No room for doubting: Women are essential to the modern workforce!
By: Vladimir Zivkovic and Erris Boshnjaku
Women make up more than 48% of Kosovo's population and nearly half of the total Kosovo labor force. Despite this, women continue to be underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against in the workforce. According to the of Kosovo Agency of Statistics (KAS) in 2021, the unemployment rate in Kosovo was 30%. The unemployment among females in first quartal of 2021 was 84%, and inactive workforce was quite high with particular focus on females at 78%. Females are employed, mainly in the sectors of education, trade, and health care. But just how unequal is the treatment of women in today's workforce? And what is EYE doing to help combat it?
What does EYE do?
The overall goal of Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) phase III is to increase the employability of young women and men in Kosovo. It will be achieved in a socially inclusive and sustainable way through systemic interventions in two related areas:
- Young women and men in Kosovo increase their employability by enhanced market demanded skills through improved access to training through industry-led training providers and non-formal training institutions.
- Young women and men can make better-informed career choices due to a more demand-driven career guidance system, while bat the same time benefitting from a more efficient labor market information system.
Gender Equity and Social Inclusion, a focal point in EYE’s interventions
Based on our strategy (which was made in line with HELVETAS and SDC’s strategy) we mainstream Gender and Social Equity inside our team and field work, in our partnerships and collaborations with communities, civil society, private and public services providers, academia, local authorities, and policy makers. Responsibility for ensuring that the gender focus is integrated into the project strategy and understood by project implementation partners - lies foremost within the project team, including management together with the assigned gender focal person alongside the indispensable commitment and support from HELVETAS.
In the beginning of third (last phase) EYE went even one step forward by including gender and minority checklist, with the goal of screening and adapting each potential partnership towards a more inclusive and diverse intervention. This checklist is used to direct partnerships into a more beneficial approach to gender where opportunities exist. Throughout the intervention planning, EYE Project carefully paid attention to both select sectors with the highest growth potential such as ICT, wood processing industry and those market sectors that can employs more women such as pastry, bakery, and retail sector.
To better integrate gender inclusiveness into our interventions it was important to conduct relevant research. This includes integrating gender equality into the market system analysis and a better understanding of why women are choosing less paid jobs compared to men. In 2019 EYE supported the Center for Social Studies and Sustainable Development to conduct research on gender stereotypes and educational choices in Kosovo. According to study educational choices are made based on stereotypical beliefs of what is gender-congruent with future professions: girls prefer professions such as Medicine, Education and Psychology, which require less math skills and reflect more “helping-oriented” values; whereas boys prefer professions like Computer Sciences, Physical Culture and Agriculture, which require more math skills and seem to better fit the social perceived masculine traits. The findings from this study show that gender stereotypes influence educational choices of youth in Kosovo’s high schools and that there is a clear gender difference between preferences for STEM vs. non-STEM fields of study. Indeed, educational choices reported by young women and men confirm the actual gender differences in the labor market and leadership positions in the Kosovo society. Taken together, study found that educational choices made by young women and men are strongly shaped by the social norms and values.
Based on this, during the second phase of the project, EYE supported different promo campaigns to attract more girls in VET schools with STEM background, designed specific career guidance for promoting those professions, and continued research on skills gap analyses in specific industries which employs many women. One of this in phase 3 was skill gap analyses in retail industry in Kosovo. This research showed that women are employed more than men in the trade industry compared to their employment in other industries, and more so in retail where 85% of women in trade work in retail (compared to 65% of men in trade work in retail).
In order that women use economic opportunities it is important to consider interventions for constraints rooted in their roles beyond the selected market systems, such as role within the care and household obligations, which can be burden for women and challenge for development. EYE Project supported research on impact of COVID-19 on women’s employment in childcare sector and supported Association of Private Pre-School Institutions (APPI) to disseminate information from the report. Although things cannot be changed overnight it is important to rise debate and prepare ground for improvements.
A picture speaks a thousand words and so does the data behind it
In EYE Project from 2016-2020, over 10 thousand men and women in total – 10,000 (unemployed and employed) enrolled in new or better vocational skills development, and 46% were women. Last year, in 2021, beginning of our third phase 54% of our beneficiaries were women (more than 800 from 1500 in total).
When we are talking about jobs matched (data from job-matching providers) we evaluated that 30% of beneficiaries were women but knowing statistics from the beginning of this article that over 78% of women are inactive in labor market in Kosovo, our results were significant. What looks promising is that last year 42% of jobs-matched beneficiaries were women, and this is because our shift in sectors which do not attract mostly male population.
However, it is not only number that make us proud, but our beneficiaries are also those who give life to the number, give us motivation and energy that we dedicate so much effort into what we do.
Mitrovica Innovation Center founded by LINK is providing courses in ICT fields and we supported this center to offer sustainable course on Marketing. Similar we did with Dekoriti Training Center, as Dekoriti is one of the leaders in the wood processing industry in Kosovo, and EYE has supported their on-site training center to train young people in the wood processing industry. What is common for these two training providers is that they offer courses, as we would call it, in STEM subjects where traditionally more men are enrolled, but what was the key for success of these two is that they offer attractive modules also for female participants. In Mitrovica this included Marketing course and modules such as Graphic Design, and in Dekoriti center in Lipljan/Lipjan there were modules such as Painting and Illustration.
Miljana Blagojevic who attended training on Marketing in Mitrovica said: “I've learned a lot about digital marketing, especially about social media (which is my favorite). It absolutely helped me, as a graphic designer.” Her advice for other women is that: “We have to always improve our skills and be better with expertise because it's hard for women, especially in Kosovo to find a job.” Stefan Veljkovic, Program Director from NGO LINK, says that EYE helped them to better provide equal opportunities to men and women. “Upon publishing open calls for participants, we go through all applications and after establishing the exact ratio of men and women who applied, we give priority to women who wish to enroll. We strive to serve under-employed and under-served communities, including youth and women, we make it our priority to offer opportunities to women and girls primarily” he said.
At Dekoriti Training Center (wood processing training center) 16 out of 44 participants in last quartal of 2021 were women. These numbers are increasingly promising since culturally the wood sector has predominantly been dominated by men, thus the trend shows that more and more women are choosing this sector as a career path. Riad Durguti, project coordinator at Dekoriti stated that “choosing right modules which are more attractive for women helped us to target more women who are interested in this industry.”
We are glad to see more and more women attending such trainings as mentioned above, but we are also working in sectors and industries where we expect a higher number of women as beneficiaries. According to the data of impact survey from Korabi Innovation Training (who offered training in pastry and bakery sector) 80% of trainees stated that they are very satisfied with the training delivery. While out of 71 students, 25% have opened their own business mostly working from home, 35% have plans to open their own business, 20% have expended the range of products they offer, 14% made new investments and 6% opened a new point of sales. Arbresha Kryeziu from Prizren says: “I am very satisfied with the knowledge gained from the pastry training. When I tell my clients that I have completed the training at Korabi the quality is distinguished. Korabi has an exceptionally good reputation in the market as input supplier but also as training provider for bakery and pastry industry.”
On another note, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, around 60% of the currently employed women occupy positions in the trade sector while it is widely known that only a few have high positions within a company. To combat this negative trend, Kosovo Retail Association is delivering training programs to 100 entry-level managers. The courses on Customer Service & Sales and Business of Retail are enhancing the skills of trainees, mostly women, allowing their further development in this sector and providing opportunities for career advancement. Through Kosovo Retail Association it is expected that more than 40% of the participants would have the opportunity to be promoted in the future and enhance their career. When surveyed, out of 46 participants, 90% of them said that training met their expectations. “I still talk about this training, and I suggest other to attend it!” said one of the female participants through the feedback survey. Vlora Tafili from Klina worked in public sector and was interested to increase the knowledge in the field of retail sector: “After the training I gained the knowledge and confidence to start my own business by opening an apparel store in my city”.
Anabela, a young woman from Roma community, attended career guidance info sessions which EYE project supported through partnerships with Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, which helped her for an informed career decision: „I was confused what I want to study, but this info sessions helped me in a way that I can make decisions what I want. I have a goal which I will try to fulfill.“ Anabela from Kamenica later was chosen as the best student in her generation. Similarly, schools-based career centers in VET schools throughout Kosovo which are established by EYE project, advice and support young girls to pursue their career path with a built-in self-confidence through the development of career management skills training they receive. Based on monitoring evidence reported by VET career centers and job matching providers, during the period 2016-2021, more than 50000 youth accessed and used new/improved labor market information and services where around 40% are women.
Challenges for a facilitator in Market System Development (MSD)
Although EYE Project has great achievement, it is crucial to understand that there are challenges and learned lessons in MSD projects which must be thought about:
Equality does not mean equity. Equal opportunities vs equal treatment. - Although MSD projects should seek equal treatment for both women and men, women are mostly those who are often underrepresented in decision making positions. It is important to inform and raise awareness between all actors, including project team and partners. The goal is to provide equal opportunities in the market system, and not equal treatment by a project. Having equal treatment by a project does not mean that we provide equal opportunities for all. For example, although there are exceptions, is that setting requirements when private sector can apply for any grant call or other opportunity, can often exclude women (or minority) led companies or organizations. This is so because most of the women (or minority) led companies are small, and the requirements must be well thought and carefully planned.
Setting targets is not enough - Although we as a project set the target for women inclusion from the start, that does not mean that it is enough of a precondition that the targets would be reached because of different circumstances such as the profiles can be not very attractive for women, affordability to pay services, transportation (especially for women who lives in rural areas), and the social norms (that women must care about family and household). Supporting targeted interventions is necessary to ensure that targeted groups will benefit.
Lack of Capacity of those who work with vulnerable groups - Reaching scale is not an easy task because market players that response to the case of gender equity are again often very small and they are not perceived as market leaders. It is not simple to identify partners who are aware of the constraints or needs of specific groups, such as women. Even in instances where these partners are found, they are mostly small organizations such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and unfortunately there is often lack of capacity and sustainability. There is a long way from identifying partners who are working with vulnerable groups and bringing them in level that they are self-sustainable.
Leaving no one behind, but not to the detriment of those who move forward. Balance between impact and scale - For facilitators in MSD project the challenge is to go quick enough with other interventions, not slowing them down, but bringing those in some way excluded that they also benefit. This means that we need to balance between impact and scale as we want both to reach as more people as possible but also to add value in the system without leaving anyone behind.