On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) hosted a panel discussion on Facebook Live, in collaboration with the NGO Committee on the Status of Women New York, called, “Empowering Women Leaders in Macedonia”. The aim was to enable women to voice their perspectives on issues relevant to their advancement to leadership roles in Macedonia.
The panel was moderated by Australian journalist and UMD advisor Natalie Sekulovska, who was joined by speakers Izabela Sokolovska, founder of Esnaf social enterprise, Maja Andonovska Ilijevski, the director of the NI Center of Culture Bitola, and Ilina Pejoska Zaturoski, founder of women’s publication Femitika.
The focus of the panel was on the important role Macedonian women have to play in strengthening business, politics, and local communities in the Balkans. The themes of female leadership, economic empowerment, and gender equality were explored through the lens of contemporary Macedonian society, which faces unique social and economic challenges and limitations, particularly during COVID-19. The opportunities for Macedonian women to exchange ideas and skills with the Macedonian diaspora were also discussed as well as the scope for broader economic markets.
Izabela established Esnaf in a world where traditional artisan markets are becoming rare and online marketplaces are growing in popularity. She says that the reduced opportunities to sell their artisan products disproportionately affect Macedonian women, who comprise the majority of the artisan workforce in Macedonia and come from mainly low socio-economic backgrounds. Esnaf helps empower these women socially and financially by providing them an online marketplace platform as well as a physical store in Skopje. Izabela also says that she is impressed to see some men in her artisan workshops and hopes that attitudes towards cultural and creative industries continue to change.
As the director of the Center of Culture and an actress with the National Theatre, Maja says she has sometimes found it difficult to balance her career and motherhood. Giving the example of when her work required her to travel and be away from her son for an extended period of time, she stressed she would not have been able to do it without a supportive partner and family. Maja also notes that it is not always easy for ambitious and strong-minded women because traditional attitudes are still prevalent in Macedonia and much of the Balkans. She encourages all women in Macedonia and the Macedonian diaspora to choose a career they are passionate about because “if you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life”.
Ilina created the online publication Femitika during the COVID-19 lockdown in Macedonia to give Macedonian women a platform to discuss issues that are important to them. She believes women are not given much space in politics and media to voice their opinions and share their experiences. Connected to Femitika is Ilina’s podcast FEMCAST, which features interviews with prominent Macedonian women about their careers and achievements. Ilina also calls for further representation of women in Macedonia’s Parliament, especially in light of a new law that requires 40% of MPs to be women. She says that men in politics are afraid of strong women and that we need to break through these attitudes to boost representation and encourage diversity.
When asked to give advice to women in Macedonia and the Macedonian diaspora, the speakers encouraged listeners to push the boundaries and move out of their comfort zones especially when it comes to their careers. Because ultimately, the advancement of women leaders benefits both local communities and Macedonian society as a whole.