Women as engineers of change
One of the initiative’s early priorities is to increase women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. The number of Western Balkans women dropping out of their studies, or of their careers in STEM, is worrisome, as it reaches 70 percent. Evident gender segregation can be observed in Research and Development, with twice as much male researchers in engineering and technology. Gender segregation in STEM education and career fields represents a global problem, adding to the necessity of addressing pertinent gender-related policy areas and bringing these complexities to policymakers’ attention in the region.
While female enrolment in STEM education continues to lag because of gender stereotypes and discrimination, there are bright spots to build on. Participation of female researchers, for instance, is holding steady or increasing in the region. In most economies, women tend to be on par with men among tertiary graduates in science. Between 70-85 percent of graduates in health fields are women. However, the number drops to 40 percent in agriculture and as low as 20 percent in engineering.
A path to sustainability
The main challenges to gender inequality in the region persist: higher rates of poverty and job insecurity for women; a disproportionate (and growing) share of unpaid care work; wide gender pay and pension gaps; lower access to healthcare; and women still locked out of many leadership positions.
But harnessing women’s potential and capabilities is an essential rudder to steer the region closer towards sustainable development targets and promote regional economic stability. Recognizing that individual attempts to change this climate are doomed to fail, the initiative opts for more multilateral attempts to change things, testing ideas in collaboration and bringing them to life in reality.
A return to the pre-pandemic status quo will leave the Western Balkans lagging. If we fail to adopt a gender perspective in our responses to the pandemic, we fail to build resilient societies and reinforce growing inequalities.