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OPINION March 8, 2019

Without Women There Can Be No Economic Prosperity for Kosovo

I am often surprised in Kosovo by the gap between an overall modern legal and regulatory framework, and its impact in practice, particularly in the creation of economic opportunities for all.

No example better exemplifies this gap than the analysis of employment gender statistics. Gender equality is a critical component of economic growth. Women are half of the world’s population and they have a very important role to play in creating a more prosperous world.

A recent World Bank report - Women, Business and Law 2019 – analyses unique data on the laws and regulations that restrict women's economic opportunities around the world. The report concludes that Kosovo’s legislation – albeit not perfect - does not play a strongly role in   limiting women’s employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, as Kosovo ranks relatively high at the 32nd spot among 187 countries.

However, in a country with dramatically high unemployment levels across genders, only about 12 percent of women, who make up around 50 percent of the population of Kosovo are employed, compared to around 46 percent of men. The gender gap in employment is highest for those ages 35–44, or those in their prime reproductive years.  In addition, Kosovo has one of the lowest female job-seekers rate in the world, 20 percent in 2017. This is significantly below labor force participation rates for men in Kosovo, around 65 percent, and the lowest participation rate of women in Western Balkan countries, which averages at 41 percent.

Improving women’s participation in the labor market should be a top priority not only because of equity, but also for the positive economic impact for the country overall. Research suggests that differences in labor market activity rates between men and women amount to potential economic losses of around 28 percent of the gross national income (GNI) of Kosovo, the highest among the countries of the Western Balkans.

If laws and regulations are not the main culprit for this situation, then one has to look at other factors to explain the apparent exclusion of women from the labor market.  

Education outcomes are poor for all children in Kosovo, but important gender gaps remain in educational achievement, particularly in rural areas. Despite improvements among younger cohorts, women in Kosovo have significantly lower levels of education than men. Some 50% of working-age women have lower-secondary education or below. Education matters tremendously for women’s participation in the labor market. The employment rate for men with the lowest levels of education is 30% and for women it is only 5%. Women are also more likely to lack work experience than men.

An astounding 70% of women in the age group 25-29 are not in employment, education or training. To support these young women, there is a need to intervene with policies early after graduation or even before graduation to open opportunities to cumulate experience.

The ability to look for work for women depends also on an environment that allows for the sharing of caretaking responsibilities, that overwhelmingly burden women. Traditional social norms in Kosovo assign family responsibilities almost exclusively to women, and access to high quality, affordable child and elder care is very limited, particularly outside the capital and in rural areas. As a result, over 50% of inactive women in Kosovo report personal or family obligations as the primary reason for not working outside the home.

While intended to protect women, Kosovo’s labor regulation has resulted in disincentives to hire women. Kosovo’s maternity leave is relatively long in global and regional comparison and the financial burden related to maternity leave is borne mostly by employers, as opposed to contribution-based or government-funded, creating a disincentive to hire women. In part because of this, over 60% of women are on temporary contracts. This means they continue to be vulnerable and subject to employer discretion whether contract is extended.

Property ownership rate of women in Kosovo is significantly lower than that of men, especially in rural areas, and this limits women’s access to other financial assets. Prevailing discriminatory practices and social norms can undermine women’s access to productive resources such as property registration and inheritance. As a result, due to the absence of collateral, women also face obstacles in accessing the financial market, thus negatively affecting women’s entrepreneurship. In Kosovo, mortgage rates among women are 10 times lower than for men. Only 9.5 percent of firms have a woman as top manager and only 14 percent are owned by women, figures that are far lower than the regional averages of 21.1 and 32.4 percent, respectively.

To tackle these challenges countries usually use a mix of policies, incentives and programs directly targeted on women. In Kosovo, further policy dialogue is needed to determine which policies are the best engine for this change.

Child and elder care services need to be made more widely available. Women’s education should be improved to increase their likelihood to work and the quality of their employment. Health and social benefits should help reduce vulnerabilities for women in case of illness or job loss. Incentives for women entrepreneurship could be offered through taxation and family benefits. Credit should be more available for sectors in which women predominately work. Maternity leave could be funded through a contributory social insurance system or taxes instead of primarily by employers. These are just some of the ideas that can be considered in Kosovo.

The World Bank Group’s program in Kosovo strives to promote gender equality in access to jobs and economic opportunities. For example, the evaluation criteria under the grants program financed by the Agriculture and Rural Development Project include additional points for women applicants. The Kosovo Health Project aims at improving maternal and reproductive health services for women. The World Bank and the Ministry of Economic Development of Kosovo have implemented the Women in Online Work (WoW) pilot project, which helped train around 150 young, unemployed and underemployed women in skills demanded by the ever-growing online, freelancing market. The Real Estate and Cadaster and Project in partnerships with the Kosovo Cadaster Agency implemented targeted public awareness campaigns on the importance of women’s property rights and provided information and communication technology systems to facilitate access to and monitor women’s property rights.

The World Bank is also constantly conducting and disseminating extensive research to better understand the barriers to women’s employment and economic opportunities in Kosovo.

However, while the World Bank and the other development agencies working in Kosovo should continue to advocate for and work with the government and civil society to promote policy reforms that aim to increase economic opportunities for women, in the end change in society is driven by the collective actions of individuals, both women and men.

So, on this March 8, let’s all pledge to work together for a vision of a Kosovo with equal economic opportunities for men and women. As already stated, women are half of Kosovo’s population and without their contribution to economic growth creating a more prosperous Kosovo will be impossible.