This year, the world was taken with Caroline Criado Perez’s book “Invisible Women,” which looks at how a lack of gendered data has impacted everything from government policies, to office temperature, to tech solutions. The result? One-size-fits-men.
For someone who has been working with and looking at data from a gender perspective, a lot of the findings in the book are not necessarily a surprise, but these illustrations were important in confirming the gender bias that we know exits.
Apart from illustrations of everyday bias in data, Criado Perez also shows how policies designed without prior gender analysis yield results that impact men and women differently, more often than not, disregarding the impact of these policies on women.
These policy decisions are the norm globally, and Kosovo is no different. How policies affect women has rarely been taken into account by our country’s policy-makers over the past two decades — under the outgoing PAN administration, nothing changed.
The outgoing government continued the trend of favoring capital investments over investment in well-being.
Apart from overall policy directions disregarding women, it often happens that even policies that are “aimed” at improving women’s lives fall short due to lack of properly addressing the core issues.
Potential policies, such as investing in pre-school education — which would help to ease the unpaid labor of childcare that still overwhelmingly falls on women — has not been a priority of national or local governments. Affirmative action policies, such as including women in corporate boards, have also been met with resistance by policymakers.
Meanwhile, the outgoing government continued the trend of favoring capital investments over investment in well-being, making road-building a top priority.
When policy planning takes place, it usually involves a number of government actors, who propose policy initiatives and demonstrate the necessity for these changes or new introductions. The difficulty of making such changes depends partly on the reach of the policy, but also on the likely impact it will have on voters in the next round of elections.
Kosovo governments, going back 20 years, have not always made policy decisions that reflect detailed analysis of the need or impact. Given the short-lived terms of Kosovo governments (not one administration has run a complete course of 4 years), decision-makers often feel they need to do the most they can in the short time they have in office to ensure the greatest support from voters once that round of governance is cut short.
Such short-term thinking has led to numerous policies being enacted in one administration and then reviewed and amended in the next. Changes in development strategies mean changes in priorities for investing, and changes in the Law on Labour, fiscal policies and budget priorities have all been subject to amendments from one government to the next.
Women’s contribution to the economy remains one of the most undervalued aspects.
These decisions have led to resources being tied up in the same policies for years on end and have led to an indefinite loop of changes in policies. This loop leaves little room for well targeted policies, especially targeted at improving the lives of women and youth, as underrepresented groups in governance.
Women’s contribution to the economy remains one of the most undervalued aspects of the economy. In Kosovo, women’s contribution in terms of unpaid work is unmeasured and their involvement in paid work is low, mainly due to the high burden of unpaid care work.
This is important, because one of the key questions that those proposing new policies need to answer is: “How much will this cost, and how will we cover the cost?” Policies and actions need to be in line with the existing budget, or to be proposed ahead of time, so that the upcoming budget reflects these changes.
Knowing and taking account of the true value of women’s work — and the costs of their exclusion from the labor market — should therefore be key to any economic analysis of policy potential.
No support for women in work
One way to make good on promises of economic growth, for political parties in Kosovo, would be to start measuring women’s unpaid work as a valued contribution to GDP, while at the same time investing in reducing that burden, so that in turn women’s participation in paid labor would increase.
According to official statistics, less than 20% of women in Kosovo are active in the labor market and less than 10% of businesses are owned by women; women are discriminated against both when it comes to being hired and in terms of career advancement.
Additionally, businesses in Kosovo claim that the stringent regulations foreseen by the Law on Labour are one of the barriers to doing business.
One of the main issues in the Labour Law that is considered to be problematic by women and businesses alike, has been the provisions on maternity leave.
Current maternity leave provisions foresee 12 months of maternity leave for mothers, of which 6 months are paid by the employer at 70% of the wage; 3 are paid by the Kosovo Government at 50% of the average Kosovo wage; and 3 months are unpaid.
Businesses consider it costly to hire women who may go on maternity leave, while women believe they are being discriminated against, regardless of their family planning, due to the maternity leave foreseen by the law.
In an attempt to address this barrier to doing business, while at the same time tackling the high level of economic inactivity among women, Kosovo’s government started working on amending the existing Law on Labour. This effort started in Isa Mustafa’s government (2015-17), only to continue as unfinished business in the outgoing PAN government — but as yet it remains unresolved.
Studies show that properly paid maternity, paternity and (shared) parental leave are crucial in tackling the gender differences in the labor market, both in terms of active participation and in terms of the gender pay gap. Kosovo made steps forward when paternity and parental leave were introduced in law in 2017; however, this is where the moving forward ends.
This draft law has been boasted as a move forward in gender equality in the family and labor market. In practice, however, it is not.
During the outgoing administration, provisions regulating maternity and parental leave were removed from the Law on Labour and introduced into a new draft law that covers Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leave. However, the proposed law foresees changes that are mostly beneficial to businesses in material terms and that do not guarantee any improvements to discriminating hiring practices.
The proposed law sets maternity leave (to be taken by the mother only) at 12 months, of which 3 months are paid by the employer at 70% of their actual wage; 6 months are paid by the Kosovo Government at 50% of the average Kosovo wage; and 3 months of unpaid leave. Paternal leave (to be taken by the father only) is foreseen at a mere 10 days. Parental leave (additional leave that can be split between mothers and fathers) is foreseen to be unpaid, thus making it highly unlikely to be taken by any families.
With all these changes, this draft law has been boasted as a move forward in gender equality in the family and labor market. In practice, however, it is not as the stark imbalance between maternity and paternity provisions mean that businesses are still much more likely to hire men over women.
Having not considered the indications of the labor market, the PAN government has not managed to address the root cause of the problems for women, or to improve the situation so that it increases women’s active participation in the labor market. While the law has not yet passed, it remains an unsuccessful attempt at addressing a major problem.
Generic policies offer no assistance
Failing to account for women in planning is also evident in the Strategy for Local Economic Development. Studies show that while a lack of investment in public services is money-saving (in the short term), it also shifts the cost and the burden from the public sector to the private domain — women end up doing the care work that is not offered by the public sector.
Local economic development strategies should foresee investment in social care, which would result both in more jobs for women in the sector (which tends to employ more women than men), but also more time for women to actively engage in the economy as their unpaid labor would be reduced.
However, Kosovo’s local economic development strategy focuses largely on improving the business environment in general, on infrastructure, and on general education. While these areas of focus are important, they tackle general economic development, rather than focusing on particulars.
Similar to governments previous to them, and a trend likely to continue, the outgoing Kosovo government has continued with “business as usual” policies and decisions, which more often than not disregard women as an important faction of society.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.