Inequality between the sexes is a major obstacle for economic development and reducing poverty. This is also the case in Macedonia where women are disadvantaged in a number of areas even though the Macedonian government ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) already in 1994. Only 35.3% of women in Macedonia are employed, placing the country significantly below the EU average of 58.5%. Similarly, in terms of qualifications only 15% of women have graduated from a university in comparison with the EU average of about 25%. In addition, political participation of women is severely limited in some localities. For instance, only 8.5% of women in rural areas are members of a political party or a non-governmental organisation and consequently rarely included in local decision-making processes (as of 2011 and 2012).
Equal financial planning and gender equality
Since January 2014, the SDC has provided technical and financial support for a UN Women project in Macedonia. UN Women is the United Nations agency that promotes gender equality. The project runs until the end of 2016 and is being carried out in ten municipalities in Macedonia, covering a population of approximately one million. A central concern is the planning of municipal tasks on the basis of gender equality, known as “gender responsive budgeting”, which means that municipal authorities take into account the concerns of both women and men in their financial planning. Women naturally prioritize child-care centres; the safety of school children, particularly as it relates to traffic accidents; and adequate lighting of school facilities. Men, in turn, favor improved services particularly related to early diagnosis of generic diseases. In this way and taking into account budgetary constraints, services and facilities are funded accordingly and based on concerns of both men and women.
Focus on municipalities
SDC's main partners are municipalities and non-governmental organisations. Local elected councilors of the Municipal Council may also be interlocutors. The project provides technical support to municipal authorities to facilitate the identification of needs which are specific to women and men; and to take them into account in the planning process, and service delivery eventually.
The Macedonian Permanent Committee for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is supported and strengthened within the framework of the mentioned UN Women project. Budgets and programmes in ten municipalities are closely examined and improved accordingly. Among the core priorities of the project is to sensitize municipal employees for gender equality.
In 2013, a national strategy on gender equality (2013-2020) was adopted in Macedonia. The city of Skopje was the first to enact a local strategy on equal opportunities for women and men as part of its efforts to implement national legislation and strategies. A working group is actively involved in ensuring the integration of gender issues in community work.
Skopje also takes a leading role in other areas: within one year it increased the budget for the promotion of equal opportunities by 200% – from CHF 8,600 in 2013 to CHF 29,000 in 2014. With these resources it funds the "Women’s Rights Nights" public event on 8 March (International Women's Day) which has been held in Skopje already for the third time. Another portion of the money is directed towards the construction of a family centre, where victims of domestic violence are treated and receive counselling.