In-depth | Employment

Planning a future that works for young women

By - 23.06.2021

Top national strategy set for redesign after five years of failure.

It was mid-May, and the first few warm days had just set the scene for summer when Vesa Galica shipped her first-ever international order. The paper-wrapped package, adorned with a strand of cotton yarn, flew over the ocean toward Florida in the U.S. It contained a white bikini set and two mesh beach skirts — one white and the other red. 

Vesa had spent a month working on the three pieces, crocheting them stitch by stitch with a hook, in her hometown, Vushtrri, in between a busy schedule of online college classes and assignments. With DHL Express, it took no more than a week or so for the package to arrive at its destination.

“The girl who made the order, the biggest one I’ve had so far, had seen my crochet designs on my Instagram page, and then messaged me there,” Vesa recounts, as she heads toward a cafe from the University of Prishtina’s Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering building where she has just completed one of her final college exams of the semester.    

The 19-year-old computer engineering student first began to share her crochet skills two years ago, having initially learnt them from her grandmother and aunt at family gatherings. Crotchet, knitting and sewing are part of long and nuanced histories of women’s labor, closely intertwined with gender, class and race issues. Confined, most of the time, within the domestic sphere and deemed part of the chores a woman would have to do, they have also served as practices of building friendships, solidarity and resistance among women.

Vesa Galica has begun selling her handmade crocheted garments online and is considering developing her passion into a creative small business. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Vesa recalls when as a child, she would curiously observe her aunt knitting everywhere, all the time — in the kitchen, during teatime, before sleep — and not understand how whole garments could take shape simply through the fast and effortless movements of her hands. Taken by the desire to learn that “mysterious” rhythmic motion, some years later, Vesa would find herself crocheting small pieces, such as wallets, hats and scarves, mostly for friends and family.  

“At the beginning, I would occasionally crochet pieces for my friends, and it was them who convinced me to open my online store. Now, I get orders all the time, mainly for bikinis and crop tops,” Vesa says, adding that the crochet work enables her to cover a large part of her expenses as a student.  

Given that the youth unemployment rate in Kosovo is almost 50% — the highest in the region and three times higher than in the EU — for many students, the prospects of finding a job, let alone a fulfilling one, during or after studies, are grim. For young women, the prospects are even bleaker, with the unemployment rate rising to a staggering 61%.

Even though her chosen profession, ICT, is considered to be one of the few sectors with significant prospects of increasing youth employment, Vesa is already thinking of growing her online crochet shop into a small business if she were to have trouble finding a well-paid job as a computer engineer.

“I’m looking to do a coding internship during the summer, and after graduation, next year, I intend to find a programming job,” Vesa says. “But I also have this image in mind of my crochet business as a space where other women, both older and young, could get employed, stitch together and express their creativity.”

Vesa’s plans come with a quite subversive echo. 

Less than a quarter of registered businesses in Kosovo are currently owned by women, while the ICT sector is also far from equal terrain in terms of gender, despite women’s bold presence in recent years. Put into the wider socio-economic context, where just one in 18 women aged 15-24 (and one in seven women overall) are employed, and where women’s unpaid labor is estimated to be worth 2.6 billion euros, Vesa’s ambitions begin to sound almost revolutionary.

Even though promises of new jobs have been the refrain of the electoral discourse in the last decade and several strategies already address the issues surrounding structural patterns of unemployment, to date few meaningful results have been achieved.      

Surplus of strategies, scarce results        

The issues of women’s labor force participation and youth unemployment rates both formed key parts of Kosovo’s 2016-2021 National Development Strategy (NDS) — a central coordinating plan aimed at establishing “a new approach toward development policies” and identifying the “highest priorities of the country.”  

When the drafting process of the NDS was initiated by the Office of Strategic Planning (OSP) back in 2015, the strategy was viewed as a crucial document that would serve to harmonize existing policies and small-scale strategic plans, stirring up cohesive inter-institutional coordination and avoiding the duplication of strategic projects.

Divided into four main areas — human capital, the rule of law and good governance, competitive industries, and infrastructure — the strategy ambitiously covered a wide-span of issues, from pre-school education to sustainable energy capacities and waste management. In April 2017, it was then followed by a detailed roadmap document listing all the planned activities and measurable indicators for each objective.

Now, five years after its adoption, it seems that the NDS has failed to escape the mantra heard regularly in everyday public discourse: “We have great laws, regulations and strategic documents, but we fail yet again when it comes to implementing them.”

With the implementation timeframe almost at an end, it is evident that the government will fail to meet its targets in the majority of its 15 macroeconomic indicators. Among those identified as having particularly poor performance are women’s labor force participation and youth unemployment rates.

Head of the government’s Office of Strategic Planning Vedat Sagonjeva admits that the National Development Strategy is unlikely to meet its targets and says there are lessons to be learnt for the future. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Vedat Sagonjeva, the director of the OSP, has been one of the people involved in the drafting and implementation process of the strategy since the start. Sitting in his office in the government building in central Prishtina, with a large Sustainable Development Goals 2030 poster behind his back, he tries to wear the cloak of critical self-reflection when asked about the strategy’s results. 

“We are still waiting for the final evaluation; however, it is clear that the level of implementation is not satisfactory,” he says. “When drafting the strategy, we focused on making sure there would be enough budget for its implementation, and that its objectives would be well-integrated within other planning documents, but the monitoring mechanisms did not prove to be effective.”

Some of the main reasons for the unsatisfactory implementation of the strategy are the same issues that the document itself was supposed to address: limited policy coordination between different institutions, lack of accountability or systematic progress evaluation, and a shortage of political will.

On top of that, the five-year implementation period has been particularly unsteady politically, with five different governments within these years. 

According to a report published in April 2021 by the GAP Institute, “the unstable political environment” significantly limited the impact of the NDS 2016-2021, rendering the implementation of long-term policies almost unattainable due to rapid changes in governmental agendas. 

Blend Hyseni, a GAP senior researcher who helped to compile the report, adds that the political instability made it easier for the governments to sideline the strategy as irrelevant, with each of them beating the drums for their own programs. “Previous governments could justify themselves for not achieving NDS objectives by saying that they were not particularly aligned with their plans and policies,” he says.

The “biggest deviation” from the targets set is the forecasted reduction of youth unemployment.

The strategy proved to be particularly insufficient in addressing structural patterns of unemployment that see women and young people especially likely to be out of work. 

“We did not emphasize employment policies with specific measures, since we considered that each pillar of the strategy, such as labor, the rule of law, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure building were interconnected and would contribute to the decrease of the unemployment rate,” Sagonjeva says. “However, it seems that this approach did not produce desirable results.”  

GAP’s report shows that all six of the strategy’s labor-related indicators were on track to be missed, even before the recent negative economic impacts of the pandemic. Those relating to women’s labor force participation and youth unemployment are far from being met by the end of the year.

According to GAP, it is unlikely that women’s participation rate — which is currently less than 22% — will increase to the aimed for 27% by the end 2021. The report concludes this would have been “nearly impossible” even without the recent impact of the pandemic, based on the trends in the preceding years.

But the “biggest deviation” from the targets set is the forecasted reduction of youth unemployment. The aim was to reduce this down from 52% to 30% over the five year period, but it is still up at 47%.

Action on the ground

The failure to meet the youth unemployment target has not been through complete inaction. 

Vjosa Mullatahiri, an advisor on youth employment promotion and active labor market measures at the German development agency GIZ, highlights that thousands of young people have benefited from activities within their Youth, Employability and Skills (YES) project, which was delivered in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

Mullatahiri says that over the past four years, 8,400 young people — half of them women — have taken part in programs through YES such as soft skills trainings, internship schemes and entrepreneurship workshops.

Another part of the YES program has been working closely with Kosovo’s Employment Offices as part of activities aimed at increasing employment opportunities for young people by forging interaction between jobseekers, businesses, youth centers, vocational schools and chambers of commerce.

Employment Offices are spread out around the country and are part of the Employment Agency, the government agency responsible for implementing employment policies. Created by the then Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in 2015, the agency now sits within the restructured Ministry of Finance, Labour and Transfers.

There needs to be better institutional coordination of strategic projects and not to do the same things twice from the beginning, wasting time, money, and human resources.”

Vjosa Mullatahiri, GIZ

According to Employment Agency data, in October 2020, there were 90,677 registered women jobseekers. Almost half of these women have no formal qualifications, but at the other end of the educational spectrum 671 have completed a master’s degree.

“Employment Offices constitute important employment infrastructure within local communities since they are present in almost every municipality; however there needs to be more promotion of their services, schemas, and activities,” Mullatahiri says. “With the YES project we intended to close the lack of information loop regarding youth employment opportunities and dynamize the communication between different local institutions and citizen groups.”

Mullatahiri added that the project also offered assistance on organizational development and promotion to the Employment Agency through various staff training courses, as a way of ensuring sustainability. 

“I think that for long-lasting results, it is crucial to preserve the institutional memory,” she says. “In this regard, there needs to be better institutional coordination of strategic projects and not to do the same things twice from the beginning, wasting time, money and human resources.”

Planning for the future

With the current National Development Strategy coming to an end, planning is now underway for a new one that will address the shortcomings of the previous iteration.

One of the ways in which officials will try to do this is by covering a longer span of time — 10 years instead of five. According to Sagonjeva, this would link the strategy to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (even though Kosovo is not yet part of the UN), establish it as an umbrella document of the country’s strategic planning, and guarantee the sustainability of long-term priorities. 

“We considered that a longer implementation period would create a wider social consensus around the main priorities and provide a continuation of strategic actions, surpassing the four-year mandate of a single legislature,” he says.   

However, Hyseni considers that an extended NDS implementation timeframe would not necessarily be translated into better results. 

“It is a good practice to have long-term strategic orientation and vision, but I think that the objectives should be set for shorter periods in order for the strategy to serve as a binding development roadmap that would keep the government accountable,” he says. “I’m afraid an extended implementation timeframe leaves space for the strategy to become obsolete over the years, if the objectives do not get periodically reassessed and there is no continuous monitoring, as has been the case until now.”

The drafting process of NDS 2030 has begun, and the document is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021.

The 10-year implementation period of the NDS 2030 is also linked to the idea of establishing a National Framework for Strategic Management, as a way of creating a clear structure and hierarchy of strategic planning that would lead to better inter-sectoral coordination and less redundant strategic documents. A government decision taken in October 2020 specifies that NDS 2030 will serve as the basis upon which the framework will be established. 

“During the implementation process of the NDS 2012-2021, we noticed that there were too many strategic documents drafted by the ministries and a lack of systematic planning,” Sagonjeva says. “This is also one of the reasons why we decided the NDS should cover a 10 year period, in order to serve as the main strategic document for the country.”

The drafting process of NDS 2030 has begun with the consolidation of the team and thematic groups responsible for its preparation, and the document is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021.

Given the failure to date to address the persistent issues of unemployment amongst both women and young people, it is likely that these areas will once again feature strongly in the new strategy. 

But whatever makes it into the final plan will have to be met by meaningful action to give young women such as Vesa the best chance of fulfilling their ambitions.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

 

 

 

 

 

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union as part of the project “Citizens Engage”, implemented by K2.0 in partnership with GAP Institute. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and GAP Institute and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union’