BLOG AMBASSADOR CLEMENS KOJA, HEAD OF OSCE MISSION TO SKOPJE
I am saying this as I believe that if we want to trigger major societal changes, we have to start from changing ourselves.
Gender equality is a necessary foundation for more peaceful and prosperous communities. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation has exacerbated already existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere of our lives, including healthcare, the economy, security as well as social protection. This risks reversing the limited progress achieved towards gender equality and women’s rights in recent years.
Even setting aside the pandemic, and after so many years of boosting gender policies, we can still observe the inequalities and injustices that are present almost in all countries. Every year, statistics show gender pay gaps, unequal opportunities and the glass ceiling phenomenon still hindering women from reaching senior leadership positions. I think it would be extremely unjust to accept these existing barriers, which exclude at least half of the population from fully contributing to political, economic and other areas of our life. This is something that our societies have to think about.
Gender quality matters and we all have a role in it
For me gender equality matters! I have a great wife, who is also a working mother, and three daughters, all of whom are already in or aiming for professional careers. I strongly believe that women need to be allowed to contribute to economic growth and prosperity and did my best to promote this while serving as Chair of the Permanent Council during Austria’s recent OSCE Chairmanship. Back then I joined the MenEngage Network, and I have since supported the development of that network in North Macedonia.
Investing in women generates an economic multiplier effect, as women reinvest a large part of their income within their families and communities. Women also play major roles in developing peaceful and stable societies that allow for greater economic growth. This is the reason why women should not be sidelined, and should instead be an integral part of negotiations as well as decision-making about the future of their country. This also applies to youth.
When conflict occurs, who does it affect the most? Many would answer soldiers. But, it’s also the civilian population, including women and children. I completely agree with our former Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who said that in the search for peaceful resolution of conflicts it is extremely important to bring in women, as they bring a different point of view than men. Just as an example, the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs organized several discussions involving women from Serbia and Kosovo.
But how do we reach the required level of participation on the part of women? Overcoming prejudices is important. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them around us. Traditional attitudes have created a lot of prejudice; for example, that women are not able to drive or can’t be good IT experts, let alone become leaders. These prejudices need to be debunked, and these attitudes overcome.
Among the greatest challenges North Macedonia faces in the field of gender equality are gender-based violence and gender-based discrimination, especially regarding women from minority and marginalized groups. This is a challenge that we as a Mission are trying to help address, including through our Anti-rumour campaign, which aims to overcome gender prejudices and stereotyping that is a pervasive human rights violation.
No one should ever be discriminated against based on their ethnic or religious background, gender, disability, or age. The issue of domestic violence is present in all countries, and it can be addressed only through a comprehensive approach, through criminal law provisions, education, changing mindsets, and overcoming prejudices and attitudes.
A third challenge present in North Macedonia is the lack of power sharing and balance in the participation of women and men in public life and high-level decision making. To help tackle it, we work to support the parliament with their gender mainstreaming efforts, including through enhancing capacities of the Club of Women Parliamentarians, and also by helping to integrate gender-sensitive budgeting and legislation into their everyday work.
While talking about gender mainstreaming, it is important to consider the role of both women and men. We men should play a greater role in improving the gender landscape in our societies. Men should support gender equality in their homes, at work and in the public sphere. Every man should engage and advocate for greater gender equality allowing women to walk through ‘closed doors’. Promoting gender equality starts will small things, including giving our children equal opportunities in education and ensuring equal distribution of tasks at home. Boys should defend girls who are facing discrimination. That would be a good step forward, I’ll repeat myself, I am saying this as a father.
At home, I try to do my best to support my wife. When I have free time in the evening or during the weekends, we do a lot together. My daughters are now 28, 26, and 23 years old. When they were born, I didn’t have an opportunity to go on paternity leave. But there is such an opportunity now. I have a colleague who worked in the cabinet of the minister and took a one-year paternity leave. The reaction from people around him was that he had taken a step to ruin his career, but actually he didn’t. On the contrary by taking this step he communicated his responsible approach to the society and built an excellent career afterwards.
I am saying this as I believe that if we want to trigger major societal changes, we have to start from changing ourselves. This is what we are doing at our Mission through a gender working group as well as our dedicated Senior Gender Adviser who do their utmost to mainstream gender throughout all our policies and practices having an impact on both our internal and external work.