In honour of International Women's Day, March 8, the ZELS Lobby Group for Gender Equality organized an online meeting on March 9th, 2021, on the topic: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in the World of Covid-19”. The members of the Lobby group consisting of mayors/women mayors and chairwomen and members of the municipal councils and the invited representatives of UN Women - the UN Body for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women in Skopje, as well as the expert for gender-responsive budgeting, Marija Risteska, joined the meeting through the ZOOM platform.
The Executive Director of ZELS, Dusica Perisic, after the introductory address where she emphasized the determination of ZELS to strengthen gender integration at the local level in the strategic documents and the important strategic directions and activities to which it will be committed in the next period, she put the emphasis on several things. She emphasized the importance of the functioning of the ZELS Lobby Group for Gender Equality, which was active in the past period during the Covid crisis. She spoke about the progress of the adoption of the European Charter on Gender Equality at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities by 21 municipalities, as well as the activity of ZELS for holding donor meetings in the field of gender equality in order to coordinate and harmonize activities in this area at the local level among the donor community. In this regard, she announced the organization of a new such donor meeting with the representatives of the international organizations and embassies that work on the promotion of gender equality at the local level along with the ZELS Lobby Group for Gender Equality.
In continuation of the presentation of the activities of ZELS, the coordinator for gender equality at ZELS, Irena Nikolov presented the results achieved within the project “Towards gender-responsive municipalities: strengthening municipal capacities for gender equality policies and gender-responsive budgeting” (2019-2021), which ZELS implements with the support of UN Women in the area of lobbying and advocacy, capacity building and services. She informed about the printed Handbook for communication of coordinators for equal opportunities in the municipalities with the protocols that will be shared with all municipalities on the first occasion at an event with a physical presence, but they are posted in electronic form on the ZELS website and the ZELS e-platform for gender-responsive budgeting and shared with coordinators for equal opportunities through e-mail and they already use them in their daily work. The Methodology for integrating the gender perspective in the local policies and budget is in the final stage of its design and printing. Both documents in Macedonian and Albanian are a result of the need of the municipalities and were prepared in cooperation with the ZELS Working Group for Gender Equality and expert support of Marija Risteska. In the past period, the new tool for entering gender-disaggregated statistics by areas of all municipalities was integrated, for which, as announced by the ZELS coordinator, training will be conducted for the municipal representatives for its proper use.
Regarding the changes that are being made in terms of legislation in the field of gender-responsive budgeting, Marija Risteska spoke specifically about the draft-Law on Budgets that is in parliamentary procedure. In her address, she stressed the need to supplement this draft document with concrete changes in articles of the law, relating to the introduction of the principle of gender equality in budget planning and execution, then the submission of a gender-responsive budget statement when submitting new regulations and acts that have implications for the promotion of a gender perspective, as well as other specific proposals that will be shared with the members of the Lobby Group to review them and act further in order to adopt a legal solution in favour of local governments.
Regarding the legislative changes, the representative of UN Women, Ivona Paunovic-Bishevac spoke about the importance of the draft Law on Gender Equality. She pointed out that, according to this draft law, the local self-government units have their responsibilities, for which ZELS gave its contribution through its representative, emphasizing that in order to inform the Lobby Group, it is necessary to review this draft law, which should be made public soon. Ivona's proposal for making a brief review of this draft law was supported by the other participants in the meeting.
The Mayor of the Municipality of Kriva Palanka, Borjanco Micevski spoke about the progress of the municipality in terms of introducing the gender perspective in local programs, for which they have direct mentoring support from UN Women for two years and thanked for the support and changes they can already perceive in the municipality both in terms of gender sensitivity and in terms of document processing. Mayor Micevski proposed to organize training for more employees from the municipalities, not only for the coordinators for equal opportunities but also for those in charge of the finance departments, in order to better implement gender equality and gender-responsive budgeting. In that way, more employees would be trained to develop gender-responsive local policies and budgets. This training would be especially necessary after the adoption of the Law on Budgets.
The Mayor of the Municipality of Bitola, Natasha Petrovska also agreed on the need for such a review of the main points of the draft Law on Gender Equality, as well as the draft Law on Budgets in a document for further lobbying before the MPs from the municipalities they represent, and party bodies in order to adopt legal solutions that benefit municipalities and citizens. She further expressed satisfaction with the progress made in terms of legislation, but also other supporting documents and tools from the last meeting of the Lobby Group, adding that it is also necessary to initiate new activities and present the achievements of municipalities that have positive examples in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Whether it is led by a woman mayor or a mayor, there are good examples that should be published and shared with all municipalities, to inform the general public in order to get acquainted with the activities, measures and challenges they faced at the local level. Furthermore, Mayor Petrovska stressed the need for reaction and taking concrete measures to combat hate speech against women elected officials, where she would make a personal contribution in highlighting examples that should be condemned by the public. The examples would be given from a public presentation of a female leader and a male leader where the focus of the public is put on the appearance of the woman. Such examples would be summarized in a document on how a woman in a leading position is a victim of hate speech and how concrete measures should be taken at a higher level to prevent hate speech.
This proposal was supported by the President of the Council of the Municipality of Kumanovo, Atina Murgashanska, who referred to the power, value and opportunity of women to be leaders, adding that there should be joint efforts to have more women in head and leadership positions.
As positive examples that should be followed in the upcoming local elections by the political parties are the women elected mayors of Bitola, Makedonska Kamenica, Staro Nagoricane, Tetovo, Aracinovo, Mogila and numerous chairwomen of municipal councils, but that this number should be higher. Her emphasis was put on overcoming the stereotype that a female leader is not as successful as a male leader, but that women are serious competitors to men in the successful management of institutions.
Jana Belchevska-Andreeva from the Council of the Municipality of Centar gave an initiative that was accepted, according to which, ZELS should make an analysis on the impact of the measures taken to help people affected by the crisis, ie how gender-responsive those measures are. For this initiative, Risteska offered the methodology used by the Center for Research and Policy Making to make the necessary analysis for which data should be collected from all municipalities. In this way, it should be seen how much these measures have affected the reduction of discrimination at the local level during the crisis among vulnerable categories.
In the end, Director Perisic concluded that the initiatives that should help to deepen and strengthen the gender perspective at the local level that emerged from this meeting will be developed and implemented in the coming period in order to consistently implement the strategic directions of ZELS in this area. In the following period, as a conclusion that emerged from this meeting, ZELS should: