A female doctor in Serbia has pledged to undergo a sex change procedure to protest a new law that forces her to retire five years earlier than her male counterparts.
The statutory retirement age in Serbia is 60 for women and 65 for men. In the past, both sexes could continue working beyond the retirement age if they chose to. But a new law passed in July requires all female public sector employees to retire in their 60th year. Male civil servants, however, can remain at work until they are 65.
Mirjana Stanojcic, 64, made the announcement last week after her employer — a hospital in the small town of Gornji Milanovac — asked her to give up work this month, when the new law is due to come into force.
"I have a male colleague who is the same age as I am, and I have been told to retire while he will keep working," Stanojcic told AFP. "I decided to become a man so that I could keep working in accordance with the law."
Surgeon Dusan Stanojevic, a sex change specialist who is renowned in Serbia, has offered to perform the operation free of charge.
Gender reassignment surgery in Serbia has been subsidized by the state since 2012. National health insurance, however, does not cover the costs of hormone therapy or certain procedures, including mammoplasty. In 2012, Serbia's constitutional court ruled that those undergoing surgery could have their legal status updated to reflect their sex change.
Following the press coverage in Serbia over Stanojcic's decision, the country's constitutional court has suspended the new law's enforcement pending a final ruling.
"I do not know what the final court decision will be, so I will keep going," the doctor told AFP.
Undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Serbia is a lengthy process, and if Stanojcic goes through with the surgery, she will be 65 on its completion. Reporting on the surgery in 2012, the news website Balkan Insight noted that candidates for the operation had to submit to a one-year psychiatric evaluation and take hormone therapy treatment for the six months leading up to the surgery.
In 2012, the New York Times described Serbia as a "hub" for sex change surgery, revealing that foreign patients were flocking to the country's clinics to take advantage of lower procedure costs.
But despite Serbia's new reputation as a center for sex-change operations, the country's transgender community remains much-marginalized. According to Serbian rights group Gayten-LGBT, transgender Serbians continue to face "numerous problems and challenges on a daily basis.
In a statement sent to VICE News on Wednesday, Gayten-LGBT criticized Stanojcic's move, which the group is concerned will trivialize "a very demanding, lengthy, and complex" process.
"For transsexuals, adjusting one's body to one's gender identity is a basic need," the statement said.
Gayten-LGBT also pointed out that many people in Serbia still cannot afford to go through with the procedure, and invited Stanojevic to extend his offer of free surgery to "all of Serbia's transsexuals."
Around 10 percent of Serbia's 7.2 million people are currently public sector employees. Last year, the country was approved for a 1.2 billion euro ($1.37 billion) loan by the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the loan, the country has pledged to introduce several reforms, and to cut the number of civil servants by 15 percent by 2017.
Another law passed last year plans to raise women's retirement age to 65 by 2032. Sixteen years too late for Stanojcic.
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