Macedonia became independent when Yugoslavia disintegrated 25 years ago. Many thought that Macedonia might not survive as a new country. It was in a tough neighborhood, the economy was in tatters, it had little experience with democracy, and there was a strong undercurrent of tension between the majority Macedonian population and a large Albanian minority.
But Macedonia did overcome those early challenges, got to work on its new democracy, and as a result it has progressed toward European Union and NATO membership.
Like other countries of the former Yugoslavia, however, Macedonia faces a crucial test in how to make its democratic laws and institutions function properly: how to nurture pluralism, ensure meaningful separation of constitutional powers, and foster government accountability to the public.
Gender equality is critical for Macedonia to meet this democracy test. Giving women and men equal opportunities, particularly in politics, creates bridges across the partisan and ethnic divisions that often hold things back. Gender equality serves up new issues, generates new ideas, creates new alliances, and fundamentally ‘disrupts’ conventional politics in productive and pragmatic ways.
Macedonia has a gender election quota, a gender equality law, and a host of gender mainstreaming instruments, and to be sure a lot of progress has been made. But to make real and lasting gains, these laws need to be enforced, and the commitments upheld. And to make that happen, women need to take on political leadership.
Too often the very obstacles that these laws are meant to remove block women from taking needed leadership. Social constraints, political barriers, and economic discrimination remain ever-present.
That is why NDI, in our work with parliament, political parties, and civic organizations, has put a premium on engaging women in the political process, and promoting their leadership as members of parliament, mayors, and advocates.
And that is why we are proud to partner with Reactor. Reactor uses technology and research to help women leaders from different parties, ethnic groups, and parts of the country. They connect, communicate, and create initiatives that promote women in politics, as well as public policy that serves not only the interests of women, but their communities and society as a whole.
At the end of the day, gender equality comes through political change. And political change happens through relationships, networks, and outreach. Technology has become a big piece of that. That is what Reactor does, and that is why NDI sees Reactor as essential to gender equality and the democratic process in Macedonia.