Violence Against Women in Macedonia
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Population of women: 1,031,000 /2,067,000

Life expectancy of women (at birth): 77 years

School life expectancy for women: 13 years

Adult literacy for women: 96%

Unemployment of women: 30.8%

Source: UN Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated December 2012[i]


last updated July 2014


The Republic of Macedonia separated from Yugoslavia and became an independent state in 1991.[ii] Greece objected to the name of Macedonia, and the Council of Europe, European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations (UN) officially refer to the country as “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”[iii] Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since December 2005.[iv]

Gender Equality

The Constitution of Macedonia, adopted in November 1991 and amended most recently in 2011, guarantees equality before the law and states that “[c]itizens of the Republic of Macedonia are equal in their freedoms and rights, regardless of sex  . . . .”[v] Additionally, Macedonia ratified without reservation the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) in 1994, and its Optional Protocol in 2003.

Macedonia enacted a series of laws relating to gender equality, starting in 2006 with the passage of the “Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men,” which prohibits gender-based discrimination in the fields of employment, education, social security, culture, and sports.[vi] In 2010, Macedonia enacted the “Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination,” which updates the country’s definition of gender discrimination to comply with European Union (EU) gender equality directives, prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination, and provides a legal mechanism for enforcing the prohibition on discrimination.[vii] 

In 2012, Macedonia amended the 2006 Law on Equal Opportunities to require gender-responsive strategic planning and budgeting by state agencies and to clarify the reporting obligations of public sector actors.[viii] It also incorporated the definition of discrimination contained in the 2010 law against discrimination.[ix] As amended in 2012, Article 3 now states:

[D]iscrimination, harassment and sexual harassment on the basis of gender in the public and private sector shall be forbidden, more specifically in the areas of employment and labor, education, science and sport, social security, including the area of social protection, pension and disability insurance, health insurance and health care, judiciary and administration, housing, public information and the media, ICT, defense and security, membership and activity in trade unions, political parties, associations and foundations, other organizations based on membership, culture and other areas designated by this or any other law.[x]

Additionally, the 2012 amendments to Macedonia’s Labor Relations Act “expressly prohibit discrimination against women workers during pregnancy, maternity and parenthood regardless of the type or duration of work.”[xi]  Article 108 of the Labor Relations Act mandates equal pay for work of “equal value” for men and women.[xii]

Macedonia in 2007 established a Department on Equal Opportunities within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to implement the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and develop and implement Macedonia’s National Action Plans for Gender Equality.[xiii] The Department has a Unit for Gender Equality and a Unit for Prevention and Protection against discrimination.[xiv] The most recent National Action Plan (NAP) was developed for the years 2013-2016, together with a complementary National Strategy for Gender Equality (2013-2020).[xv] However, little information is publicly available about these more recent plans, even when requested by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW Committee”) in 2013; [xvi] the NAP referenced most often continues to be the 2007-2012 NAP.[xvii]

The government has appointed over 100 Coordinators for equal opportunities within various state ministries and institutions and within local government ministries, and, pursuant to the 2012 Law on Equal Opportunities, established an Intersectoral Advisory Group for equal opportunities that is “comprised of functionaries/executive civil servants, representatives of citizen associations, employer associations, experts, representatives of the local self- governments, unions and other entities.”[xviii] Equal opportunity commissions have been set up in more than 80 local government units.[xix]

As required by Article 23 of the Law on Prevention of Discrimination, the Department on Equal Opportunities has established the position of Legal Representative for determining unequal treatment, to investigate and establish cases of gender discrimination raised through various channels, such as the human rights Ombudsman’s office.[xx] Also in compliance with the Law on Prevention of Discrimination, the Macedonian Parliament in December 2010 appointed seven members to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination.[xxi] The Commission’s function is to receive complaints and adopt “decisions and recommendations for specific cases of discrimination.”[xxii] In 2006, Parliament also established a Commission for Equal Opportunities within the Assembly of Macedonia to review draft laws and regulations and to propose laws relating to gender equality.[xxiii]

Macedonia has also amended its election laws to ensure equal political representation of both sexes by requiring that at least 30 percent of the nominated candidates for elections to the Parliament, the municipal councils, and the Council of the City of Skopje must be from one gender.[xxiv] As of 2013, there were 42 women in the 123-member parliament and two women in the 23-member Council of Ministers. [xxv]

Percentages were higher among judges and prosecutors.  The Macedonian Women’s Lobby reported that in 2010, the percentage of elected women judges in the various courts was as follows: basic courts, 59.5%; appeal courts, 50.5%; Supreme Court, 71%; and Administrative Court, 67%.[xxvi] The paper also reported the following statistic for the participation of women in the Public Prosecution Office for 2010: primary public prosecution office, 46%; high public prosecution office, 50%; and Public Prosecution Office of the Republic of Macedonia, 31%.[xxvii]


On average, women earn 78 percent of what a man earns in Macedonia, and participation by women in the labor market is very low.[xxviii]  One commentator has noted that, as of 2013, the legal structure for addressing gender discrimination had changed little in Macedonia since the early 1990s, “in part because legal changes are not systematic or orderly, and new structures [for gender equality] are still far from European standards.”[xxix]

According to Macedonian non-governmental organizations (NGSs), women do not take advantage of the legal mechanisms in Macedonian law to enforce and protect their rights, which is partly due to limited public outreach and partly due to the poor functioning of institutions and mechanisms intended to further women’s rights.[xxx] Indeed, as of 2012, only five cases of gender discrimination had been raised with either the Commission for Protection against Discrimination or the Legal Representative for determining unequal treatment.[xxxi] In two of those cases, no discrimination was found.[xxxii] The human rights Ombudsman does not keep any records of gender discrimination complaints.[xxxiii]

The CEDAW Committee in 2013 noted the weakness of Macedonian state institutions and mechanisms for promoting gender equality, stating that “the lack of visibility, decision-making powers and coordination of State institutions indicate that low priority is accorded to the principle of gender equality within the State party.”[xxxiv] The CEDAW Committee called on Macedonia to strengthen its institutions and “their capacity to monitor the enactment and implementation of legislation and policy measures in the field of gender equality.”[xxxv] Others have pointed out the Department for Equal Opportunities does not “possess executive competence,” and officials do not have clearly described tasks or duties, or defined responsibilities for reporting on their activities.[xxxvi] As for the local governments:

There is a high level of non-functionality and inactivity of the state machinery on local level as well. Approximately 70 percent have not prepared annual work programs, and only one half of them have taken some measures and activities. The appointed local coordinators are people who are already employed in the municipal administration and most of them have not been given formal authorization and specific assignments.[xxxvii]

Additionally, Macedonian NGOs and the EU have criticized the government for relying on international donor funds to set the budget for, and finance, public agency activities on gender equality, including developing its gender equality National Action Plans.[xxxviii] This has led to poor quality plans with little clarity on expected results or mechanisms for implementation, particularly with regards to eliminating discrimination against minority and Roma women.[xxxix] Public officials and Macedonian women continue to be confused by the distinction between “equal opportunities” and “discrimination.”[xl] Overall, state and local institutions for gender equality and combating discrimination lack resources and expertise. [xli]

Women earn on average 78% of what a man earns in Macedonia, and labor market participation by women is very low.[xlii] As noted above, few women are aware of the prohibitions on discrimination in employment or how to exercise their rights under the law[xliii]

The CEDAW Committee also expressed concern about “the persistence of stereotypes concerning the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society, which overemphasize the traditional role of women as mothers and wives, thus undermining women’s social status and their educational and professional careers.”[xliv] The Committee recommended that Macedonia implement awareness-raising campaigns to educate men, women, boys and girls about gender equality.[xlv]

Domestic Violence

In 2004, under pressure from various international organizations and the EU, Macedonia amended its Law on Family, Law on Social Protection, and Criminal Code to specifically address domestic violence.[xlvi]  The Law on Family establishes procedures for the issuance of protective orders and requires that victims of domestic violence be provided with health and psychological counseling services, shelter and legal aid.[xlvii] Macedonia updated the law in 2006 to clarify the responsibilities of various state institutions charged with enforcing the country’s laws against domestic violence, including the handling of civil protective measures.[xlviii]

The 2006 amendments clarified that State Centers for Social Work are “responsible for submitting a request to the court to initiate proceedings for imposition of provisional measures of protection against domestic violence, with an obligation for compulsory submission of a request with the court for minors and incapable persons.”[xlix] Courts may impose interim protection measures for up to one year, regardless of whether any criminal proceedings have been initiated against a perpetrator.[l] It is not clear whether an individual, by herself or through an attorney, may apply for temporary or long-term protective measures.

Article 122 of the Criminal Code of Macedonia defines “family violence” broadly, as: 

[A]buse, rude insults, threatening of the safety, inflicting physical injuries, sexual or other physical and psychological violence which causes a feeling of insecurity, being threatened, or fear towards a spouse, parents or children or other persons which live in a marital or other community or joint household, as well as towards a former spouse or persons which have a common child or are have close personal relations.[li]

Rather than prohibiting domestic violence as a separate criminal offense in its Criminal Code, Macedonia treats “family violence” as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes, if it is present during the commission of certain crimes. Such crimes include: Article 123: Murder; Article 125: Momentary murder (murder committed in a “state of strong irritation or as a consequence of family violence without his own fault”); Article 130: Corporal injury; Article131: Aggravated corporal injury; Article 139: Coercion; Article 140: Unlawful arrest (Illegal deprivation of liberty); Article 144: Endangering security; Article 188: Sexual assault of a juvenile under age 14; and Article 191: Mediation in conducting prostitution (enticement to prostitution).[lii]

In its 2008-2012 National Action Plan for Gender Equality (NAPGE), Macedonia identifies violence against women as one of the plan’s ten priority action items.[liii] Improving mechanisms for combating domestic violence were identified in the NAPGE “Operational” plan in 2008, leading to the development of a National Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence (2008-2011), and an updated strategy for 2012-2015.[liv]  

Implementation and prevalence of domestic violence

Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Macedonia, with a high prevalence of psychological (more than 60% of women), physical (20 to 30%) and sexual (5 to 14%) violence against women recorded by NGOs in successive studies over the past 10 years.[lv] According to the Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) 2012 Country Report for Macedonia, 39.4% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence in the last 12 months.[lvi] Further, the 2013 United States Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Macedonia stated that “domestic and other violence against women [is] a persistent and common problem.”[lvii] Women from the Roma minority community experience particularly high rates of domestic violence, with over 71% of Roma women in 2010 reporting physical or “cruel” domestic violence.[lviii] Additionally, Roma women report domestic violence or seek shelter at much lower rates than the larger Macedonian population, 6.1% compared to 20.7% and 3.5% compared to 18.7%, respectively.[lix]

According to one author:

[T]he position of woman has greatly deteriorated during the transition period from communism and domestic violence has been aggravated by economic and social insecurities. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of domestic violence by the vast number of the population is treated as a private problem that belongs to the family, not to society.[lx]

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted that Macedonia has faced significant challenges in reducing the prevalence of domestic violence since declaring independence in 1991, including the “widespread notion that domestic violence is a private matter or a deserved consequence of women’s disobedience” and “intense social pressure [that] meant that few victims brought complaints to the police at all; social stigma deterred others to report DV.”[lxi] UNDP also highlighted a lack of awareness of the problem, a lack of efficient and effective data collection, a lack of any coordination among official institutions, and the fact that the police failed to “respond appropriately to the needs of female victims of violence.”[lxii]  

Local NGOs have also criticized the government’s National Strategy for Protection against Domestic Violence because the government failed to devote resources to implement it in a comprehensive manner and instead relied on funding from international donors to finance basic “project activities.”[lxiii] The NGOs also report that protection measures such as shelter and health care are not consistently provided to victims of violence and that restraining or protective orders are not effectively applied, particularly at the local or rural level, because they are poorly understood.[lxiv]

Over the past several years, Macedonia has conducted several awareness-raising campaigns and provided trainings for (among others) police, prosecutors, public officials and the judiciary on domestic violence, often supported by international donors.[lxv] However, “a key concern throughout these activities remained a conspicuous shortage of human and institutional capacity to design, implement and monitor policies related to [domestic violence (“DV”)], strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration to provide comprehensive support to victims of DV nationally and locally, promote linkages with the private sector and civil society, raise the level of awareness on the phenomenon of DV, and address prevention in a more inclusive manner.”[lxvi]

The CEDAW Committee has called on Macedonia to enact a comprehensive law forbidding all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, citing its concerns about the increasing incidence of violence against women in Macedonia and the continued lack of data, limited availability of shelters and failure to issue protective orders.[lxvii] Additionally:

[W]omen from rural areas are even more vulnerable than urban women. Their exclusion from (or, at the very least, unequal access to) decision-making structures, health services and economic opportunities all increase their likelihood of exposure to violence.[lxviii]

Support Services

According to a report by the National Council for gender equality, there are three national women’s helplines, six women’s shelters for survivors of domestic violence and their children with approximately 35 spaces available (based on the Council of Europe Recommendations, approximately 205 shelter places are necessary), three women’s counseling centers (based on Council of Europe Recommendations, approximately 20 women’s counseling centers are necessary), no women’s centers for survivors of sexual violence (based on Council of Europe Recommendations, five women’s rape crises centers are necessary), and one shelter for victims of trafficking, which is jointly operated by the NGO La Strada and the Macedonian government.[lxix]

The state operates four of the six shelters for women victims of violence; NGOs operate the other two.[lxx] Most shelter funding is provided by international aid, with the state covering just 20 percent of the cost.[lxxi]  Two emergency shelters exist in Macedonia, but both are located in the capital, Skopje; in general, access to shelter and protective services is limited in rural areas.[lxxii]

Sexual Assault

The Macedonian Criminal Code punishes sexual assault under Chapter 19, “Crimes Against Sexual Freedom And Sexual Morality.”[lxxiii] A person is guilty of rape if he has intercourse with another person over 14 years of age “by the use of force or threat to directly attack upon the life or body of another or upon the life or body of someone close to that person” or by the use of “serious threat that he shall disclose something about this person or about another close to this person, that would harm his [or her] honor and reputation, or which would cause some other big evil.”[lxxiv] Terms of imprisonment vary, with a minimum sentence of four years (and no maximum) imposed under Article 186(2) for those guilty of severe physical injury or death during rape, “especially cruel or degrading” rape, and for gang rape.[lxxv] In all other cases, sentences range from 3 months to 10 years.

The Criminal Code also punishes “Statutory rape of a helpless person” (Article 187), “Sexual assault of a juvenile under the age of 14” (Article 188), and statutory rape through “misuse” or abuse of a position of authority (Article 189).[lxxvi] Persons found guilty of sexual assaults under Articles 187 and 188 are treated much more harshly (penalties of 8 years to life in prison) than those convicted of raping a girl or woman over the age of 14, unless a person “misuses” his position to sexually assault a juvenile over the age of 14, in which case the minimum prison sentence is 10 years.[lxxvii] Article 188 imposes a minimum prison term of 10 years for sexual abuse of juveniles under age 14 committed “while performing family violence.”[lxxviii] Lesser sentences of 3 months to 10 years are imposed under Articles 186 and 187 for “other sexual acts” not involving intercourse.[lxxix]

The Criminal Code does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, although technically, spousal rape is a crime under the general provisions of Article 186, which does not contain an exception for married couples. However, the US State Department’s 2013 Country Report for Macedonia, states that “[a]s with domestic violence, police and judicial officials [are] reluctant to prosecute spousal rape, and many victims did not come forward due to social stigma.”[lxxx]

Macedonia’s rape laws have generally been ineffective in bringing perpetrators to justice due to strict requirements of proof of penetration and active resistance on the part of the victim. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) urged Macedonia to update its Criminal Code to change the legal definition of rape and remove the “undue” burden of proof for victims.[lxxxi] As of October 2013, Macedonia had formed a “Working Group” to consider amendments to its criminal rape laws in light of the HRC’s recommendation and European requirements, including the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which Macedonia signed in May 2011.[lxxxii]

In any event, “poor enforcement” of Macedonia’s rape laws remains a challenge, providing little deterrent to sexual violence against women.[lxxxiii] Additionally, according to a 2012 report by Macedonian NGOs, “[t]here is no established system for prevention and protection for victims of rape . . . There is no research conducted about the prevalence of this phenomenon and its characteristics in the country.”[lxxxiv]

Sexual Harassment

The 2010 Law on the Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination includes sexual harassment as a prohibited form of discrimination, defining it in Article 7(2) as, “unwanted behavior of sexual character, which expresses physical, verbal or in any other way, and is aimed to cause violation of that person dignity, especially in case of creating hostile, threatening, derogatory and humiliating surrounding.”[lxxxv] Women subjected to sexual harassment may file a complaint with the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination, or file a lawsuit in court.[lxxxvi]

Harassment based on sex and sexual harassment are also prohibited violations of the right to equal treatment in all areas of public and private life, including employment, education, and healthcare, as outlined by the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.[lxxxvii] Article 4 contains definitions of harassment and sexual harassment similar to those in the 2010 Law on the Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination.[lxxxviii] Women may file a complaint of harassment with the Legal Representative within the Department of Equal Opportunities, the human rights Ombudsman, or the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination, or file a lawsuit in court.[lxxxix]

Additionally, harassment and sexual harassment are considered violations of “the equality of citizens,” punishable by up to three years in prison under Article 137 of the Criminal Code.[xc] And “Statutory rape with misuse of position” is prohibited under Article 189 of the Criminal Code.[xci] The law provides for punishment of at least five years for, “[a] person who by misusing his position induces another, who is subordinated or dependent or with the same objective abuses, intimidates or acts in a way that humiliated the human dignity and the human person in relation to him, to intercourse or to some other sexual act.”[xcii]

According to the US State Department 2013 Country Report for Macedonia, “[s]exual harassment of women in the work workplace [is] a problem, and victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.”[xciii]

Trafficking in Women

Macedonia is considered a source, destination and transit country for trafficking in women. Women and children are trafficked primarily for forced labor and prostitution, both within Macedonia and in Greece, Belgium, Croatia and other European countries.[xciv]

Macedonia first criminalized trafficking in 2002.[xcv] Pursuant to Article 418-a of the Criminal Code, a person is guilty of trafficking if he or she:

by force, serious threat misleads or uses other forms of coercion, by kidnapping, by deceit and abuse of his/her own position or a position of pregnancy, weakness, physical or mental incapability of another person, or by giving or receiving money or other benefits in order to obtain agreement of a person that has control over another person or in any other manner recruits, transport, transfers, buys, sells, harbors, or accepts persons because of exploitation through prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, pornography, forced labor or servitude, slavery, forced marriages, forced pregnancy, unlawful adoption, or similar illicit relationship or illicit transplantation of human body parts.[xcvi]

Article 418-a was last amended in February 2014, adding “begging and exploitation through illegal activity” to the enumerated list of prohibited forms of exploitation, likely to address the high numbers of Roma children in Macedonia subjected to forced begging,