March 4, 2024
The Secretariat Unstoppable Conference

Women as Catalyst to Democratic Change

There are a growing acknowledgment and acceptance of the untapped potential and talents of women’s leadership. It is a well-known fact that Gender Equality and Women Empowerment are in the middle of achieving positive developments. However, despite their proven abilities as great leaders and catalysts of change, women’s participation in public life is still low.

Those are issue tackled directly in the "Women as Catalyst to Democratic Change" Panel, to be held in 22 February 2023, from 10-12 at "Hotel Maritim Plaza". This panel is part of the Unstoppable International Conference, an event gathering 150 speakers and participants from WB Region, V4 Group, European Union and Japan. The Conference is organised by the Western Balkans Fund, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the International Visegrad Group

While, women continue to be on the front line – as leaders delivering effectively with vision and care, but also as victims of structural vulnerabilities and of violence and abuse.

The “shadow pandemic” of exploitation and abuse, including domestic and intimate partner violence, should be a jarring wake-up call to us all. The latest WHO data show that one in three women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while the UN reports that women with disabilities have four times the risk of experiencing sexual violence in comparison to women without disabilities. Women will also bear the heaviest toll of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic because they often carry the responsibility for unpaid dependent care and are over-represented in jobs most affected by the crisis – hospitality, tourism, health and trade.

The lack of women’s participation in society threatens to delay the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Politically motivated gender-based violence online and offline is a barrier to women’s ability to participate fully and equally in democratic processes. Moreover, the persistently high rate of grave violations of women’s rights worldwide is appalling. In order to improve the Status of Women we should focus on two issues:

  1. fighting gender-based violence and scaling up women’s full and
  2. effective participation at all levels and in all sectors.

Meaningful participation of women in politics, institutions and public life is the catalyst for that transformational change, which benefits society as a whole. Only four countries in the world have a parliament that is at least 50 per cent women. Worldwide only 25 per cent of all parliamentarians are women. Women serve as heads of state or government in only 22 countries today, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. Current projections show that if we continue at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

These figures speak of unacceptable barriers and bottlenecks that continue to block women’s participation. As women, we are often reluctant to use this word, but as leaders we should not be too shy to use our voice to improve our position in the society. Power is not an end in itself: it is the power to change things, to act and have equal opportunities to compete. We need to better promote the value of integrating women’s perspectives in decision-making, since peace processes and peace agreements mediated with the active participation of women are more durable and comprehensive. Yet women make up only 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators and 6 per cent of signatories in formal peace processes.

We must rebalance the composition of decision-making bodies. We need to integrate gender into the design and implementation of any national or regional agenda. We need to ensure the availability, accessibility, quality and continuity of health services for women, including sexual and reproductive health services. Social protection programmes should be gender responsive and account for the differential needs of women and girls. We need to promote access for women to decent work and overcome the choice between family and work that is too often imposed on women. Women should have targeted support for entrepreneurship and investment in education that guarantees equal access.

This should not only start with women, but with girls. Getting more girls into school, improving the quality of education girls receive, and ensuring all girls get quality education: this will enable female empowerment and gender equality, which will be critical for the effective participation of future generations of women.

We must make justice accessible to all women and end impunity for sexual violence. Parity is not a zero-sum game but a common cause and a pragmatic imperative. Men can be and are our allies in achieving parity.

We look forward to continuing momentum on accelerating progress on achieving gender equality together and let us together set the stage for an inclusive, equal and peaceful region.

Let us make this generation “Generation Equality”.

Why #Unstoppable?

Well, the Western Balkan Fund grew out of a desire to see more equally represented leadership roles in business and the community. This desire is not just about inspiring women to step up as leaders, but also about encouraging women to use their voice and share their successful stories. We are dedicated to providing personal inspiration and practical information to promote more equitable representation of women leadership and decision making processes in our communities at every career level and all stages of personal growth.

Every February and March, the WBF with the support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan hosts an advocacy event by bringing in national, regional & international experts and create a space of inspiration, connection, and rejuvenation.  

Purpose of #Unstoppable conference is to foster equal access to leadership in business, government, and non-profit organizations within the Western Balkans, Visegrad regions, and beyond. This event will also promote, support, and expand initiatives that promote equal access for women and men in development processes.