to push the MPs (members of parliament) to vote for the change of law, the law will be changed and moms will get their payments on time.

ORGANIZING STATEMENT:

We organized 250 moms to have one-one-ones with 250 MPs to explain why it is important that moms receive their salaries directly from the state budget and convince them to change the law by July 2014.

SOTM moms 1

HOW DID WE DO IT?

In order to reach this goal, we needed to have 250 women all over Serbia. The core team had 4 members, each leading a team in charge of one region in Serbia and consisted of 4 members who were in charge of recruiting 65 women in that region. Regional teams were also created.

WHERE DID WE START?

One morning in different parts of Belgrade, infant laundry was hung out on main streets and squares. People started asking, why is it hanging there? Pictures were posted on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #momsarenotalone. To unveil the secret and launch the campaign, 20 moms supported by 100 other citizens gathered in front of the National Parliament on the morning of 8th of March 2014. They hung the baby laundry as a symbol of babies’ needs and brought up the huge “right for moms” sign.

SOTM moms bravo

IMPROBABILITY OF THE TACTIC:

For Serbia, the tactic we chose was highly unusual. Nothing like it had ever been done before. It’s worth mentioning that in Serbian politics, MPs are not directly elected by citizens but selected by political parties, so they always vote according to the order of a chief of party, not according to the needs of their constituents.

By the end of April we had recruited 250 moms and trained them to have one-on-ones with MPs. In two weeks 250 moms sent over 250 emails contacting MPs. No response.

In addition to this, Serbia was hit with big floods, and the campaign lost our main leverage point. It was becoming clear that we would lose this battle. We decided to slow down the campaign for one week. After a week we continued contacting MPs, and we started to get opposition (minority) MPs which was both good and bad for our campaign. We needed to get parties in power (the majority) to meet moms.

One day, 30 different moms called one office assistant and asked for 30 different meetings with MPs. That was the breakthrough in our campaign. Politicians realized the moms were quite serious. At that point, massive meetings started – in one day we had 40 meetings with MPs.

One after another, they were persuaded. Those who didn’t get the first meetings soon realised they need to do it before it was too late, so they were calling moms asking to meet.

SOTM moms collage

POWER SHIFT:

We knew we needed the Prime Minister and cabinet to say yes too, and we knew from the beginning it won’t be an easy task. That’s why we decided to build power in the parliament first and then use that power to push the ministers and party leaders.

After getting the majority votes in the parliament, we asked the ministers in charge for meetings. On the day before meetings we announced in all media a press release “Moms have majority in the parliament” and stated that we only needed the ministers’ support now. Did they have any choice? They said YES, and promised to change the law immediately.

After six months, we can say BRAVO for MOMS!