Make gender equality reality for every woman in Montenegro and the rest of the Balkans

29 Nov 2013

image Photo: UNDP in Montenegro

Gender equality is intrinsically linked to sustainable development and is vital to the realization of human rights for all. Nevertheless, Montenegro is a society still significantly characterized by traditional way of power share and people are still overburdened by gender stereotypes.

During the last decade the number of women representatives in parliament hasn’t increased significantly. Women are systematically under-represented in decision making processes that shape society and their own lives. Currently, only 16 % have a seat in the parliament and this places Montenegro behind all other countries in region in this regard and far away from the EU target of 40%.

Women in Montenegro are also underprivileged in the economic sector, as only 9.6 % of them possess their own business.  Furthermore, they face the threat of domestic violence and have to cope with gender stereotypes.

This pattern of inequality is a constraint to the progress of Montenegro. In order to address this issue, UNDP in Montenegro is implementing the IPA 2010 Gender Programme in partnership with EU Delegation and the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights. As a result, 30% quota for women was introduced in the Election Law. The Programme has also conducted several studies, as well as educational programs, workshops, awareness rising campaigns and expert discussions. However, the empowerment of women remains critical for promotion of gender equality, and change in deeply embedded habits and attitudes is a long term process.

Montenegro has an incentive and opportunity to use the process of EU integration and, with substantive effort, create an environment where women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all spheres of life.

With the aim of fostering the fulfillment of EU criteria in this area, a two-day international workshop was organized in partnership between the EU TAIEX Unit and the Gender Programme IPA 2010. Representatives of the European Parliament, European Union, national parliaments, governments and civil society from the region participated in the workshop with the focus on the main challenges in implementing relevant EU regulations and recommendations. In particular, the Resolution of the European Parliament concerning women’s rights in the Western Balkans was discussed.

During the workshop, it was pointed out that women in Montenegro are more educated and better organized than men, but they rarely occupy public offices and managerial positions.

Ms. Marije Cornelissen, Member of the European Parliament responsible for the drafting of the Report on women rights in Western Balkans, quoted one of the Balkan NGO activists, who stated: “The Balkans is pure heaven for gender equality on paper but now we must do all we can to make this a reality for every woman who lives here”.

The Report points out five main challenges for gender equality in the Western Balkans:
1. effective implementation of legislation;
2. awareness-raising on the existing legislation;
3. balanced representation in the labour market and decision-making;
4. fight against discrimination, violence and trafficking; and
5. strengthened cooperation with CSOs

Minister of Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro, Mr. Suad Numanović said in his opening remarks that data on the participation of women in politics and economy, as well as rates of violence against women, show the existence of discrimination in different forms. He reminded that “women make 51% of the population in Montenegro and half of country’s human capital should not be an overlooked resource”.

Mr. Mitja Drobnič, Head of EU Delegation to Montenegro noted the gap between the recognition of formal rights and actual practice in the Western Balkans, and reminded that the European Commission expects that countries wishing to join the EU guarantee these rights through laws that must be enforced. He stressed the importance of cooperation of state institutions and the business sector with civil society through initiatives that will create awareness of the importance of gender equality and combating gender stereotypes.
“It is of great importance during the integration process that women are involved, not only as decision makers but also as interlocutors, counselors and those who follow the situation,“ Mr. Drobnič said.

He considers more intensive participation of women in politics as one of the Western Balkans primary goals. "More women in politics is not just about larger percentage of women in national and local parliaments, but also more women ministers, mayors and directors of public enterprises," explained Mr. Drobnič.

Mr. Rastislav Vrbensky, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Montenegro said that despite the efforts of institutions, civil sector and international organizations, things in Montenegro are changing slowly. His message is that “more determined political will is needed to make women real actors of political and economic decision making.” To achieve this, Mr. Vrbensky thinks that countries should introduce not only the proper legislation, but also the particular measures to boost women's economic and political independence and to allow them to balance work and family life. Also, policies against violence against women and fight against stereotypes should be intensified and monitored more closely. Mr. Vrbensky deems especially necessary that the Law on the Election of members of local and national parliaments is amended specifying that every third place on the election list should belong to women, and that women leaving the Parliament should be replaced by another woman.