Gender Equality in Research and Innovation in the Western Balkans: Reflections on Success Stories

During our recent online event, participants discussed success stories and activities related to GEP implementation.

Apr 18, 2023

The Western Balkans are in a good position when it comes to achieving gender equality in research and innovation according to quantitative data, better than many EU Member States. However, despite these advances, there are still structural barriers that need to be addressed, and high-level stakeholders must take responsibility for implementing Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) to tackle these issues.

WBC-RRI.NET is a platform that facilitates the exchange of ideas and experiences on the development of GEPs. During a recent online event, participants discussed success stories and activities related to GEP implementation. Representatives from various institutions, including Elona Karafili, Vice Dean of POLIS University in Albania, Andjela Pepic of the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srna Sudar, Head of Project Office at the University of Montenegro, and Valentina Janev, Senior Researcher at the Mihajlo Pupin Institute in Serbia, participated in the event.

At POLIS University, a key issue discussed was the traditional male dominance of technical sciences and the mismatch between the student and professor communities. To address these issues, the institution has implemented several measures, including collecting data in a more disaggregated manner, adopting mentoring processes, and providing teleworking and flexible time opportunities for parents. There is a growing trend in institutions towards inclusivity, with procedures and methodologies being developed for students with special requirements such as learning disabilities and mental health challenges. It is also widely recognized that a strong commitment at the top management level, embraced by the entire community, is essential for success.

Similarly, the University of Banja Luka has undertaken a Gender Audit and established a Gender Equality Advisory Board, with its GEP (2022-2026) being a result of both a genuine desire to change the culture and external factors such as Horizon Europe rules for participation. The university has used educational and awareness-raising activities to address issues in STEM fields, with the first year of implementation focusing on setting up a system for monitoring qualitative and quantitative data.

The Mihajlo Pupin Institute has made significant progress since 2005, including involvement in three projects and currently having 37% female employees. The Gender Equality Plan was developed in collaboration with colleagues from Europe, including the establishment of “transfer agents” that included the director and senior researchers. According to the mapping exercise conducted by WBC-RRI.NET, Mihajlo Pupin Institute have the longest history and experience with GEPs. The list of Gender Equality Plans in the Western Balkans can be found here:

Despite several efforts, gender balance has not yet been achieved at the University of Montenegro, according to Srna Sudar, Head of Project Office. The institution has identified priorities, including yearly monitoring, increasing research in the area, raising awareness, and increasing the number of women in STEM fields at the level of students and academic staff. A feasibility study is also being developed to construct a support system that strengthens equality by harmonizing private and professional life.

While the implementation of GEPs poses several challenges, including the small size of advisory boards, mentoring schemes, and representation in council and top-grade titles, institutions remain committed to achieving gender equality in research and innovation. By continuing to exchange ideas and experiences, the Western Balkans can move closer towards achieving gender equality in research and innovation, despite the patriarchal culture that still persists.

To watch the full discussion, moderated by Fiorda Llukmani and Elke Dall (both ZSI), featuring the all-female panellists, check out the recording of the event on our WBC-RRI.NET YouTube channel.