The economics of being a woman or girl

Frankly Speaking

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Dharmendra Kanani
Dharmendra Kanani

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Spokesperson, Friends of Europe

More women are in power at multilateral institutions, state governments and companies than ever before in our history. A remarkable achievement in terms of social progress and to be celebrated. Yet, inequality of opportunity persists. Regrettably, systemic discrimination of women and girls hasn’t changed much, especially for the majority in lower socio-economic groups. The data across the world should make us all pause for thought and indignant that social progress disguises entrenched views of women and girls, with gender discrimination and violence embedded in our societies. But women and their allies continue to disrupt the status quo. International women’s movements, challenging the position of women in society, already define the 21st century.

Instances of institutional sexism have grown in terms of visibility and strength of opinion. #MeToo echoed worldwide: #SendeAnlat, #NiUnaMenos, #BalanceTonPorc, #QuellaVoltaChe, #YoTambien. According to UN Women, an estimated 3.5mn to 5.5mn people worldwide attended a march on 21 January 2017 in support of women’s rights.

New legislation has informed how societies address the harassment and discrimination of women. Over the past 20 years, we have seen a different approach to protections against domestic abuse and gender-based violence, the treatment of women in courts and redress for sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The gender pay gap has drawn significant public attention, and the glass ceiling has become a common metaphor of our time. However, institutional sexism is borderless.

Machismo defines and systematically reinforces women’s disempowerment in the Western Balkan region

Compared to other parts of Europe, the systems that are currently in place in the Western Balkans aren’t as mature in tackling the issues of discrimination and harassment, let alone corruption. Amplified by the historical context of the region, the existing set of institutional structures and culture lag in terms of the treatment of women.

Like in many parts of the world, machismo defines and systematically reinforces women’s disempowerment in the Western Balkan region. While a new generation of women is loosening the patriarchal hold on politics, the vast majority of women are exiled from employment, political participation and representation, especially those in lower socio-economic groups. Balkan governments fail to provide opportunities for a level playing field, never mind create fair and acceptable circumstances for women to compete on an equal basis. It’s both a mindset and policy issue.

Achieving greater women’s economic empowerment should be a socio-economic policy objective in and of itself. Opportunities presented by policy initiatives and reforms, such as those included in the EU’s new Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, or increased investment in the green digital transition can stimulate the job market and involve marginalised groups in the shaping of the region’s future. But this requires changes across the board, from schooling and training, to employment and enterprise.

The solution to institutional sexism has to be comprehensive

A systemic approach is needed to tackle institutional sexism and improve the position of women in the Western Balkans. Substantive institutional change must work to replace tick box exercises and nascent mainstreaming initiatives. The shift towards gender equality needs to look in the eye of pro-male norms, power imbalances and unconscious bias, and be informed by a multistakeholder and multidisciplinary effort, incorporating voices from different parts of various systems: politicians and ministers, academics and scholars, researchers and writers, as well as entrepreneurs and multilateral institutions. It needs to encompass the successful and unsuccessful, the popular and unpopular opinion, the majority and the minority. The solution needs to include the region’s community of women – and it needs to include the region’s community of men. The solution to institutional sexism has to be comprehensive.

Neuroscience informs us that having more women in the boardroom and in the workplace, contributing to risk management and decision-making, can lead to better thinking and positive outcomes societally. When women and girls are equipped with the economic, social and political means to engage in society, the benefits to Western Balkan countries and the region as a whole are limitless. Gender equality can drastically contribute to the stability and economic development of the region. This is also the case for society across the globe.

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