In a secular state, the opinion of the Church is irrelevant in policy making on gender equality.
The Gender Equality Platform is emphatically opposed to the actions of the Macedonian Orthodox Church [MPC] against the adoption of the Law on Gender Equality and introduction of comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
At the panel discussion organised in Strumica on 17.03.2023, which was covered by several media outlets, the bishop Jakov Stobiski sermonised against the adoption of the Law on Gender Equality and the introduction of comprehensive sexuality education. These actions of the Church are anti-women, anti-humanistic and anti-constitutional as they involve meddling of the religion in the law making process. Actions like this are an attack against the constitutional order, under which North Macedonia is a secular country, meaning that MPC, or any other religious organisation for that matter, should not get involved in shaping the laws and policies that do not regulate the work of the religious communities.
In doing so, MPC has further established itself as an organisation that disseminates misogyny and advocates the preservation and reaffirmation of the subordinate role of women in the society. The bishop went so far as to challenge the very term “gender equality”. Hence, it can be logically concluded that, according to the Church, men and women are not equal, so no laws should pass that may safeguard their equality.
The idea that men and women are not equal is at the root of the claims that fighting for gender equality entails ideological impositions, rather than the natural and constitutionally guaranteed right of every human being. The idea that gender and sex are binary and that, consequently, people can fall into one or the other category only (a man or a woman) is the foundation upon which is constructed the idea of gender inequality, of the diametrical contrast of men and women, and of the central role of the man in the society – opposed to the auxiliary role of the woman, which is defined from the perspective of her reproductive function.
And the Church is doing this for its own benefit! Affirming and preserving the chauvinistic values according to which women are subordinated to men allow the Church to cement its political and economic power, by spreading the religious dogma, manipulating the fear of people, and controlling the political discourse. We want to sound a warning that these actions of MPC are concerning and dangerous for the society as a whole. Humankind needed centuries to set itself free from the clergy’s political power that ruled with violence and corruption, with the church leaders rapidly accumulating wealth, and holding on to their power with dogma and by persecuting anyone not like-minded. Every time the Church gives itself the right to meddle with the decisions concerning the adoption of laws, it always involves devising of such solutions that will bring more power to the Church, in contrast to the citizens’ interest to build a society where equality and social justice are respected. Employing religion to secure and maintain one’s own privileges and political power constitutes religious fundamentalism. Freedom of religion does not imply freedom for fundamentalist operations! Religious fundamentalism against gender equality in a democratic society must be contained so as to guarantee the rights of all citizens. Women, men, transgender people, people of diverse gender identity are not an ideology, rather, they are people whose rights must be guaranteed and appropriately protected.
The Gender Equality Platform also condemns strongly the appearance of Veko Andonovski, whose participation was undoubtedly in the capacity of a believer, and not that of a university professor, having no expertise at all in the area of gender equality. This, however, did not stop him from impertinently spreading misogyny, labelling and propaganda mongering. We vehemently condemn the participation of selected representatives of the local self-government and the Town of Strumica Council, too, which we find scandalous, as their presence only lent legitimacy to this forum, as the base for lynching activists and dissenters and for stirring up hatred, which puts not only the personal safety in danger, but also the safety and the integrity of civil society organisations working on promotion of gender equality and democratisation of the state in its EU accession process. On the one hand, the central government, headed by SDSM, has committed itself to promoting and improving gender equality and approximating the country to EU standards, and on the other hand, the local government of Strumica, headed by the same party, takes part in organising events where gender equality activists and organisations are lynched and false information is disseminated.
The feminist movement in North Macedonia, women and women’s organisations have spent years advocating the adoption of legislature that will facilitate the introduction of a meaningful gender equality, to which the Draft-law on Gender Equality should contribute. Introducing comprehensive sexuality education, which is founded in the human rights-based approach, evidence-based science, inclusion and non-discrimination, among others, is a benchmark against which to measure the accomplishment of gender equality, which should be discussed with children and young people at the earliest age of their education.
We welcome the efforts of the Ministry of Labour and social Policy, and those of the international community, including OSCE, EU Delegation, and UN agencies, which support the adoption of the Law on Gender Equality. We demand that the Law on Gender Equality be adopted within the shortest possible period, supported by women and men MPs from all political parties, thus reaching a broad political consensus on advancing equality and individual human liberties.
Member Organisations of the Gender Equality Platform:
- Tiiiit! Inc.
- Fight like a Girl (Bori se zenski)
- Women Civic Initiative – ANTICO
- Women’s Forum
- Association for Equal Opportunities SEMPER
- Association for local and rural development
- Association for Support of Marginalized Workers STAR-STAR
- Association for the Promotion of Gender Equality Akcija Zdruzenska
- Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women – ESE
- Association for Educational Development Ekvalis
- Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities Skopje
- Coalition Margins
- Network for Protection against Discrimination
- National network to end violence against women and domestic violence
- National Council for Gender Equality
- Organization of Women of the City of Skopje (OWS)
- Organization of women of municipality of Sveti Nikole
- Women’s Organization “Kumanovka”
- Reactor – Research in Action
- Rural Coalition
- Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
- HERA – Health Education and Research Association
- HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje
- Humanitarian Association “Mother”
- Center for Research and Policy Making – CRPM