Interview: “We will continue to cooperate with the civil sector in order to advance women’s rights, promotion of equal opportunities and non-discrimination”
For the last five years, Svetlana Cvetkovska has been the head of Department for Equal Opportunities within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MLSP) from the Republic of North Macedonia. Throughout her professional career, she has made significant contributions to advancing gender equality policies and practices, as well as preventing and protecting women from all forms of violence and discrimination. In this interview, Ms. Cvetkovska reflects on the achievements in building networks and alliances to advance the gender equality agenda, a topic which she also tackled during the Fourth Regional Forum on Ending Violence against Women in the Western Balkans and Türkiye “Integrated Policies, Inclusive Partnerships,” organized within the EU-funded regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.”
What are your main accomplishments resulting from building networks and alliances between institutions and civil society organizations?
The Republic of North Macedonia has ratified all the important international documents on women's rights, and as such, they have been transposed into national legislation and are strongly reflected in state policies. We realized these commitments through strong partnerships and cooperation with civil society organizations (CSOs), which are involved in the working groups for drafting laws, in coordination bodies as well as in the implementation of joint activities.
We were among the first countries to sign the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), which we ratified in 2017. During this period, a broad working group was formed with institutions as well as organizations from the non-governmental sector, which prepared an action plan for its implementation. One of the first activities implemented from this action plan was the Law on Prevention and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. But we did not stop there - the working group continued to function, coordinated by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, and supported the preparation of the by-laws, which meant the operationalization and proper implementation of the Law.
Currently, work is being done to finalize the Multisectoral Protocol for dealing with women victims of violence and domestic violence, as well as the Programme for the Reintegration of Victims. Overall, MLSP provides support to all CSOs by working responsibly and transparently, and we will continue to cooperate with the civil sector on issues of common interest that will lead to the advancement of human rights, promotion of equal opportunities and non-discrimination.
What has changed in the provision of support and protection to women survivors as a result of targeted collaboration with civil society?
One of the specifics of our country is the excellent cooperation between the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the non-governmental sector, especially in the area of specialized services for victims of gender-based violence as well as perpetrators.
At the moment, 13 specialized services for the care of women victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence (shelters) have been established in six planning regions. Some of these services are financed by MLSP and managed by civil society organizations. This trend will continue in order to respond to the needs of the victims and meet the standards of the Istanbul Convention.
As a state, we have prepared the first initial report on the implementation of the Istanbul Convention and it has been submitted to the GREVIO monitoring body, after which we expect to receive recommendations for further improvement of the response to gender-based violence.
What would be the next steps in strengthening current partnerships to ensure better care and protection for women and girls?
With the Law on Prevention and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, for the first time, the principle of acting with due diligence in the interests and needs of the victim was introduced by the institutions when taking measures for prevention and protection from gender-based violence. This is of particular importance because one of the most serious problems is the non-reporting of violence by the victims, which is most often the result of mistrust in institutions, lack of awareness of the officials who act in cases of violence, as well as the economic dependence of the victims, etc. What should be achieved with this law is a significant improvement of institutional and comprehensive support for victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, one of the most significant by-laws being prepared is the Regulation on integrated data collection. It will build a unified data collection system on the basis of which policies will be developed.
What legal framework and services are in place for supporting the economic empowerment of women survivors of violence?
The economic empowerment of women is one of the key factors in the prevention of violence and protection of women victims. That is why, in the active measures for employment, special attention is paid to the inclusion of the victims in the programmes that directly support the participation of women in the labour market as well as their employment.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in the Operational Plan for Active programmes and measures for employment and services in the labour market in 2022, provides counseling/mentoring support to women survivors of violence for a period of 12 months from the establishment of the business as belonging to the target group of women from vulnerable categories. Also, women victims of violence can benefit from the support for employment of unemployed persons who find it more difficult to join the labour market, thanks to the “Wage Subsidy” measure.
What are the remaining gaps and barriers which should be addressed to advance gender equality in North Macedonia?
In order to promote gender equality, the draft law on gender equality is being prepared. Public hearings are ongoing with the aim of a broad consultative process in the direction of receiving proposals and creating a legal solution that will enable the mainstreaming of gender equality in all policies and programmes, but also mechanisms that will enable not only greater coordination but also increases in the influence and significance of gender equality.
How can the MLSP enable and lead on different processes aiming to address the remaining gaps in legal framework and service provision for the prevention of violence against women on one side, and for supporting women survivors on the other side?
MLSP is the coordinator of the National Coordinating Body (NCB), which was established by the Government and includes both representatives of institutions and representatives of CSOs, such as networks of organizations that convey to the NCB the observations and needs from the field. The role of this body is to raise issues and initiate solutions that will be incorporated into the system. In the coming period, the NCB will prepare a National Strategy for the prevention and protection of gender-based violence against women, in which the strategic priorities for a period of eight years will be addressed. That is why it is particularly important that we all implement the Law on prevention and protection against violence against women and domestic violence with due diligence.