March 19, 2016 | Saturday

Gender Equality as a tool for Greater Social Welfare – by Edona Hajrrullahu

Although girls and women in Kosovo are still faced with numerous inequalities in their daily life, economic inequality is one of the inequalities that makes a big difference between being a woman or a man today. This inequality is probably among the most dangerous once given that it paves the way to many other destructive inequalities and phenomena, such as the lack of a higher education, non-meritorious participation in public life, domestic violence, etc. Lack of economic independence affects personal independence, and thus it determines the role that woman plays not only in the family, but also in society.

Besides many challenges and difficulties faced by girls and women in Kosovo today, the crossroads in which they often find themselves is the choice between their career and the family. Being a population where the average age is around 25 years old, it is understandable that the potential of youth is in its peak, however in order to maintain such an average young age, we must ensure that the birth rate does not fall rapidly.

As a new mother, I often find myself overstrained balancing these two priorities as best as possible. And thus, my thoughts go to all new mothers, who try, by all means, not to sacrifice either of these two important aspects of life. But, how easy is for a woman today to manage having a stable career and at the same time being able to take care of her children in a dignified manner. This is an issue, which unfortunately presents a huge challenge for women in Kosovo. Thus it is here that state institutions come into play, which should issue gender-sensitive public policies. This way they would facilitate and enable a better welfare for girls and women in Kosovo and also provide to them the opportunity to express their potential in all areas where they believe that they can contribute professionally.

Although the issue of maternity leave in Kosovo is regulated by law – where every mother is provided with an opportunity to stay with her child up to one year after its birth – that opportunity guaranteed by the law is often not implemented in practice. Private sector proves to continue being a challenging sector (without underestimating the discrimination that occurs in the public sector), which directly or indirectly prevents girls or young women having a stable job or a career in this sector. It is true that the primary responsibility for the maternity aspect falls on state institutions, which should ensure that the country has an active population, which in the future will be able to contribute to the state budget through taxes; a population that brings innovation and consequently a greater economic development. So, the interest of the country is for its birth rate not to fall. This is more than obvious (such a goal we have seen consistently in countries that are trying to combat the aging of their population by all means – Germany being one of them). However, this does not imply that the private sector should remain completely inferior to this social problem. Despite the orientation of the private sector towards profitability, the business community cannot escape from social responsibility. It must be stressed that in developed markets businesses not only compete on quality or price, they also compete on and benefit from larger clientele, even against what the latter gets in turn, or they do it for society itself. We should not forget that just how the institutions need their taxpayers, the same way companies need their customers!

Finally, we must understand that gender equality does not constitute a “threat” to the role that men play in society, but in contrary it does influence the overall increase of welfare and quality of life of both genders. Due to this reason, it is more than necessary that we as a society are really convinced that women should be provided with all necessary conditions so they can realize their full knowledge and potential. A well-educated and employed woman, financially and intellectually independent, who has the support of her spouse, works exclusively for the wellbeing of the partner, family and also the country. Therefore, this social responsibility must be addressed and evaluated seriously by the entire society whereas legislation in effect should be respected with fanaticism, so that Kosovo scores the development that it should have, as it really deserves it!

*The author is Chief Executive Officer of the Agency for Gender Equality in the Prime Minister’s Office