Interview: “Measuring gender equality is pivotal for making progress”


Milana Lazić, Programme Manager at the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). Photo: Personal archive

Milana Lazić works at the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), managing the “Assistance to European Union (EU) Pre-Accession” project. This project works with EU potential and candidate countries in the Western Balkans and Turkey to make gender equality more visible in the region with a focus on improving how gender equality is monitored across public policies, legislation, and in practice. EIGE provides technical expertise to relevant countries, especially in developing national Gender Equality Indices. Lazić spoke with UN Women about the Gender Equality Index and EIGE’s support to the countries in the region.

What is EIGE's Gender Equality Index?

The Gender Equality Index is developed by our Institute. It is a tool to measure gender equality progress in the EU. Since its first edition, in 2013, the Index has tracked and reported progress on a scale of 1 (no gender equality) to 100 (full gender equality), tailored to fit the EU’s policy goals. The Index reveals both progress and setbacks and explores what can be done better to seize opportunities for change. It has six core domains (work, money, knowledge, time, power and health), and two additional domains (violence against women and intersecting inequalities).  With a total of 31 indicators, it has been produced by EIGE for 27 EU Member States.

In 2016, the work on developing the Gender Equality Index started in the Western Balkans region and Turkey. Now we have four Indices developed, in Albania (2020), Montenegro (2020), North Macedonia (2019) and Serbia (2016, 2018 and 2021). Two EU potential candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo*,  are developing a partial Index – meaning that due to lack of data, they are able to calculate only some of the core domains.

What about Indices in the countries in the Western Balkans and Turkey, when can it be expected that these countries have a full index?

Based on discussions with our stakeholders in the region, we expect that all the Western Balkans will have a complete index by the end of 2023. If not all seven EU candidate countries and potential candidates, then we hope at least six will have an index by this time. More on the index and its reports from the region can be found at this link.

With EIGE’s support, what have been the greatest steps forward in measuring and monitoring gender equality in the Western Balkans?

EIGE has been supporting the efforts of the countries in this region to better monitor gender equality progress, thanks to the European Commission’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) of the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiation (DG NEAR). 

This year, EIGE marks the ten-year anniversary of its working relationship with the Western Balkans and Turkey. Throughout this decade, we have seen overall improvements in building capacities and improved gender statistics, despite a slow pace at times. The greatest improvements are seen in the statistical capacity in gender statistics, and the development of Gender Equality indices, as well as regional cooperation. The stakeholders’ willingness to build their capacities, network and exchange lessons learned are strong pillars of this cooperation.

The project has also allowed for more synergies and information sharing with the key stakeholders, including EU delegations, civil society, and academia, who are interested in benefiting from EIGE’s knowledge sharing and capacity building, which also includes attending our events.  

EIGE has done regional stakeholders’ needs assessment based on the Commission’s request, in which the level of support provided by EIGE to ensure IPA stakeholders’ ability to participate effectively in EIGE's activities upon EU accession is estimated very high, namely at 79 per cent.

What are the biggest problems and areas of potential for gender equality in the Western Balkans?

What we found while collecting data on women and men in decision-making positions, is that the level of women participating in business decision-making in the region is developing at a slow pace. One of the reasons for that, I believe, is that there are no quotas for women in the business sector. When we look at data on women in the business sector in the region, and the average share of women on corporate boards is 19 per cent, compared to the EU’s 33 per cent. This is a space for action. Getting more women into senior positions in the business sector is one of the political priorities of the European Commission, which has put out a proposal for at least 40 per cent of non-executive board seats of listed companies to be filled by the under-represented sex – which is women in most cases. The EU employment and social affairs ministers adopted the general approach on the directive in March 2022, giving us a clear path for similar action in the region.

In politics, we have seen that when governmental quotas are introduced, there has been a significant jump in the share of women in parliament. Today, the share of women in politics in the Western Balkans is 36 per cent, slightly above the EU-27 average of 33 per cent. Together with Turkey – the IPA average is slightly lower than the EU-27 at 28 per cent. The percentage of women in government positions in the Western Balkans is 38 per cent and in the EU the average is 32 per cent. When combined with Turkey, the average is 33 per cent. On the local level, the situation is worsening. The level of women leaders of major political parties in the EU on average is 26 per cent while the number in the Western Balkans and Turkey is nine (9) per cent.

In addition to this support, EIGE made available their Gender Equality Glossary and Thesaurus in four new languages, what has been the impact?

EIGE worked with local experts from four IPA beneficiaries to translate our glossary and thesaurus of gender-related terms, which consists of over 400 terms and definitions.

We started during the pandemic in 2020 and managed to finalize this work and launch the local versions of the Glossary in: Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Serbian. The glossary is one of the most visited items on our website in the region. This tells us that this work is highly appreciated and used by our regional stakeholders.

The impact of the glossary and thesaurus can be very high as the proper use of terms and definitions results in the use of gender-sensitive language, which in the long run helps the process of gender mainstreaming.

How do you see future cooperation between EIGE and UN Women?

We regularly liaise on matters of gender equality in the region. Both EIGE and UN Women implement regional projects in the Western Balkans and Turkey.  Together, we are building synergies in areas such as ending violence against women and boosting regional cooperation in gender equality. We will continue to work together in the future.

*All references to Kosovo should be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).