The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a public forum in Skopje to highlight the importance of gender equality in Macedonia.  IRI’s Women in Politics, Business and Society roundtable, co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, brought together women leaders from diverse backgrounds to discuss the successes, obstacles, and future challenges facing Macedonian women.  

The forum, a part of a continuing effort to increase the participation of women in political and government institutions, included three panel discussions: women in politics: experiences and challenges, women decision-makers in politics and business, and women in the 21st century: towards equal opportunities in society.  The panels featured presentations by members of parliament, government officials, business leaders, journalists, representatives of civil society, and foreign diplomats.  

A primary focus of the conference was a discussion of the quota system, which regulates the gender composition of candidate lists submitted by political parties for municipal and parliamentary elections.  In 2005, an article was included in the Macedonian election code stating that “in the submitted lists of candidates for Parliament, Municipal Council, and in the City of Skopje, every third position is filled with a candidate of the lesser represented gender.”  

While there was a strong consensus that the quota system has been instrumental in increasing the participation of women in political society, women leaders expressed concern that parties often nominate women candidates simply to comply with the election law, and that those making the decisions about which women will be put forth are primarily male party leaders.  The discussion helped to increase awareness that political parties need to develop transparent, internal democratic practices to assure that qualified candidates, both women and men, are nominated by parties to compete in elections.   

The overriding conclusion of the conference was that while women in Macedonia have realized dramatic successes since the country’s independence from the former Yugoslav Republic 18 years ago, those successes have largely been confined to the political arena, and that additional work needs to be done in business, and in the professional occupations.  

There was a general consensus that in order to effectively build on the successes of the women’s movement in Macedonia, and to encourage greater interest among young women to become active and pursue careers in business, politics and government, changes are needed in the media and educational system to transform perceptions of women beyond traditional roles, especially in rural areas.   

Conference highlights included remarks by Minister of Culture Elizabeta Kancheska-Milevska, German Ambassador Ulrike Maria Knotz, Netherlands Ambassador Simone Filippini, Greek Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou, United Nations Development Program Representative Maria Luisa Silva Mejias, and Daniela Dimitrievska, Executive Director of the Macedonian Women’s Lobby.  The event was covered by Macedonian print and broadcast media.

IRI’s political party strengthening program in Macedonia has been working to increase the participation of women in political and government institutions since 2002.  Through a strategic partnership with the Macedonian Women’s Lobby, IRI has provided campaign skills, leadership, media and on-camera training for women candidates in preparation for the 2005 local elections, and the 2006 and 2008 parliamentary elections.   

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