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New finance minister of North Macedonia faces sexist attacks online

Nina Angelovska at her first day on the job as Minister of Finance of Republic of North Macedonia. Photo by Ministry of Finance, Public Domain.

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 Grouperthe 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:

Служејќи се со примитивен и омаловажувачки говор, во обидот да се дискредитира министерката за финансии, портпаролот на ВМРО ДПМНЕ ја претставува Министерката како наводно промискуитетна и неспособна жена, чија „вистинска” задача е да ги задоволи сексуалните потреби на мажите политичари, што претставува сеприсутен сексистички стереотип за професионално реализираните жени во сите општествени сфери. (…)

Мажите политичари треба да бидат активни партнери, поддржувачи и промотори за вклучувањето на жените во политичкиот и јавниот живот и за воспоставување на родова еднаквост во сите општествени сфери. Повторуваме дека местото на жената е секаде каде што таа сака да биде, политичката моќ им припаѓа на жените, исто како што грижата за семејството им припаѓа на мажите. Женското учество во јавниот живот е предуслов за развој, благосостојба и демократија.

Од тие причини го повикуваме портпаролот на ВМРО ДПМНЕ Наум Стоилковски да упати јавно извинување за својата шовинистичката, сексистичка и мизогина изјава.

Апелираме до медиумите да не ги пренесуваат, без критички коментар, ваквите сензационалистички и сексистички објави со кои се врши вознемирување и повреда на достоинството на жените и се потхрануваат родовите стереотипи. Ја повикуваме Комисијата за заштита од дискриминација, согласно своите законски овластувања да поведе постапка за заштита од дискриминација по службена должност и да утврди вознемирување врз основа на пол и род.

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:

Ние жените ќе бидеме се погласни и се поприсутни на јавни клучни позиции каде што се носат одлуки за иднината на државата независно од обидите на шовинистите да го спречат тоа. Заедно ќе се бориме против сексизмот и шовинизмот во нашата држава. (…) Срамно и недолично е однесувањето на портпаролот на ВМРО-ДПМНЕ, Наум Стоилковски. Ова е под секое ниво на политичка култура, под секое ниво на култура воопшто. Никогаш нема да одиме напред ако не го казнуваме и искорениме јавното линчување и етикетирање на жените. Жени продолжуваме уште посилно да се бориме против силите што го влечат назад нашето општество!

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!

Even members of Stoilkovski's own party rebuked his remarks. Daniela Rangelova MP said on Facebook: “I strongly condemn any sexist assault on any woman… let's keep up the level of behavior and stop hate speech directed at women.” Also on Facebook, Blagica Lasovska MP wrote she condemns all forms of hate speech and sexism, whether they come from government or opposition representatives. “I remain at the forefront of women's rights, the fight for respect for women and their freedom,” she added.

Their reactions were considered unprecedented for the VMRO-DPNME. When in power (2006-2017), they pushed for anti-abortion policies and launched sexist media campaigns while never facing public resistance from its female members.

Women organizations, other political parties, ministers and the government of the Republic of North Macedonia have also publicly condemned Stoilkovski's Facebook post.

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:

Мојот став не се однесуваше на министерката туку се однесуваше на Зоран Заев. Да појаснам, никогаш не сум промовирал сексистички ставови, ниту се дел од мојот карактер и светоглед. Напротив реагирав на прес-конференцијата на која што Зоран Заев ја злоупотреби Нина, новата министерка, да го презентира,  по само два дена на таа функција, ребалансот кој што не е нејзин, притоа претставувајќи ја и во потчинета ситуација, да не и дозволи да одговори ниту на новинарско прашање, барем од она што го видов. Апсолутно сметам дека ова е само едно извртување и спин на една изјава која што ја претставува релноста… (…) Групировка е само едно несреќно изведување од нејзината претходна работа. А ‘Џирло девојка’ за оние што не знаат, е основата на она што се нарекува Али експрес трговија…

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:

Бидејќи и тоа што го кажав не е протолкувано како извинување, еве ќе бидам појасен: изнесената метафора беше погрешно разбрана и протолкувана на погрешен начин, затоа се извинувам ако на некој начин сум предизвикал навреда или таа метафора предизвика навреда на нечии чувства. Како син, брат, сопруг, татко, пријател никогаш не поддржувам ниту пак ќе поддржам сексизам или говор на омраза и останувам застапник за човечките права и слободи. Како човек барам прошка ако ненамерно сум погрешил. Очекувам и овој мој јавен став да биде преземен од медиумите.

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. 

Anita Angelovska-Bežovska, Governor of National Bank of Republic of North Macedonia, and Nina Angelovska, Minister of Finance. Photo by Ministry of Finance, Public Domain.

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.

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