We will, through a series of personal portraits, highlight people who are playing a significant role in the development of local democracy where they live. Today being International Women's Day, we will obviously begin the series by highlighting a "Gender Champion"- Rajka Vujovic from Serbia.
Here is her story:
Rajka Vujovic is a member of the Social-democratic party of Serbia, president of the Women’s Forum of the provincial board of the party, and elected deputy of the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. She was also nominated to the electoral list by the Social-democratic party of Serbia. She is a participant in ICLD’s international training programme for female politicians.
I was born in 1979 and grew up with one younger brother in the small village of Deronje in Vojvodina in the northern part of Serbia. I grew up in a patriarchal environment with strong moral, social and other roles, very strictly divided to gender roles. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers who lived a hard life in Vojvodina.
When I was growing up formal education in the countryside did not provide much opportunities for the development of children, so I lacked opportunities for sports and recreation, but even so, in my free time I mostly stayed outside. I learned English by watching American cartoons and sitcoms. Today this inspires me to speak about the necessity for better education for children and young people in rural areas of Vojvodina.
Rajka, who early in life knew what she wanted to achieve, soon realised that she had to have a plan.
I clearly remember when I was seven, I was often asked what I would like to be when I grow up. Most of my friends would say “a teacher, a doctor, singer, a football player…”, but my answer was actually a plan: “I’ll go to high school in Odzaci municipality, six kilometres away from my home. After that, I’ll go to Novi Sad and study at the Faculty of Law, and after that I’ll become a judge!”. I implemented the plan, exactly in that order, but after three years of training in the Higher Court of Novi Sad, I did not see myself as a judge and I decided to go to politics with just one idea: to understand what politics is.
When I moved to Novi Sad, to the administrative centre of the Autonomous province of Vojvodina to study, I was 19 years old. I needed to get a job to finance my studies and life in the city, and my first job was as a salesperson in a small salesroom of my father’s acquaintance. After that, I worked as a technical secretary; a director’s assistant; a public relation manager; a judicial intern at the Higher Court of Novi Sad; a CEO of agricultural cooperatives; career advisor at the national employment agency, and finally Deputy at the Assembly of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
This variety of experience in work in private and public sector is something that has given me a broader perception as an MP at the Assembly of APV, if we speak of understanding different kind of policies that can affect citizens employed in different branches of the economy. My commitment to local democracy comes from my accepting responsibility for my own future and the welfare of others. It is my main motive. By being an active member of the Social-democratic party of Serbia I am trying to understand and contribute in how we can build strong local democracies. Injustice and unfair treatment of others is a stumbling block to progress in any society. Social justice, equal rights, rule of law, tolerance, solidarity and other principles must be what we work for.
Her traits as a pragmatic planner with the ability to adopt to new situations has helped her throughout her life.
I’m not sure if I’m stubborn, I’m more like I know what I want, and I can change what I want if I see it does not fit me. I’m definitely not as fun or disciplined as I should be – but I’m working on it! I can very easily get angry, but the good sport spirit gives me the character to calm down and start negotiating instead of starting a fight. What I know is that I am a realist who is happy to get responsibilities and face challenges.
I am stable and reliable, a very good organiser, but sometimes I can get impatient with people who are not as responsible as I am. I’m an extrovert who can easily approach, meet and connect with other people. I’m very protective toward children, animals, the elderly and people in need; from all I have mentioned comes my interest in local democracy. I recently changed my last name from Lučar to Vujović by getting married in June 2018, and I’m still learning how to live with my new identity!
Being part of ICLD’s international training programme has influenced Rajka to take steps to new levels of knowledge and experiences.
Working with ICLD is a truly empowering experience. I see your organisation as an empowering, safe place for young people to reach out to and get knowledge, information and reliable collaborators that we all need in our lives.
My biggest challenge is my self-confidence and overcoming my own shortcomings. I’m convinced that I do not know enough to go into discussions. But, I believe this is a normal challenge if you are a new and responsible politician. In years to come, I’ll do my best to overcome this. In the next five years I see myself working with young people and encouraging them to take responsibility for themselves by becoming political leaders in their community.
See the video with Rajka
Rajka has an important role to play for a more inclusive and democratic Serbia. As a participant in ICLD’s international training programme for female politicians, she works for integration of gender equality in her region and her political party. She is a mentor for other women and is keen to learn from others about different policies that can be implemented to improve access to work and social services. In 2018, one of the outcomes for an ICLD research project was a toolbox for local authorities working to implement SDG#5 Gender Equality. Rajka, who strongly feels that there is a need to strengthen gender equality in the region, extended an invitation to ICLD to present the findings to 60 participating local politicians in the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Serbia in October 2018.