September 14, 2019

New finance minister of North Macedonia faces sexist attacks online

Nina Angelovska is the first woman to ever head the Ministry of Finance in North Macedonia. Immediately after her appointment in late August, she was attacked with sexist and misogynistic insults online, including by the spokesperson of the main opposition party VMRO-DPNME.

Angelovska, 31, is one of the founders of the start-up Grouper, the first Macedonian online coupon service. According to her CV, she graduated in Business as the best student of her class in 2010 and went on to obtain a PhD in Organization Sciences and Management in 2016. That same year, the German magazine The Hundert listed her among 100 successful women start-up founders in Europe and, in 2018, she made it to Forbes‘ annual “30 under 30″ list in the retail and trade category.

But reactions to Angelovska’s appointment centred on her age and appearance in detriment of her professional experience. And among all of the attacks against her, one stood out: the spokesperson of VMRO-DPNME Naum Stoilkovski wrote a Facebook post brimming with misogynistic language, including the terms “Džirlo Girl” (a sexist term in reference to defunct teleshopping company Džirlo, whose famous TV commercials during the former Yugoslavia featured female models) and “group girl” (alluding to promiscuity). The post has since been deleted, but not before it drew backlash.

The Network for Protection Against Discrimination, a coalition of human rights organizations in North Macedonia, strongly condemned Stoilkovski’s remarks:

In a primitive and derogatory speech, in an attempt to discredit the finance minister, a VMRO-DPMNE spokesman presents the Minister as a supposedly promiscuous and incompetent woman whose real task is to meet the sexual needs of male politicians, a pervasive sexist stereotype of professionally realized women in all social spheres (…)

Male politicians need to be active partners, supporters and promoters of inclusion of women in the political and public life, in order to ensure gender equality in all societal spheres. We repeat that the women’s place is wherever she wants to be, that political power belongs to women, just like responsibility for care for the family belongs to men, too.

For these reasons we call upon the spokesman of VMRO-DPMNE Naum Stoilkovski to make a public apology for his chauvinist, sexist and misogynistic statement.

We appeal to the media to refrain from transmitting — without critical commentary — such sensationalist and sexist announcements which perpetrate harassment and affront to dignity of women, and perpetuate gender stereotyping. We call upon the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, in line with its legal competences, to initiate an ex officio procedure for protection from discrimination and determine sex and gender-based harassment.

The Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Mila Carovska, also reacted sharply:

Women will be louder and more present in key public positions where decisions are made about the future of the state, regardless of the chauvinists’ attempts to prevent it. Together we will fight against sexism and chauvinism in our country. (…) The behavior of VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Naum Stoilkovski is shameful and inappropriate. This is under every level of political culture, under every level of culture in general. We will never go forward unless we punish and eradicate public lynching and labeling of women. Women, let us continue to fight even harder against the forces that are dragging our society back!

Young people at top posts in the Macedonian government

Angelovska might seem young for heading the Ministry of Finance, but it isn’t uncommon in North Macedonia for people below the age of 35 to hold senior government offices. In 1991, 25-year-old Ljubčo Georgievski became the country’s vice president. A year later, Branko Crvenkovski was elected prime minister at the age of 29. Nikola Gruevski was appointed minister of trade at age 28 in 1998, and minister of finance a year later, before finally becoming prime minister at age 36. His cabinet included several people around and under thirty, such as Mile Janakievski and Dime Spasov, who were both were 28 when they took on the posts of minister of transport and communications and minister of labor and social policy, respectively. Unlike Angelovska, those men’s young aga was not typically used to discredit them.

Stoilkovski initially responded by saying that his critics had distorted his words:

My position was not about the minister but about Zoran Zaev [prime minister of North Macedonia]. To be clear, I have never promoted sexist attitudes, nor are they part of my character and worldview. On the contrary, I reacted at a press conference in which Zoran Zaev abused Nina, the new minister, to present, after only two days in office, the budget rebalance that was not hers, while presenting her in a subordinate situation, not allowing her to answer a journalistic question, at least from what I saw. I absolutely believe that this is just a twist and a spin on a statement that represents the reality… (,,,) “Gruppirovka” is just an unfortunate derivation from her previous work (Grouper). “Džirlo Girl,” for those who don’t know is the basis of what is now called Ali Express trading…

After that new statement incited a new round of reactions, he again attempted to explain himself claiming his post was misinterpreted, and apologized if he caused offense:

And since what I have said is not interpreted as an apology, here I will be clearer: the metaphor presented was misunderstood and misinterpreted, so I apologize if in some way I have caused offence or that metaphor has offended one’s feelings. As a son, brother, husband, father, friend, I never support sexism or hate speech and I remain an advocate for human rights and freedoms. As a human being I ask for forgiveness if I have inadvertently made a mistake. I expect that this statement will also be taken up by the media.

Women frequently face discrimination at the workplace in North Macedonia. According to UN Women:

Despite significant legal changes, gender gaps and inequalities continue across all levels. Women make up only 39.5 per cent of the employed, earn 17.9 per cent less than men per hour of work, and are 64.2 per cent of the country’s economically inactive population.

Political parties rarely nominate women candidates for high office. Although the statutory representation quotas have increased the number of female MPs from 31 percent in 2011 to 38 percent in 2018, men still dominate parliament. Same with municipal politics: there are 75 male mayors in the country against only six female. With the appointment of Angelovska, the number of women ministers is now five, out of 23 ministerial posts.

Interestingly, all the main financial institutions in North Macedonia are now headed by women – the Ministry of Finance, the National Bank (also headed by two female vice-governors) and the Public Revenue Office.