No equality until we are all equal

No equality until we are all equal

Marijana Savic, the director of NGO Atina is the author of the article published in Original magazine, and can be also found on

Belgrade, July 2018 – I keep stressing how important it is for women and girls to take initiative, stand up for their rights and become activists who will incite changes. However, in order for them to achieve that, we need society with equal opportunities for all. We have to make sure that the most vulnerable among us are safe, have room for personal freedom, individual development, participation in society. Perhaps all this seems benign and understood, but for women who are human trafficking victims, this is unattainable. Even though we are in 2018 there are some women among us who are completely secluded and blamed by the society for the violence they are experiencing.  It is more than obvious that society condemns these women, and it is constantly confused – how come they are not strong enough to abandon the agressor, as if it was all their fault, that actually they have triggered the violence and thus earned it,  needless to say there is no excuse or justification for it. It is this way of thinking and behaviour that keep pushing these women back to violence they tried to escape. It is also these women who suffer the consequences of all the weaknesses of our society.

What I experience and know as an activist in the Association Atina is that these women do not anyone’s compassion, but respect and chance to be treated with dignity, to work, to go back to schools and live their life the way they want to. They do not need principal, but sincere support and help. Often times I run into people who are baffled when they hear that in Serbia nowadays live girls who are in forced marriages, girls who give birth to girls and thus enter the helpless circle where they are not asked for their opinion and offered no alternative.  People barely talk about this issue, as many opt for taking a different route, to turn the blind eye and refuse to understand that violence is omnipresent and it is up to us whether we will see it or not.  There is one principle, regardless of a race – whether a woman is Serbian, Roma, or Syrian. This is exactly what the editors of the Forbes Magazine have recognized and categorized this position and thinking as vital to them, and thus quoted one of my attempts to indicate to the fact that women in our country are discriminated at the institutional level because of the violence they are experiencing, and that it falls on system’s deaf ears and it is not capable of providing adequate protection. This is also highly predominant among women migrants and refugees, and our citizens are completely unaware of what they have been through. It is tacitely accepted that these women will leave our country soon, even though we all know that their only way to go is by putting their head in a sack, by putting their own, and their children’s destiny in the hands of a smuggler, since there is no legal way to go it. Regardless of that, it still appears that since they come from a distant country, they are not close to us, do not speak our language, have different culture, there is nothing particular we can do for them and better protect them. Therefore, our society decides it is better to maintain neutrality. This is why my decision is to change such distorted patterns through work of the Association Atina and remain, just as entire Atina team, deeply devoted to these courageous women we are here for. I remain consistent to the principles of the civil society that we are in our essence, and we should be. the correctional factor of the society, and it is up to us to influence administrative and political boundaries, as well as threatening social attitudes.

Society that doesn’t see protection of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members as its priority, can not be society that is building its successful social cohesion, or developing one. I am a firm believer that it is not enough to enact laws, prescribe penalties and determine liability – we have aboundance of them, as in times of crisis, to include the institutionalism crisis Serbia is currently facing, one can easily get away with it. We need to make an extra effort and acknowledge the issue of violence against women as our joint problem. Only then can we say we made the first step towards its permanent eradication, a step towards complete equality. The bottom line is, we can all agree that there is no equality until we are all equal.

Individual activism of each person is something that has never let me down, and I believe we all can make a difference. When people say „we are just regular people, there is nothing we can do“, I don’t believe in that. Thanks to our extra effort, activism, recognizing different things, we alter the world. Each of us works on making the change happen and we must not ever give up on that. That is the only way how we, our close people, we all together live a better life. This is the motto that has been guiding me even before I joined Atina. I have always believed that by assuming responsibility and leading individual activism one can make a difference. You should believe in it from early ages. This keeps me going through some tough stories. It all boils down to interaction, it is not only giving, but also receiving, that is learning, lifelong learning, understanding others and thus understanding yourself. It makes you develop and grow, have the interaction with society and people in your surroindings. There lies the beauty. Once you have the beauty in your life, then it is not difficult to nurture it.  

Marijana Savic is the activist and director od Association Atina, that runs protection programs for women who are human trafficking victims. In June 2018 Marijana was on the Forbes list of eight awe-inspirinf women fighting for women refugees’rights.