Rights and empowerment of women in the Western Balkans

23-06-2017

Gender equality – recognised by the United Nations as a human right, and enshrined in the EU Treaties – is among the requirements with which Western Balkan candidates and potential candidates for EU accession (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) have to comply. In recent years, these six countries have taken steps to advance women's rights. They have adopted or amended their relevant legislation (for instance, criminal and labour laws), elaborated national strategies and action plans, and established institutional mechanisms to carry out and monitor the policies in the area. Despite these formal efforts, however, promoting gender equality is often seen as a low-priority task, the main focus being centred on political and economic issues. In practice, women in the region still share similar challenges of increased personal, economic, and social insecurity. Traditional stereotypes place them in a subordinate position, and public awareness of their rights is low. Moreover, even though laws on gender equality exist, the institutions responsible for implementing them are weak and enjoy little public trust. Widespread domestic violence, limited labour market opportunities and unequal access to participation in high-level politics (despite existing quotas) are palpable issues concerning women still waiting to be tackled. As the Western Balkan governments' response to the above challenges is largely seen as inadequate, there have been calls to dedicate greater attention to them, including in the framework of EU accession, and for an increase in civil society involvement. For its part, civil society has repeatedly called for stricter monitoring, more consistent implementation and public awareness-raising as part of the national agenda.

Gender equality – recognised by the United Nations as a human right, and enshrined in the EU Treaties – is among the requirements with which Western Balkan candidates and potential candidates for EU accession (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) have to comply. In recent years, these six countries have taken steps to advance women's rights. They have adopted or amended their relevant legislation (for instance, criminal and labour laws), elaborated national strategies and action plans, and established institutional mechanisms to carry out and monitor the policies in the area. Despite these formal efforts, however, promoting gender equality is often seen as a low-priority task, the main focus being centred on political and economic issues. In practice, women in the region still share similar challenges of increased personal, economic, and social insecurity. Traditional stereotypes place them in a subordinate position, and public awareness of their rights is low. Moreover, even though laws on gender equality exist, the institutions responsible for implementing them are weak and enjoy little public trust. Widespread domestic violence, limited labour market opportunities and unequal access to participation in high-level politics (despite existing quotas) are palpable issues concerning women still waiting to be tackled. As the Western Balkan governments' response to the above challenges is largely seen as inadequate, there have been calls to dedicate greater attention to them, including in the framework of EU accession, and for an increase in civil society involvement. For its part, civil society has repeatedly called for stricter monitoring, more consistent implementation and public awareness-raising as part of the national agenda.