Rural women from northern Serbia launch new brand to improve their economic and social well-being
Two years ago, to overcome unemployment, a difficult economic situation, and few income opportunities, five women's associations from rural parts of northern Serbia founded the Women's Divan network. They recently launched a common brand called Pletenia to market their products. Their work is supported by a UN Women programme aimed at promoting gender equality in Serbia, with funding from the European Union.
As a legal entity, the network helps rural women from the Banat County in the north of Serbia to improve their economic situation. Specifically, they help women entrepreneurs to reach customers and market products made from raw materials and produce at home. Some of the women are inspired by traditional Banat motifs, such as embroidery, and are using traditional technologies such as washing wool in the river.
Radoslava Aralica, coordinator of the civil society organization Zrenjanin Educational Center, and Women's Divan network, says that together with five associations of women from the Banat villages of Belo Blato, Boka, Iđoš, Lazarevo and Mokrin, have launched a unique brand. It captures the women's work in the countryside, everything they do, what occupies them, what they love and enjoy and most of all what connects them.
“Unemployed women living in the countryside are faced with a lack of available jobs that could provide them with a decent income. Another problem is that we are talking about women who are 50 or older, a group that finds it difficult to gain employment. If they are economically dependent, without their own income, women cannot solve their social problems either. In this UN Women project we organized a series of trainings where women gained knowledge about what it takes to start a successful business. By ‘successful business’ I do not mean ones that will bring big earnings overnight, women do not opt for such businesses, but rather ones that will bring them a decent and regular income,” says Aralica.
During the first phase of the project (2019–2020) five associations of women from Central and Northern Banat were included. Through the training, they developed their business ideas and received the equipment needed to start production. In the current, second phase of the project (2021–2024) these five associations have undergone advanced training on running a business, entering the market and distributing products. The result of that is Pletenia, an online platform where products can be ordered. Now, five new associations are included. Each has passed the basic training and will join the Women's Divan network. All of them are now using the Pletenia platform to promote and sell their products.
Biljana Đurđulov is a member of the Women’s association, Iđoš, which is one of those producing pumpkin jams, juices and liqueur.
“For me, it’s a great pleasure to be part of Women's Divan and Pletenia. It is a great opportunity for us not only to promote and sell our products, but to get to know the work of other associations, because we face the same problems and challenges. Moreover, mutual support is very important. In the first phase of the project, we got equipment for producing our pumpkin assortment – a freezer, a refrigerator, a dishwasher and shelves, with all other items necessary for the production of jam. We are not earning lot of money but it is always enough to keep the business running, and we are very satisfied with that,” she explains.
Milanka Furtula from the Women association, Big heart, from the village of Lazarevo agrees. She adds that it’s not only about the income.
“By engaging in the work of Women’s Divan and Pletenia, rural women start to realize the importance of their role in the local community, and they improve their standard of living. We work, we produce, and we even organized trainings for 20 women to produce sport nets, as well as net hammocks and swings, since those are our main products. We also motivated and helped one of our members to start her own business – a small trade shop. Our meetings are held once a week, where we come to exchange ideas and experiences but also to break the solitude,” she says.
Improved knowledge and skills on how to use their own capacities and resources in their local environment, were among the most important outcomes of the project so far, all interlocutors agree. Radoslava Aralica, coordinator of the CSO Zrenjanin Educational Center, says that the UN Women support is very important for rural women.
“UN Women recognized the potential that rural women have and the importance of the continuous work with them. These women have a lot of knowledge and skills, but sometimes they do not even recognize that some of their knowledge can become a business. The support of UN Women also means greater visibility of the project, and in local communities the very fact that we cooperate with the UN agency gives importance to the project. Women from the network perceive this support as a confirmation of the value of their work and effort, a confirmation that someone has recognized what they are doing and that someone understands their problems,” she concludes.