Stellanetwork

New Stella project focusing on women’s and girls’ entrepreneurship in rural communities

Stella starts a new project “Together We Rise: Entrepreneurship by Girls and Women in Lifting Rural Communities” that will offer training and mentorship support for women and girls from the rural communities who have ideas for starting their own businesses.

The project will focus on rural and marginalised communities and will be implemented in different regions of the country. Stella Network will provide personal mentorship through the existing Women Mentorship Network, as well as trainings and networking opportunities aiming to strengthen the entrepreneurial skills and develop the business ideas of women and girls in these communities. 

Stella Network will collaborate with different ministries, municipalities, civil society organisations, and professional networks in the country in the realisation of this project. 

The project will be implemented over a period of 13 months and is funded by the US Embassy in Skopje.

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CENTAR

Stella’s 10th Town Hall Discussion was held in the Municipality of Centar, in the hall of the Brakja Miladinovci Library in Skopje. 

There were three key speakers — Dragana Karovska Čemerska, a lawyer who has worked for more than 15 years in the non-governmental sector, Mersiha Smailovic, a co-owner of a financial and legal consulting company and a human right activist, and Lura Polozani, one of Stella co-founders.

Dragana focused on the issue of discrimination in the everyday life and discrimination that women face in their careers. She emphasized the systemic problems that single mothers face because the institutions are not ready to support them and they are left alone to fight for their careers, but also to be present for their children. ‘Discrimination and sexual harassment of women in our society is already accepted as the social norm,’ she pointed out.

Mersiha Smailovic pointed to the discrimination and stereotypes that people have based on the look of the women and the way they are dressed. She spoke of many experiences where she was discriminated against only because she was wearing a burqa. She talked about the ethnic discrimination of women in the society, as well as the sexual harassment in the workplace that a lot of women in the country face. 

Lura Pollozhani spoke about the need for women to unite and fight for their rights and the ways in which they can oppose and defend themselves from the sexual harassment, as well as the legal ways to do that in our country. She noted how even if the legal system in the country was not responsive enough, women should remain strong and pursue these cases through judicial means. ‘Women should have solidarity with the other women that work with them, especially if they have a case of sexsual or any kind of other harassment at their workplace,’ she pointed out. 

The discussion continued with stories that touched the question of sexual harassment in the workplace. ’I was going through a very difficult time during my studies and my previous three workplaces. I was sexually harassed during my education, by a university professor, and I could not past the exam for years. My boss blackmailed me to go out with him for a dinner if I want to advance in my career or get a higher salary,’ shared one of the participants. ’I have never had support from my colleagues, so I could not take any of these cases to court,’ she explained.

Another story was shared by a girl that was on a work-and-travel in another country, and she worked at a café. The owner of the café constantly harassed her and yelled at her for months. She talked with his wife mostly about the harassment, but she did not get any support from her; in fact, she even blamed her for the harassment. This verbal harassment was so unbearable that she left the job after only a month.

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КОН РОДОВА ЕДНАКВОСТ

Оваа студија е обид да се мапираат пречките и предизвиците со кои се соочуваат жените и девојките во Северна Македонија во академскиот и професионалниот живот. 
Наодите и заклучоците се засновани на податоци прибрани преку онлајн прашалник и во рамките на 14-те јавни дискусии организирани во различни делови од земјата.

Во првиот дел студијата се фокусира на предизвиците во образовниот процес, а во вториот дел, на пречките за вклучување на пазарот на трудот и напредокот на девојките и жените. 
Првиот дел е воден од потребата да се анализираат искуствата и перцепциите во образовниот процес, со цел подобрување на условите за воспоставување родова еднаквост. Вториот дел, пак, укажува на пречките со кои се соочуваат жените и девојките при вклучување на пазарот на трудот, како што се пречки поврзани со институциите и пречки поврзани со патријархалните норми кои сè уште доминираат во општеството. Врз основа на наодите, студијата нуди и неколку препораки за различни општествени актери

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Veles

The last Stella Town Hall Discussion for 2018 was held on November 15th at the local community Trajko Prokopiev in Veles. The event was organized in cooperation with the Women’s Organization of the Municipality of Veles.

The key speakers at this discussion were Mirjana Trajkova, the President of the Women’s Organization, Lence Zdravkin, the Honorary President of the Association “House of Hope”, and Rukie Agic, Professor at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Food – Skopje.

Mirjana Trajkova spoke about the importance of women’s associations because they help to support women in accomplishing their dreams and career goals. Women partaking in such associations have moral and financial support in accomplishing their goals. Trajkova noted that ‘through our organization we financially supported 10 start-up initiatives, with business ideas provided by our members and now we also work on their management’. For the older members of the organization they provide different activities and competitions like cooking, sport activities, and lectures in school devoted to gender equality. In the rural areas they help women mainly in modernization of the agricultural process and their education.

Lenche Zdravkin is widely known for her support and help of refugees from the Middle East who transit through the Republic of Macedonia. She explained what women refugees and their children endure, especially their struggles during their path through war zones and to their final destinations, how they survived and how they are living on the roads every day, without losing hope for a better tomorrow. ‘These women are my biggest motivation, they are proving every day that even in the toughest situation in life we should stay positive and fight for our goals for better future’- she emphasized. She shared her story, how she began to support refugees, the crucial support of her family, and how she repurposed her husband’s garage to make a storage for the things that refugee needed.

Professor Rukie Agic noted the importance of support by spouses and family as crucial for any achievement: ‘My career demanded а lot of traveling, specialization in foreign countries and absences from my home, which were supplemented by my husband working at home and raising our children’. Professor Agic emphasized the support she provides to young women starting their work in agriculture in different rural areas, and how women are successful in the manufacturing of organic food.

The presentations were followed by an open and engaging conversations with the attendees. Two young women shared their personal stories on how they were running successful business independently. A lawyer pointed to the difficulties faced with judicial cases condemning domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. There were also stories from women that worked in the army and were on a foreign mission away from home for two years. They also agreed on the importance of family support in order to attain goals.

The engaging discussion, which enthusiastically lasted for over three hours, was concluded on the note that support from family, spouses, and the community are essential for women and girls to have the possibilities in achieving their dreams.

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CAIR

In June, Stella held a THD in Strumica, organised with the support of our local partner ‘The Center of Communities of the Municipality of Strumica’.

Svetlana Mazgaloska Vucetikj, a former Member of Parliament, a gender equality coach and a mother of a child with disabilities talked about the systematic obstacles that she faced with the education of her son. ‘Support among partners is the driving force for having a success within the family, as well for building successful professional careers of both partners’- she pointed out. She emphasized that gender equality is primarily due to the traditional stereotypes developed in a society. ‘All stereotypes related to women are drawn from the tradition of the people that is very difficult to eradicate having in mind they are embedded as a social norm’- she stressed.

Biljana Bajraktarova -a teacher, a career adviser and chair of the career center in one high school in Strumica- made a compelling case that ’women must fight for their dreams and through supporting each other they can pursue every dream they want’. She agreed that traditionally accepted norms are the biggest obstacles the community faces. For example, if young married couples acquire property, the property is registered as belonging only to the man, not to the couple or only to the woman. She also emphasized that there were cases where families with one daughter did not leave all their property to their daughter but to the groom.

Participants of the event shared their own experiences. One woman faced challenges in opening her business that could have been supported through state grants. Yet her application was rejected although she had all the necessary documentation. Another participant, a high school student, pointed that parents still think of careers along gender lines whereby there are male and female professions and that she should choose to study at a faculty that will later bring a ‘woman’s job’ instead of enrolling on a mechanical or technical faculty. An example was followed by a man who had to get used to sweeping the yard while someone else was passing on the street.’ When I swept the yard and would hear someone walking down the street I would threw the broom and pretend to do something else in the yard’- he explained, showing societal pressure for men not to take over housework. The wide consensus among participants followed that there are many traditional norms adopted by the society and have negative impact on women’s educational and career development. The first step in accomplishing gender equality is to break these embedded norms. The fight has to start in the family and should continue in all other social levels.

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DEBAR

The Town Hall Discussion was held on September 26th, with a great support by our local partner the Center for Sustainable Community Development in Debar. Stella Town Hall Discussions are open for all and the idea is to create a safe and friendly environment for an open and inclusive social dialogue about the situations women and girls face in the academic, professional and everyday life in their communities.

Nora Taravari, who is a Doctor of Science at the Department of European Integration and Communications, was the first speaker. She shared her story and explained the obstacles she faced at work. ‘It is very hard to be successful when your husband is a public person, and society rules the stereotype that one women is successful because of her husband’s success,’ she explained. Nora discussed the family responsibilities and the challenges that come as children grow older. She had very difficult times as she was working in Skopje and all of her family was in Gostivar. ‘However hard it may be, if you really want something you should never give up and I am sure you will achieve that,’ she ended her presentation.

Ljupka Ljubinovska, an activist and psychologist in a primary school, talked about the bullying that young girls suffer at school and the problems they face from an young age. There are several cases where girls even in primary school are getting married, not by their will, but by the will of their parents, she stated. However, the support among the girls in her school is at a very high level, with them protecting each other and being each others’ biggest support.

The participants shared personal stories about how young women are changing the stereotype that women should only care about domestic work duties and they do not need to have a career, as well as the stereotype related to choosing partners from diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds. Young women are fighting against the stereotypes and are shaping a whole new set of community values that break with the old traditional stereotypes.

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Struga

Stella held its eighth Town Hall Discussion on September 20th at the American Corner in Struga, supported by our local partner organization, Club Kombinati. The THD took place both in Albanian and Macedonian and enabled all participants to speak freely in a language that they felt most comfortable with, allowing a better and more honest discussion.

Lidija Mojsovska, a young movie director and the first speaker in this discussion started her presentation by sharing her first short film called ‘Award’, which premiered in 2015, and has won six international awards. The film is dedicated to all mothers in the world and the sacrifices they make to provide a better life for their families. The film brings a strong motivational message to all women that they are capable to manage all problems. Lidija spoke about her inspiration, the women that work very hard to pursue their careers and take care of their families.

The second speaker was Anita Latifi, Stella’s first Ambassador. In 2005 Anita was chosen as one of the five most prominent journalists in the country. Beside her work in the Albanian Theatre in Skopje, she is actively involved in projects on democratic values, development of civil society, protection of human rights, and freedom of expression. Sexual harassment is one of the biggest problems, she noted. She gave examples of how this sexual harassment can be detected, which measures can be taken in order for women to protect themselves, which institutions are competent and need to be informed in such cases. Many women in the audience stated that the education of the men is crucial in prevention of sexual harassment in the future. ‘The power and authority that is given to men that are in decision-making positions give them the possibility to sexually harass women in their institutions,’ pointed out one of the participants. Others agreed and shared a lot of examples from their communities where they have similar cases.

A weak link in this process of protection of women for sexual harassment are the courts and the complex judicial procedures, noted by all women in the discussion. The court record shows that these cases are very hard to prove and that the current legislation is not protecting the victims well enough. The main advice was to inform their colleagues or classmates about the harassment, in order for the victim not to be unsafe, and that women in this situations should support each other, bring charges against the harasser and testify in court.

After a long discussion of two and a half hours, women noted that they will continue to fight hard and be motivated in achieving their goals and dreams. Yet, more support is needed both from a family and an institutional perspective.

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TETOVO

Stella’s seventh Town Hall Discussion was held on September 11th in Hotel Lirak, Tetovo. The event was organized in cooperation with our local rtner, Women’s Forum of Tetovo. One local television station covered the iscussion that involved around twenty women of different ages and various ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds.

The key speakers were Merita Maksuti, a human rights, social equality, and environmental activist and Ana Vasileva, a feminist and activist for women’s rights. Merita Maksuti shared personal details of her life, from her childhood and explained what it is like to be raised in very difficult conditions of war. She spoke about the many obstacles that she faced during her education and development of her career. ‘There are various kinds of discrimination in the Macedonian society, not only on ethnic, religious or gender base, there is discrimination within these groups too’- she explained. She emphasized that it is hard to find motivation and to fight all the way to achieve your goal, but you should never give up.

Ana Vasileva talked about her experience with the Juruks, an ethnic group that lives in several villages around Shtip. As she has done a lot of research concerning this ethnic minority, she pointed out that the women and girls from this ethnic group do not have any rights like education, free choice of partner, and they are not allowed to have a career or job outside their house. ‘There is a deep systematic and cultural discrimination in the state and we are keeping them instead of breaking them,’ she pointed out. The participants shared a lot of examples where a man got the job despite the fact that for the same position many women had better qualifications, knowledge, and experience. They also gave many examples where women were dismissed from their job, or were forced to quit by the owner of the company just because they got pregnant. ‘It is common for women to get questions on a job interview for your relationship status or whether you will soon be pregnant,’ stated one of the participants.

One women shared a very shocking story about sexual harassment on her previous job. ‘I was sexually harassed by the head of the company, and he demanded from me to be with him if I wanted to get a working contract decision,’ she confessed. She wanted to file a complaint in the court, but she did not receive any support from colleagues and family, and at the end, she withdrew the court appeal and left the company. The discussion ended with motivation for all women facing sexual harassment at any level to look for support from their colleagues, report the harassments to the superiors and the authorities, and file a court appeal. The Town Hall Discussion proved to be an important and unique venue where women feel safe and have the supportive environment to share personal stories and open up about issues that are very sensitive to discuss.

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GOSTIVAR

Stella held a Town Hall Discussion in Gostivar on September 6th, supported by the Center for Women’s Rights ‘ETIKA’.

Vesna Popovska was the first speaker. She is an activist and part of the first generation of PhD students at the Military Academy in Skopje. She talked about her motivation to get educated in the field of military studies and choose a profession where more than 90% of employees are men. ‘I faced a lot of obstacles during my education, many people were questioning my decision to get this kind of education and my parents and family were shocked by this decision,’ she explained. ‘Despite the lack of support from family and friends I remained strong in the decision to prove that women can effectively and efficiently do every task in the army as well as men can,’ she added.

Albulena Karaga, a feminist and peace activist that helped many women and children who have gone through the horror of war was the second speaker. She shared her views on gender equality in the Macedonian society and the stereotype that people have about careers for men and women.

The presentations were followed by a lively and honest debate on the challenges that women face. ‘Not having a daily center that can take care of children with disabilities is a very crucial systematic problem that mothers face and the main reason for women to quit their job,’ stated a mother of a child with disabilities. ‘At the same time, the social services funds cannot meet the needs of the children and we have to work,’ she added.

Another woman participating in the discussion worked in the police force and in the army. She shared her personal story and views on the situation of women that work in these institutions that are mainly considered as institutions ruled by men. Although they are respected by their fellow male colleagues, in many situations women face more difficulties during their careers simply due to their gender.

‘It is a very hard to be a woman in politics, when politics are ruled by men,’ stated a member of the Council of the Municipality of Gostivar. She stated that at the beginning of her career in politics, she was very enthusiastic and ‘was running around with all kinds of proposals and projects that can be realized in the municipality,’ but she received little to no support from her colleagues because of her gender, she emphasized.

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STRUMICA

In June, Stella held a THD in Strumica, organised with the support of our local partner ‘The Center of Communities of the Municipality of Strumica’.


Svetlana Mazgaloska Vucetikj, a former Member of Parliament, a gender equality coach and a mother of a child with disabilities talked about the systematic obstacles that she faced with the education of her son. ‘Support among partners is the driving force for having a success within the family, as well for building successful professional careers of both partners’- she pointed out. She emphasized that gender equality is primarily due to the traditional stereotypes developed in a society. ‘All stereotypes related to women are drawn from the tradition of the people that is very difficult to eradicate having in mind they are embedded as a social norm’- she stressed.

Biljana Bajraktarova -a teacher, a career adviser and chair of the career center in one high school in Strumica- made a compelling case that ’women must fight for their dreams and through supporting each other they can pursue every dream they want’. She agreed that traditionally accepted norms are the biggest obstacles the community faces. For example, if young married couples acquire property, the property is registered as belonging only to the man, not to the couple or only to the woman. She also emphasized that there were cases where families with one daughter did not leave all their property to their daughter but to the groom.

Participants of the event shared their own experiences. One woman faced challenges in opening her business that could have been supported through state grants. Yet her application was rejected although she had all the necessary documentation. Another participant, a high school student, pointed that parents still think of careers along gender lines whereby there are male and female professions and that she should choose to study at a faculty that will later bring a ‘woman’s job’ instead of enrolling on a mechanical or technical faculty. An example was followed by a man who had to get used to sweeping the yard while someone else was passing on the street.’ When I swept the yard and would hear someone walking down the street I would threw the broom and pretend to do something else in the yard’- he explained, showing societal pressure for men not to take over housework. The wide consensus among participants followed that there are many traditional norms adopted by the society and have negative impact on women’s educational and career development. The first step in accomplishing gender equality is to break these embedded norms. The fight has to start in the family and should continue in all other social levels.

Read more