Mainstreaming gender equality in all activities and policies

Daniela Gasparikova, UNDP Resident Representative, interview for TWBM magazine:

December 16, 2022


A significantly higher share of women must be represented in decision-making positions, in the creation of macroeconomic policies and sectoral economic policies. Mainstreaming a gender equality perspective in all development streams, both at the national and local level, is crucial for women's economic empowerment and improving their position in the labour market and in business. The fight for gender equality is not only an individual matter – it requires the determination and commitment of decision-makers and state institutions in creating policies that will enable the reconciliation of the different roles women play, so that they can be more represented in the labour market, Daniela Gasparikova, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Resident Representative for Montenegro, says in an interview for TWBM magazine. She also claims that without women's economic empowerment, there is no gender equality, and therefore no substantial progress in respect for human rights.

Business ownership and management remain predominantly "male territory". Globally, less than one in five businesses is managed by a woman, while women are sole or majority owners in less than 15% of businesses. How does one change this paradigm?

The progress of society is directly related to the economic empowerment of women and the creation of opportunities for their equal participation in economic activities. Without the economic empowerment of women, there is no gender equality, and therefore no substantial progress in respecting human rights.

The disengagement of such a large part of the population has a direct effect on the macroeconomic indicators of the country. According to the World Bank, the growth of women entrepreneurship and the participation of women in the workforce would contribute to an increase in the GDP of the Western Balkans region by as much as 20%.

There is a noticeable increase in the number of women entrepreneurs compared to ten years ago, when only 9.6% of business owners were women. Today, 24% of owners of micro, small and medium enterprises are women, while 32% of entrepreneurs are women. Nevertheless, this remains significantly below the world and European average – although women make up half of the population in Montenegro, there are still disproportionately and insufficiently represented in economic life.

Recognising the causes and obstacles for the low participation of women in the economic sphere is the first step towards removing them. In the context of Montenegro, the main cause of women's low economic participation can be found in stereotypes and patriarchal norms about the role that women should have in society, which reflect on the development of women's potential in all spheres, including their economic activity. The role of women is still primarily viewed through "care" in a broader sense – taking care of family members at different stages of their lives, taking care of the household... For example, during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, women worked almost twice as much as men in the domain of unpaid care and household work. So, even during the crisis, women took care of family members, despite the fact that the sectors where women work, such as healthcare or education, were the most affected by the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has once again shown that the lack of systemic support for women in reconciling private and business obligations represents an obstacle to women's greater economic activity.

In order to overcome this, we must understand that the fight for gender equality is not only an individual matter, and that we need the determination and commitment of decision-makers and state institutions to create policies that will enable the reconciliation of the different roles of women, so that they can be more represented in the labour market. For example, experience from the Nordic countries shows that affordable institutions encourage a more efficient distribution of family responsibilities between men and women, which makes employers more willing to hire women.

In parallel with strategic action at the national level, there is a need for the process of emancipation, abandonment of the patriarchal patterns characteristic of this region, and raising awareness of the importance of the possibility of men and women choosing to live as they wish.

The disparities in business most often originate from deeply-rooted, discriminatory, legal, socio-economic and cultural gender norms and practices. Is equalising the earnings of women and men for the same job the first step towards improving the situation in this area?

Governments, employers and trade unions around the world recognise that closing the gender income gap is more important today than ever. This gap persists globally, and progress toward closing it is slow. According to a World Economic Forum report on Europe, it will take 60 years to achieve equality in the income of men and women for the same jobs.

That is why closing the gender income gap has become a leading EU initiative, which is only one of the steps in overcoming the root causes – from the lower representation of women in the labour market, through women's unpaid work, to segregation based on gender stereotypes and discrimination. Making pay equal is definitely an important step for women's economic empowerment, but it is neither the first nor the only step to be made.

In order to achieve this, the possibilities of choice for women must be expanded in parallel, which I have already mentioned. On the other hand, if we continue with sectoral segregation – which means that most women work in low-paid economic sectors, such as social care, education, and health – equal pay for the same work will go in the right direction. However, without adequate economic valuation of this work, women will continue to earn less on average, simply because they work in low-paid sectors. Also, this will not affect the improvement of the position of women in the grey economy, nor will it contribute to the increase in the number of women in the highly paid sectors or in managerial positions.

In order to have applicable and effective solutions, we must first look at the needs of women on the one hand, and on the other hand the specifics and requirements of a certain market and economy. Only when we take into account all these factors, will we have gender-responsive and stimulating policies that address the needs of the majority of the population, create an environment in which women use their full potential, improve their skills and knowledge, and an environment in which they are competitive on the market, win higher positions... In such an environment, economic indicators grow and preconditions are created for equal pay for work of the same value.

Lack of money is often a key problem for starting and sustaining women's businesses. Is this lack of start-up capital in the case of Montenegrin women entrepreneurs a consequence of patriarchal norms?

It is, because the legacy of customary law is most visible in the domain of property inheritance, which directly affects the economic empowerment of women and women entrepreneurship. Less than 10% of all property in Montenegro is owned by women, and this is a serious barrier to their economic independence and securing the capital necessary for starting a business. If we take into account that starting a business requires start-up capital and that those who start it often have to take out loans, it is clear how difficult it is for women to get loan support when they do not have assets that can serve as collateral.

In Montenegro, we are witnessing situations in which it is understood that female family members, daughters and sisters, give up their property in favour of their brothers despite the legal right to inheritance. In case they do the opposite, they tend to be condemned not only by their family but also by the environment. And that is not everything – this right is often denied to them by male family members, fathers and brothers. For example, by encouraging women not to give up their legal rights to inheritance, men can become an important factor in women's economic empowerment. If adequate social, institutional and legislative transformations take place simultaneously, together with the process of changing mindset at the individual level, men can become aware of their role in achieving gender equality and be ready to make their contribution, which will ultimately benefit everyone.

It is also noticeable that women are usually the owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, that is, they are less often the owners or part of the management structure of large enterprises. Why, generally speaking, is this distribution of power bad for societies as a whole?

Diversity is good for business. Previously, there was almost no research on this topic, and now there is enough evidence that companies that apply the principle of diversity in hiring, including for leadership positions, boast higher productivity, a more satisfied work force, more talent, and higher revenues. At the same time, such companies tend to be more innovative. Profitable businesses are good for the economy of the country because they create jobs and generate income. So, if we have more than enough qualified women for leadership positions, who are self-employed, why not give them the opportunity to influence the well-being of society as a whole?

That is why the EU decided to introduce gender quotas to ensure that women occupy at least 40% of seats on the management boards of companies ranked on EU stock exchanges, which is an objective that should be achieved by mid-2026. Although this demand refers to EU member countries and companies that operate within those countries, Montenegro has already advanced on the path of integration and gradual alignment with such policies is a process from which the entire society can already benefit.

What are the key recommendations that national authorities should take into consideration regarding the improvement of the position of women in business?

To begin with, a significantly higher share of women must be represented in decision-making positions, in the creation of macroeconomic policies and sectoral economic policies. Introducing the perspective of gender equality in all development streams, both at the national and local levels, is crucial for women's economic empowerment and improving their position in the labour market and in business.

This, however, requires a systemic approach. Regardless of the area that the state wants to regulate at a given moment, the sequence of steps is the same. The first step in this process is the collection of gender-disaggregated data, followed by gender analysis – analysis of the impact of policies on women and men and defining their needs, creating new and revising existing policies based on the results of the analysis, budgeting in accordance with the identified needs of women and men and, finally – full application of legal solutions.

The Government of Montenegro has already recognised the need for economic empowerment of women, strengthening the competitiveness of female entrepreneurship and effective public policies that promote women's entrepreneurship in its Strategy for the Development of Women's Entrepreneurship.

The strategy is a step in that direction, but in order to improve the situation, responsibility must be taken by everyone – decision makers, policy makers, public administration, private sector, experts from different fields, and the international community, each in their own domain of action and power.

The existing good practice of the state creating financial support lines for women's entrepreneurship through its funds, entailing more favourable loans for starting a business, should be further improved. Local self-governments were also an example of good practice through their actions, when the decision on the distribution of funds for women's entrepreneurship awarded non-reimbursable grants for women starting their businesses. In 2020 and 2021 alone, 556,000 euros were allocated in 13 municipalities.

In your opinion, what are the key institutions that should be included/work together to improve women's position in business?

Establishing business partnerships, networking and joint action, education, continuing improvement of skills and knowledge, and exchange of experiences – these are indispensable activities in order to improve the position of women in business. Recognising the importance of bringing women entrepreneurs together, with the aim of mutual exchange of experience and knowledge, UNDP supported the Ministry of Economic Development in the implementation of the Strategy and developed an online platform for the economic empowerment of women, so that all entrepreneurs, including those who are just planning to become entrepreneurs, could receive information in a single point, receive additional education, use support programmes and communicate among themselves and with the public administration. Therefore, supporting women in business requires the synergy of all interested parties – public administration, private sector, professional and international organisations.

Recognising the importance of networking and cooperation, UNDP liaised with the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) within the initiative for the economic empowerment of women in the Western Balkans, and established a regional network of women in STEM fields, the intention of which is to provide recommendations for the easier overcoming of barriers grounded in by gender stereotypes, which exist in the labour market, and to encourage women to step into the most promising, most sought-after and best-paid professions.

Can Euro-Atlantic integration and international cooperation be agents of change in this area?

Complementary processes of accession to NATO and the European Union imply a comprehensive reform aimed at democratisation, building strong institutions, strengthening the rule of law and global positioning of Montenegro as an economically and politically stable destination. Despite the internal challenges, Montenegro is making progress on the path to achieving gender equality, which is one of the very important requirements set by the EU in the integration process. How important the issue of gender equality is for the EU is best shown by the EU Action Plan for Gender Equality III (GAP III) for 2021–2025, which promotes the empowerment of women through as much as 85% of all planned external actions.

At this stage of development, Montenegro is expected to be fully prepared to promote gender equality and mainstream it into all policies and activities, as well as to promote changes in a socially acceptable manner – through the active contribution of both men and the younger population as a driving force. Montenegro must demonstrate that it is fully committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination, especially taking into account women who suffer from other forms of discrimination besides gender-based ones, such as discrimination based on disability or belonging to a minority group. In this way, we build a solid foundation for achieving gender equality and enjoying the rights that belong to us by birth.