Anela Lemeš is an Executive Director of Boris Divković Foundation (BDF) from 2016, leading the project management and organization of educational activities. Anela has led and organized a number of regional academies for youth and has worked on civil society networking and establishing new collaborations. She has graduated political sciences from the University of Sarajevo and has completed her MA in management and organization on Adizes Institute USA, California, Adizes School of Management in Faculty of Economics, University of Sarajevo.
Nejra Vreto is a Program Coordinator with Boris Divković Foundation (BDF) from 2018 and is leading projects related to the capacity building of young political leaders, human rights protection, EU integration as well as gender equality – Initiative 50% program – for equal representation of women in politics. Nejra has graduated Social and Political Science from International University of Sarajevo and has completed her MA in Human Rights and Democracy, University of Sarajevo and University of Bologna, Italy.
Despite being one of the basic human rights and fifth among seventeen sustainable development goals in the 21st century, gender equality remains one of the most conservative topics among the countries of South-East Europe. As stated by the United Nations Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Therefore, a question arises – why it is not seen as an essential factor within the countries of South-East Europe which are still in the development and transition process, whilst seeking for the peace and reconciliation?
Hereby, we focus on the equal distribution of benefits and equity within both genders, which is not recognized as a human right per se, for both women and men. Women are, by most scholars,defined as “weaker sex”, specially in relation to the hierarchy of high positions and decision-making processes which makes them undesirable for the active political engagement. However, talking about the human rights in the 21st century, fortunately a lot has changed after woman’s suffrage and feminist waves that have shaped new generations with a gender lens perspective in almost all aspects of society.
Nevertheless, countries of South-East Europe have made small but significant steps in creating mechanisms for human rights protection, law proposals and endorsed GE while trying to institutionalize it in their complex social and political systems. One of the very successful examples are coming from SEE countries, which have developed overtime quite solid mechanisms for the protection of human rights, internal laws and initiatives in regards to gender equality in liberal democracies, is the example of Nasa stranka, socio-liberal political party and the project “Initiative 50%’’ from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This short paper will be based on research conducted by Boris Divkovic Foundation (BDF) Political participation of Women within the Liberal Parties in Western Balkans (soon to be published) in regards to the good practices such as Initiative 50% project, of GE promotion within the liberal political parties in BiH. Through the analysis, we will examine how these examples of GE promotion can be replicated on the regional level of Western Balkans, in order to achieve equality and equal distribution of benefits in politics and other areas within social and political climate.
Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Performance of gender (in)equality
Being one of the countries known for the most complex political system and hybrid governmental structures, having three Presidents, two entities and one autonomous district, within three ethnic groups. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a never-ending inspiration for the analysis of socio-political matters like this one. Even though it is still characterized by massive corruption, ruling elites, nepotism and fragmented society, it has shown some of the examples of best practices within gender equality in comparison to other SEE countries, in regards to gender law mechanisms and their protection. The issue of gender (in)equality is deeply rooted in other socio-cultural dimension of BiH’s society and is, by many researchers, in the period of stagnation. Considering the great number of international Conventions, national laws applied furthermore on the entities and cantons, with the introduction of quota system a lot has changed. Based on the Human Development Report 2020 and Gender Inequality Index, Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked as 38th out 162 countries, being close to other EU member states such as Lithuania.
It is crucial to emphasize the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the first country in the region to adopt Gender Equality Law (2003), which enabled the formation of the first gender mechanisms in Bosnia: FBiH and RS Gender centres and the BiH Agency for Gender Equality (2004). This solid legal framework has led to the formation of newly established gender narratives, through the wave of liberal thoughts on gender related issues within the political parties and foundations. Political parties are more aware of the gender sensitive approaches in politics, especially when it comes to the quota representation of the ‘less-represented sex’, which is in most cases related to women.
Taking into account the previously held Local elections in November 2020 and their results, when it comes to gender representation and number of elected female representatives we have 603 elected women out of 3265 candidates, in both entities and Brcko District, which makes 18,47%. On these elections, Nasa stranka achieved great results reaching out the 40,63% of elected women within local councils. While comparing the 2016 Local elections, where 581 women were elected out of 3259 elected representatives, we see the increase in 2020 results, whilst Nasa stranka has achieved 39% of elected female local councillors. Hereby, we need to mention the 2018 General elections, where the number of elected female representatives in all governmental levels was 27,41%, where for example Nasa stranka made the historic result of 61% elected women.
It is important to stress that, when it comes to the national level GE results, North Macedonia achieves better results than most countries in the region. In 2002, North Macedonia introduced a gender quota of 30% of candidates on electoral lists must be from the less represented gender, and this threshold was raised to 40% in 2015. In 2006, a change was made specifying that every third person on the list must be of the less-represented sex. As a result, women currently occupy 38% of parliamentary seats and 16% of the ministerial seats (four of 25).
Besides respecting the Election Law where it is stated that obligatory quota of 40% should be presented on the political lists, some political parties have gone further and questioned the law quota – how can 40% represent equality? Therefore, some political parties introduced 50% equal representation of women and men on political lists and included it in the internal bodies of party management.
Initiative 50% success and GE within SEE
“Initiative 50%” is a project with an aim of strengthening the capacity of female candidates in the domain of women’s political participation, with an inclusion of equal representation of women and men in political decision-making processes. Additionally, “Initiative 50%” is working towards the implementation of internal gender equality, party’s organs and leading management, as well as including 50% in the statute and other regulatory documents. The project is focused on the promotion of successful female stories in the decision-making processes, creation of campaigns and various types of trainings related to public speaking, presentation skills and individual PR campaigns and social media management.
Boris Divkovic Foundation (BDF) has conducted a research Political Participation of Women in Liberal Political Parties in Western Balkans (soon to be published) and a thorough analysis of the political gender representation within the liberal parties in Western Balkans, more precisely in North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina – which the focus is put on. The best way to analyse the GE within parties is to map their strategies, official party frameworks and regulations that indicate intra-party democracy and equal representation, whilst comparing the theory and practices – positioning on the elections lists and results.
One of the best examples in the region is Nasa stranka, socio-liberal party from Bosnia and Herzegovina, known for the human rights principles, gender equality, rule of law and liberal democracy approach. On the contrary to other political parties in BiH as well as in the region, Nasa stranka does not have any type of women’s organization within the party such as Women’s Forum or Women’s Wing, however it has introduced a very significant initiative five years from now and has excelled in the promotion throughout not only SEE countries but also across Europe.
This initiative has helped the party establish a strong, female political network, where, according to our research, 92% of the program activates on women political empowerment are implemented. As all participants from the research interview agree (100%) that this innovative platform ensures the women of NS get the training, advice and support needed for the higher and more efficient leadership teams through “Initiative 50%” programme.
“Initiative 50%” platform promotes not only women’s leadership and gender equality but legislation and communication strategies, fundraising and campaign management as well. They are actively working on intra-regional organization of trainings and workshops to encourage the share of good practices and help strengthen the political capacities of women in Liberal parties in WB. As previously mentioned, the BDF’s research is also analysing the GE in Montenegro and North Macedonia, with a long-term goal of inclusion of new project – “Regional Initiative 50%” that would lobby for equal representation of women and men in these countries, not only present on the party’s lists and elected, but also internally within the party’s bodies.
As previously stated, based on the national GE results, North Macedonia has the best results within the region, thus we have taken to introduce furthermore the successful performances of its liberal party – Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In addition, the LDP’s Code of Ethics has been published and the gender equality and gender-sensitive language are mentioned in this document as core values of LDP’s programmes. In regard to that, based on the mentioned research, the majority of the participants, 87,5% of them, expressed their opinion that legal framework within the party can help produce higher levels of gender equality. In fact, the survey responses have demonstrated that 92% of the evaluated members agree the gender equality need to be mentioned as a basic party value in the Party’s Statute as well as in its programmes.
In Montenegro, on the contrary, gender equality and visibility of women candidates was on a very low level and the Parliament had to make law amendments in order to ensure the equal participation and positioning on the lists in March 2014. In the current term of the Parliament of Montenegro out of 81 of Members of Parliament 19 were women, or 23.46%, which is an increase compared to the previous Convocation which had 15 women, or 18.5%. Although this represents the highest share of women in parliament ever, it still shows a share which is below the minimum quota of 30%. Therefore, although progress has been accomplished, it is still far from the desired outcome and appropriate standard in the field of women’s political participation is still not achieved.
However, all countries mentioned within the research have the capability to work more on the GE promotion and female visibility, as well as to build up the legal framework and its implementation regarding GE, on local, national and regional levels. Taking this into consideration, there are many regional initiatives that could be jointly implemented and could result in major SEE changes when it comes to gender equality in politics and human rights in general – one of them might be the “Regional Initiative 50%”.
Recommendations for Regional Initiative 50%
After conducting research in three countries within Western Balkans and making thorough analysis of internal and external factors that influence GE within liberal parties included in the research, the main findings for the WB regional GE network development are as follows:
- The regional cooperation development, which includes valuable regional and cross-party exchange of experience and knowledge through various trainings, workshops, lectures and seminars organized to develop strategies for advancement of political careers of women is crucial for further development of liberal parties in GE sense;
- It is of outmost importance to keep developing cooperation with different NGOs, whose main focus is on women’s rights, who will recognize liberal parties openness and readiness to jointly work on the legislative proposals and initiatives for the law amendments and pass them to the respective levels of governance;
- Parties are to focus on promoting the equal participation of men and women not only on its electoral lists, but also in the political life in general, by introducing voluntary party quotas internally and externally to ensure greater participation of women in practice. While agreeing to this aspect, liberal parties are to always keep in mind gender sensitive budgeting and media presence of active female members;
- Parties are to conduct annual gender equality audit to identify and process the potential cases of gender-based discrimination or misconduct in the party;
- Parties are to develop formal strategy on mentorship program in the daily work of elected female members, where they can discuss their experience, review the current issues in the society and share advice with the new members to help them get more involved and to raise their confidence, but also on how to work on recruiting new members who are experts in certain fields and who can give crucial support to implementing the parties’ programs and plans successfully.
Having in mind all addressed recommendations, it is clearly visible that exchange of best practices and approaches is crucial for further development and visibility of GE successes in the political scenes across Europe. Work on internal political parties GE mechanisms is also one of the aspects that cannot be left aside, even though the internal documents clearly state the GE standpoints. The fight for the greater GE is never ending effort from all involved political and social stakeholders, where the political parties carry a huge burden due to the political power and the political actions they can produce with their active and devoted work.
 United Nations, Gender Equality. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/gender-equality/ Accessed on 15.02.2021.
 Wollstonecraft Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792
 Directorate General for Internal Policies of the Union, Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Women’s Rights in Western Balkans. European Parliament, January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2019/608852/IPOL_STU(2019)608852_EN.pdf Accessed on 06.03.2021.
 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, 2020. Retrieved from: http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/BIH.pdf Accessed on 17.02.2021.
 European Commission, Gender Country Profile for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Project No. 2013/333302/1. European Union, June 2014.
 Council of Europe, Centralna Izborna Komisija. Naučene lekcije – Izbori 2016 Retrieved from: http://www.izbori.ba/Documents/2017/N_L_2017/Naucene_lekcije_bhs.pdf Accessed on 24.02.2021.
 Boris Divkovic Foundation, Political Participation of Women in Liberal Political Parties in Western Balkans, pg. 19 (forthcoming 2021)
 ibid, pg. 19
 Initiative 50% Retrieved from: https://www.nasastranka.ba/bs/inicijativa-50
 Initiative 50% Retrieved from: https://www.nasastranka.ba/bs/inicijativa-50
 Boris Divkovic Foundation, Political Participation of Women in Liberal Political Parties in Western Balkans, pg. 28 (forthcoming)
 Ibid. pg. 34
 Ibid. pg. 40
 Ibid. pg. 15