Balkan women are making themselves seen in regional politics.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 11/03/13
Zeljka Cvijanovic is the first woman to be prime minister of Republika Srpska. [RS government]
Even though Balkan countries are shy of the European average when it comes to women in politics, their presence in public life is growing.
Montenegro has the first female defence minister in its history, while Serbia got its first woman Central Bank governor. Kosovo has its first woman president. The new women prime ministers in Republika Srpska and Slovenia will additionally increase the number of females in the region's governments.
"I am honored that I am the first women which will run the RS government. It's a little bit atypical for our region, but I am aware of my responsibility," Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic told reporters. "As a woman, I hope to add a new flair and a new dimension to the institutions of Republika Srpska."
Civil sector representatives said that while women's position in public life has improved in the past few years, it still has not reached the EU member-state average of 40 percent.
"We are trying to educate women not to vote as their husbands, fathers and brothers tell them to, but to make their own decision. There has been a slight improvment in the past few years, but women are still lowly represented in politics," Azra Hasanbegovic, director of Women BiH, an NGO that promotes women in all spheres of life, told SETimes.
According to research conducted in September 2012 by Interparliamentary Union, Serbia ranks first in the region with 33 percent of women in its government. Slovenia and Macedonia follow with 30 percent, next is Croatia 23 percent and BiH with 14 percent. Montenegro, with only 12 percent of women in its parliament, is the lowest in the region.
In August last year, several NGOs inplemented the Alternative BiH Government project, which consisted of mock elections to vote in an all female cabinet. Fourteen "ministers" were chosen from 70 candidates from across the country via voting on the project's website.
"Men need to allow their women colleagues to show what they know, not because of some statistic quotes and numbers, but for the conviction that women really know how to do a certain job," Murisa Maric, who was "elected" as minister for civil society and activism in the project, told SETimes.
Successful women in politics say that they can perform as well as men.
Azra Hadziahmetovic has a long political career. She was the minister of foreign trade of BiH, alternate governor of BiH at the International Monetary Fund and a decade-long deputy in the BiH parliament.
Despite her success, she said there is a visible lack of women in politics. She said political parties should push women members as candidates for high office more often.
"The parties have an obligation to put a certain number of women on their elections lists, but only small number of women are nominated to high office places in the state. I think that women are able to perform each job as well as men. Feminine sensibility is something that is needed to Balkan politics, especially in these difficult times when we need to carefully plan the solution of the problem and to implement those plans succesfully," Hadziahmetovic told SETimes.
Many countries are taking action to get more women in their ranks.
Serbia and Montenegro have passed laws to increase the numbers of women in leadership positions, part of a slate of efforts to convince the EU they belong in the bloc. Serbia's new regulations now bind parties and coalitions to have 33 percent of women on the election tickets.
A recent initiative by the Macedonian Women's Lobby prompted 100 NGOs to sign a declaration demanding more female mayoral candidates in the local elections this month.
"Our goal is to pressure political parties to involve more female candidates in local elections, and promote gender equality programmes," Daniela Dimitrievska, NGO representative, said.
"The power of women in the politics is a soft power," Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga told the Associated Press. "It is a positive change that our country and other countries in the region ... are making by giving a chance to women."