Dear Ms Raičević,
I would like to thank you for your letter and for raising the issue of women's low political representation in Montenegro.
By bringing my attention to this matter, you touch upon a topic very close to my heart. As a woman in diplomacy, I know all too well the kind of challenges women face in decision-making, especially in the South East Europe region.
I strongly believe that there is no prosperity without equality and I have personally been involved in a number of civil rights campaigns on the issue, most importantly the one dedicated to the fight against domestic violence, both in Romania and abroad.
As newly appointed European Union Ambassador in Montenegro, I will make it my priority to support you and other actors active in this field and to work with Montenegrin authorities towards building an equal and fair society. Once women are empowered, safe, educated and economically independent, everyone will profit from it: children, women and men alike.
The European Union puts great emphasis on gender equality and is a global pioneer when it comes to fighting all forms of discrimination and promoting equality, including gender equality in politics.
Firstly, it is an issue of democratic representation. It is unfair, unacceptable and unsustainable that more than half of the citizens are not represented in the executive and legislative spheres.
Secondly, the EU stands for diversity. Women significantly contribute to the economic, cultural and social life of any country. Women and men have different experiences and it is essential that we bring diverse perspectives into the decision making process.
Gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution of Montenegro and is a significant component of the EU accession negotiations. In fact, the EU demands that gender equality is included in policy-making at all levels, not just in politics but also in the economy, business, health, social welfare, education, culture and others. The European Commission's 2019 and 2020 reports on Montenegro deplored the lack of gender-balanced political representation in elections, and the fact that women continue to be underrepresented on the labour market, in entrepreneurship, policy-making and politics. The 30 August parliamentary elections were a missed opportunity in this regard, as most electoral lists complied only with the minimum requirements in terms of gender equality. As a result, the number of women MPs decreased to 19, now accounting for 23% only.
We back our words with deeds by supporting gender projects and initiatives. We supported the establishment of the Women Political Network, both financially and politically. We advocated for a more balanced representation of women in the Parliament and the Government, and provided financial support to the civil sector in Montenegro, driving the gender agenda forward.
Women right activists play a pivotal role in promoting gender equality. The Women’s Rights Centre – and you, Ms Raičević – are at the very heart of that fight. It is not by chance that you were selected to become a spokeswoman in the EU’s global communication campaign 'Europeans making a difference' last year. By picking you as the Montenegrin representative for the campaign, we wanted to make your voice heard beyond the borders of this country. We showed that your dream is the very same dream of every single woman in the European Union and beyond. We are proud of our collaboration and are thankful for the work you do.
This is why the EU Delegation will take your raising of the current political under-representation of women very seriously.
In the current atmosphere of political change and promises of a better future, women must find their rightful place. Politicians must walk the talk. They have great responsibility in addressing the enduring problem of low political representation and participation of women in Montenegro. Politics must serve as an example. There is no better time than now to back up words with deeds, in order to build a democratic society based on pluralism, equality and tolerance.
I have emphasised the importance of this issue in my recent meetings with newly appointed Parliament Speaker Bečić and other representatives of the new parliamentary majority. And I will continue to do so.
I can assure you that I will dedicate personal time and effort to back the Women’s Rights Centre and all civil society organisations who strive for gender equality during my mandate in Montenegro. In turn, I count on you to support me in my dialogue with national authorities, especially the Parliament of Montenegro and the new Government, once it is formed.
Let us all work together to achieve equality. It is time for Montenegro to step up its game, for the benefit of all.
Oana Cristina Popa