“To create real, transformative change, we must be comfortable with power being shared, given, and even lost.” This claim is a part of a broader argument on the need to reassign power in the humanitarian sector but holds true for many segments of public life where the concept of power, how it is distributed and maintained is inextricably linked with concepts like gender. This seems particularly true for the world today, where once again it has been shown that the "economic and social impacts of crises are never gender-neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception." So not only power-sharing is needed, but we also must proactively seek avenues for enabling it. There seems to be a growing consensus that to combat the complexities of today and the implications of the ongoing crisis we should pursue systemic solutions and transformational changes. These changes need to account for what Achim Stainer refers to as "deep-seated historic, cultural and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed." Alleviating these barriers would enable us to create rounded activities and processes that will boost the Agenda 2030, start repairing the erosion of years of progress for gender equality and women’s leadership that COVID-19 has threatened, and hopefully create better conditions for greater gender equality. Because ‘when women take part in political life, the whole of society benefits. That is the core finding of a report that investigated over five hundred pieces of research into the impacts of women leaders in politics and public life. The research outlines that on average women work harder to represent their constituencies, they use more inclusive and cooperative styles of leadership and representation, they prioritize policies that benefit women and the most vulnerable in society and alter the political landscape for the better. So why isn’t this the prevailing norm in our status quo?
Macedonian society faces the same structural/systemic challenges pertaining to women's equality, representation, and participation. As an illustration, a recent study focusing on the profile of people that appear as guests on popular TV shows in North Macedonia showcased that women are represented with less than 20% of all guests on TV shows and that 70% of all TV shows in 2020 had only men as guests. The research points out that most airtime on TV is given to political and foreign policy topics, and these are the areas where women are least likely to be recognized as experts. The 2020 annual report from the agency for audio and audiovisual media services informs us that on average 77,4% of respondents in the entire territory of our country say that they watched television the previous day. This clearly supports the claim that public discourse is a substantial part influenced and shaped by television and equally important by the worldview of the people that participate in the formulation and presentation of arguments on TV. Our society still has a lot to improve not just when it comes to public discourses, but also when discussing the representation of women in different areas of life, including representation in the political life, the labor market, the informal economy, and many other areas of public life. It seems like the system is not working well for everyone, given we have only 20% of female ministers in the government, 26.7% women employers (appearing as business owners), 27% property owners, and co-owners, 28% female share of employment on senior and middle management and just 43% of labor force participation – compared with 67% for men. Women are disproportionately affected by domestic and gender-based violence, which only exacerbated during the pandemic.
Recently, UNDP conducted a socio-economic assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in North Macedonia, and the results showcased that ‘women are hit the hardest from the pandemic’, ‘they take the burden of family duties’, ‘are more economically vulnerable and more likely to be victims of GBV’, and women workers are a majority in the hardest-hit sectors, including textile, tourism, and hospitality.
So, what can we do to revamp?
Our UNDP team has been advocating and working towards redesigning the way we create, implement and monitor our national development policies. Our hypothesis is that if we improve the public policy through a particular case study by making the process more innovative, inclusive, cross-sectoral, adaptable, and participatory – not only will our society be more resilient to combat the complex challenges of tomorrow, but we will also include and empower different actors in the policymaking process and inevitably influence the results of those processes. More specifically, we have been trying to embed these principles into our ongoing efforts to design a methodology that would later be used for the formulation of a national strategy on development for our country for the upcoming 20 years.
In developing our methodology, we have embedded women’s perceptions and attitudes from the initial design stages of the process. We also ensured that the key steps in the potential implementation of the methodological approach have women and women’s organizations actively involved and contributing from the outset to ensure that the entire process is developed in a gender-responsive manner with the voices of women amplified and considered. In doing so we hope to bring more diversity, new voices, perspectives, and approaches to development to the table, and by allowing co-design practices to take place between institutions and citizens over the creation and implementation of the public policies – we hope to see a participatory process where the intended users of the policies are in fact the ones creating those policies.
If our attempt to redesigning this specific public policy process proves to be successful, in the sense that it truly includes and empowers different actors and improves on how we create, implement and monitor our strategic documents, we can then replicate the methodology to other core national processes as well. This would be just one step in our journey of creating pathways for the much-needed power distribution when it comes to the way we design our strategic processes. A just society where women and girls have a voice and contribute to creating a joint vision for the future is a society capable of achieving this vision.
This process (aimed to support the Government and national stakeholders, where UNDP in coordination with RCO and supported by the British Embassy in Skopje), can provide for meaningful learnings and guidelines on how to design public policies so that they include women in the design stages of the process, are inclusive throughout the process, and create an environment where the barriers for the involvement of women will be lifted, offering greater opportunities for participation and engagement.