Meet Monika Zajkova from North Macedonia
“To be a liberal in a conservative society is very difficult, but it's sexy to be different from the others,” says Monika Zajkova with a cheeky grin. The 29-year-old Member of Parliament is the second youngest MP in Skopje’s Vlada (parliament) and one of the two representatives of North Macedonia’s liberal party – the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Despite her age, she has almost a decade of experience in politics – she joined the LDP’s youth wing in 2011 and became its president in 2017. Zajkova, who holds a degree in law, worked in four electoral campaigns before making her own bid for MP in 2020. She was an advisor to the parliamentary group of the majority in the previous North Macedonian parliament and a cabinet chief to her party’s Minister of Local Self-Government the previous government.
One of the most difficult things to fight, both as a woman and as a liberal, are the prevailing stereotypes. “It is very difficult to be a woman in politics, especially if you are young, because the perception is always that somebody is pushing you from behind,” Zajkova says.
Perceptions about the role of women in the country’s political life have been a problem in North Macedonia for a long time. In fact, in the first couple of democratic elections, just five women won seats in the legislature in 1990 and a mere four in 1994. This level of (under)representation, unprecedented even for this region, was tackled with a consistent and thorough push for the maintenance and increase of quotas.
“Theoretically, we have the quotas in parliament, but it is still a problem of perception – we have these women on the party lists just because of the quotas, not because society believes women can be good politicians like men. So we still have a lot of work to do,” Zajkova notes.
“We live in a patriarchal society, with a stereotype that women need to be housewives and politics is none of their business; a lot of people say we are unable to make important decisions,” the LDP politician adds.
During her time in active politics, she has been seeing attitudes towards women change for the better, but she thinks much more has to be done. One additional issue is the overall distrust of politics by people in general. But being young and relatively new to politics helps in this case.
“In general, they see every politician as corrupt, but maybe they do not perceive us younger people as such because we are new faces. Maybe they perceive me as their hope to make things better,” the LDP politician says.