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RCC and UNDP: Women’s empowerment is essential to Western Balkans’ efforts to build back better from the pandemic

Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and Mirjana Spoljaric, Regional Director for UNDP’s Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States; Photo: Regional Cooperation Council

SARAJEVO – COVID-19 did not create gender inequality but reinforced it, said in a joint text Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and Mirjana Špoljarić, Regional Director for UNDP’s Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, FoNet reports.

Women lost their business and jobs or working hours just as men did, but they continued to take on most of the care of children and the elderly without pay, Bregu and Špoljarić stated and added that those who remained home also bore the brunt of the sharp increase in domestic violence, an all-too-common life story of Balkans’ women.

And, as shown by the UNDP and UN Women COVID-19 Gender Response Tracker in the Western Balkans and Turkey, only 18 percent of labour market and 21 percent of social protection measures adopted in response to the pandemic target the needs of the majority of women employed in the informal sector or in high risk businesses, reads the article.

Bregu and Špoljarić pointed out that it is uncertain when the Western Balkans will reach adequate coverage of COVID-19 vaccinations for a population of 18 million people, but they added that one certainty remains – even when a sizable number of women return to employment lost in the pandemic, the gender inequality robbing women of opportunities will not disappear, holding the region back from reaching its potential and building resilience to future shocks.

“Governments and citizens alike must be vigilant in the fight against COVID-19. These times call on each of us, individuals, organisations, institutions, leaders, to be resilient. We might be shocked and battered, we are aware recovery will not be as fast as the pandemic, but getting women back to work is more than ever an imperative”, reads the article.

It was added that in order to support this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Regional Cooperation Council launched the Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative for the Western Balkans in December 2020.

“Women are the key to unlocking the economic potential in this region. Helping them obtain the skills
and experience to manage and drive businesses, and focus on financial education, including training on
identifying the right financial products and services, will ensure that women control assets and lead on
the path to sustainability”, the article concludes.

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