Mothers in Serbia feel the brunt of new law

Category: Open data

Country/area: Serbia

Organisation: BIRN Serbia

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 29/05/2019

Credit: Slobodan Georgiev, Milorad Ivanovic, Ana Curic, Natalija Jovanovic

Project description:

BIRN team designed a digital maternity leave calculator after new Law on financial support to families with children was addopted leaving the public confused.  Citizens can use it for calculating compensations, finding forms and deadlines for submission. They can compare if they lost or gained with the new law, how to split the leave with a partner or how the law applies to a child with disabilities. The calculator is a central part of the article which explains the context in which controversial law was adopted, exposing some of its core flaws through six in-depth interviews with mothers. 

Impact reached:

The article reached over 100,000 people through social media, the tool was used more than 4000 times during the first month. 

We launched the data crowd-sourcing campaign through social media calling women to fill in the form and help us harvest the data.  A month after it was published, we managed to collect more than 4000 inputs.  

In this way, we tried to measure the effects of the law as well as raise awareness among the public about this important issue.

This project helped us overcome the lack of official data. Instead of analysis, we offered our readership a tool to navigate through complex and unclear procedures.  This was our response in the situation where the Ministries denied access to reports and data about the implementation of the controversial law, despite the Commissioner’s decision in our favor.

On the bright side, the project was recognized by Bebac.com, the largest website in Serbia on family planning and pregnancy with more than 250 000 registered users. The maternity leave calculator BIRN team developed is embedded on their website and the application.

The project was significant for decision-makers as well since they organized a working meeting with the civil society representatives a week after the article was published. Prime minister Ana Brnabic, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Zoran Djordjevic and Minister without portfolio responsible for demography and population policy Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic set together with more than 10 NGO’s and showed interest in fixing problematic law.

Techniques/technologies used:

BIRN team analyzed Law on financial support to families with children and different maternity leave policies to develop an algorithmic model of the legal procedure. This was the first step in creating Baby’s first abacus an online tool that compares the user’s inputs with the legal norms. 

Instead of informing our readers – while on the leave your compensation can not be higher than 3 average monthly salaries, we thought – type your monthly income here and see where you stand. 

By developing this calculator we found a way to craft the information for each reader. Young families can use it to understand the basic steps of maternity leave procedures, deadlines, and forms. The ones with more children can inform themselves what the new law brings, whether they can apply for state aid and longer leave. Both can use it to compare the allowance between the partners and choose how to split the leave. Also, the calculator offers the users to compare whether they gained or lost with the law changes. 

In the end, users are asked to leave their data for the research purpose as part of the first data crowdsourcing campaign. In the future, our goal is to make this code open-sourced so people from different parts of the world can improve and easily implement it.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was finding relevant data. On the institutional level, our access was denied so we couldn’t work with the relevant sources. The data crowdsourcing campaign was far from perfect too. It mainly reached women from two larger cities with above-average salaries meaning it wasn’t helpful with large scale conclusions. Also, there were a lot of unfinished questionnaires or the ones with inconsistencies.

In that way, we failed to understand the bigger picture trough data, whether the new law made it worse for Serbian mothers on average.  

On the other hand, our tool raised awareness among the women about the importance of open data, explaining them how it could be used for better understanding of problems our communities face and the legislative part that regulates it. We learned the sad lesson about our goverment too who failed to understand the importance of sharing the data and mesuring the effect of the laws with it. 

 The article we wrote offers answers to the questions mentioned, political and social context in which this change was made.  Interviews with women from different social backgrounds, areas, and salaries show they are feeling the same – like the system failed them when they need it the most.

What can others learn from this project?

This project is a good example of doing data journalism in countries with closed governments. 

Our initial idea was to obtain a dataset of maternity leave beneficiaries analyze it to answer questions such as – who are Serbian mothers today, where they live and work, how much they get while pregnant, is that more than they had before the new Law.  

After a few failed attempts, when we asked the Minister of Labour and Social Issues why they are denying us access, he said: This data is important to the state and If we wanted you to analyze it, we would have called you to be a part of a working group. 

At this point, we knew we should get creative. So, the main lesson we learned from this project was to use situations like this to our advantage and adapt along the way. 

Our response was to make a digital maternity leave calculator that would serve as a questioner. In that way, we could meet the demand for information both on individuals and the level of community. We launched the first data-crowding campaign through social media and partner organizations to collect data directly from citizens and inform them about the importance of open data.

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