In North Macedonia, we have fought the fight of gender equality since the country’s independence, and even though a lot has been accomplished, we are still far away from achieving full gender parity and equal opportunities. When I was asked, by the British Embassy, to write a blog post on women in politics, I welcomed it as the daily work and efforts of women politicians should always be promoted and praised. Women politicians have brought about many positive changes to other women and to society, in general, but I feel that they are not being talked about enough.
Let’s start with a couple of words on women’s political participation in North Macedonia. At the moment, there are 38,3% women MPs in Parliament and 21% women ministers in Government. We have never had a woman President of the country, nor a woman Prime Minister. Kata Lahtova is the only woman to have served as a President of Parliament (1984-1985). Would anyone say this is enough? Additionally, 18.5% of municipal councils are led by women and only 7% of mayors are women. In terms of municipal councils, only 15 of the 81 municipalities, have 40% or more women councillors (for instance, Kisela Voda, Demis Hisar, Bogdanci) and 31 municipalities have less than 30% women councillors (Makedonski Brod, Cesinovo-Oblesevo).
Political parties are making commitments to gender equality, but do they follow through? The picture that is being painted after parliamentary and local elections is very monotonous. While political parties may include women to meet the gender quota requirements, in the appointments to state and public companies, parties only choose men, which casts doubt that they will prioritize women’s participation and promote women to leadership positions.
There are 40% electoral quotas for the Parliament and some municipal councils, but that can be even concluded from the abovementioned numbers. Wherever there is no quota, the number of women officials drops significantly. Why? I have heard political parties officials who have said women lack motivation to enter politics. On the other hand, I continuously hear completely the oppositе from women. Women are as qualified as men, and a 2015 research conducted by the Skopje-based Reactor-Research in Action showed that women councillors who served from 2013-2017 have a higher level of education and longer political experience than their male counterparts. This suggests that men are given chances to prove themselves in elected or appointed positions, and women have to prove themselves before even getting a chance to be elected or appointed in a public function. We would say this is due to patriarchal norms that assume political power as inherently masculine, and/or leadership as “men’s work”.
Women politicians claim they have the motivation, and they definitely have the drive, as I have observed. Women politicians seem to face obstacles in their private, professional and political life, which can impede their political participation. On a daily basis, many women must balance caretaking responsibilities and/or professional obligations. Furthermore, women politicians are faced with sexism in political parties. They are often not being heard in their respective political parties or are simply pushed aside, despite all of their efforts.
The recent Violence against Women in Political parties Assessment found that 65% women politicians have faced a form of violence while conducting their party duties and 53% women politicians have faced challenges and/or barriers in the efforts to climb up the ladder in their own political party.
In the last twenty years, many strong and motivated women politicians have taught me a lot about the ways they work and the ways that they are different from men politicians, in political parties or in Parliament. NDI North Macedonia’s analysis from 2015 argues that women are less susceptible to corruption, women work across party lines, women lawmakers are highly responsive to constituent concerns, women help secure lasting peace, women’s participation encourages citizens’ confidence in democracy and women prioritize education, health and other key development indicators.
When women politicians come together, almost everything is possible. Following the events of April 27, 2017, when violence erupted in Parliament, it was women MPs who started the healing process through the Parliamentary Women’s Club. Women MPs lead the way of working together in Parliament. Women MPs from all parliamentary political parties pushed for adoption of laws important for the status of women and girls. For instance, the changes and amendments to the Electoral Code to raise the percentage of women representation of candidates’ lists; the changes and amendments of the Criminal Code to prevent child marriages; the changes and amendments to the Law on Termination of Pregnancy which allowed women to make independent decisions; the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), to name only a few. Additionally, they have continuously provided avenues of communication and collaboration in Parliament.
Many women from different political parties have also shown that they can work together especially when women representation on candidates’ lists or violence against women is concerned. They of course have red lines that are imposed by their party ideology and policies, but they almost always find a common ground when women and girls are concerned. For instance, during the 2019 Week of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, women from 11 political parties’ women branches raised their unanimous voice to eliminate violence against women in politics.
This doesn’t seem enough, though. We need more women like this so that we can penetrate through some of the hard party lines which are often set by men, and men alone. At the same time, we need men to join the fight of gender equality. In this patriarchal society, men can show other men that gender equality is not threatening, but a necessity to ensure equal opportunities. Recent presentations of the Violence against Women in Political Parties Assessment Report to political party leaderships showed me that there are men that recognize gender inequality within the country and are concerned with equal opportunities in the political parties. These leaders have already committed to work on implementing statutory changes in order to provide for equal opportunities and a safe environment for all of their members. They have committed to facilitating training sessions and discussions to overcome gender stereotypes. We need to engage these men to support the gender equality cause.
However, most of all, we need solidarity, women’s solidarity, as well as men, government institutions etc. standing in solidarity behind them. We need women stepping up to support other women when they are in power or when they see a woman who is threatened, attacked or insulted. We need women who will speak up when they see injustice done to other women from their own party or other parties. We need women who will take other women with them on their way up the ladder. We need women who will work alongside other women and men on gender equality and equal opportunities.
Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.