Gender Specialist and Chevening Scholar
Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia
Part of UK in North Macedonia
7th March 2020 Skopje, North Macedonia
International Women’s Day of solidarity and unity!
The past year was very eventful for women’s rights and feminism. On a global level, among other events, the #metoo movement has been growing stronger, bringing down some very privileged and powerful men, a feminist song originated in Chile spread across the globe, pointing the finger at the systemic violence women endure around the world, and women finally got the deserved place in missions to space. On the other hand, women’s reproductive rights and freedoms got to a halt with the reinstated global gag rule, feminists increasingly face backlash by right-wing governments, and the home is still the most unsafe place for a woman.
Turning to the Balkan region and North Macedonia, advancements seem to be going at a much slower pace. Female politicians, especially those at higher positions, are still target of sexism and misogyny, online sexual harassment against girls is rampant, and some people still wonder whether feminism killed femininity in women (an actual question in an interview). Patriarchal and traditional values in our region and country remain as strong as ever. One in three women has suffered some type of gender-based violence, but we do not know the real numbers since it is an issue embedded in shame and stigma. Women regularly face sexism and discrimination at the workplace, but the problem remains hidden due to the constant fear of repercussions. Women’s sexuality is only justified when women themselves do not have the complete control over it (i.e. name-calling girls who share photos emphasizing their own sexuality and then sharing their photos in secret groups).
The fight for equal rights is far from over. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), we need to reconsider our strategies, create new alliances, and instigate and promote solidarity and joint action. Therefore, this 8th of March for me will mostly be about solidarity. Solidarity among women, solidarity from men allies, solidarity with people who find themselves outside of the preconceived ideas of gender, sex and social order…
The success of the Beijing Platform for Action and its global effect was mainly due to the huge mobilisation and collaboration among feminists around the world. During the years, such cooperation and mobilisation, for various reasons, slowly dwindled, while the problems women are facing around the world have persisted.
Patriarchy has sneaky ways of holding women in their subordinate position. The concept of ‘tokenism’, or the symbolic involvement of a person in an organization due only to a specified or salient characteristic, has been widely analysed in relation to women’s position in the workplace. It can be applied to any other field where women are underrepresented or faced with structural inequalities. Women who find themselves in organizations and institutions dominated by men, who are the tokens of ‘inclusiveness’ of the institution/organization, in effect do not yield much power on their own. They tend to emphasise their affiliation with men, renounce their female characteristics, and see other women primarily as competition. Studies have shown that when there are few women in power, they are reluctant to employ other women for fear of being outperformed, showing how precarious their position actually is. However, this is not the case when there are more women in positions of power. We have seen this in political parties, decision-making structures, businesses, organizations, etc. Women in a position of power cannot be advocates for other women when they are surrounded by men who have been in such position much longer. We have seen on many occasions how women in politics simply adopt the opinions and decisions created by men. In businesses, the working conditions for women in many instances are detrimental simply because there are no advocates for women in powerful positions. In rural areas, women have to stay at home and care for children and the elderly simply because there are no established care services in their communities. In a wider context, in an environment with scarce funding for women’s organizations and activists, such organizations will see each other as competition and instead of collaborating for the common good, they will compete. In all of these examples there is a lack of solidarity and support, not by women’s fault, but due to structural oppression and inequality.
“The most notable fact our culture imprints on women is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities” – Adrienne Rich. Therefore, this International Women’s Day and the days after it, let’s promote solidarity, understanding and support. Let’s spread our power and privilege to those that find themselves in less privileged positions! In the end, we are all fighting the same battle, and solidarity and support have proven to be the most powerful weapons.
Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts to members of organisations who are partner implementers of UK’s programme assistance to North Macedonia. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.