Maja Ćatović
Maja Ćatović
Member of Parliament, former Mayor of Kotor

I was the first woman mayor in Montenegro. I was twice elected as mayor of Kotor, and now I am serving my fourth term as Member of Parliament. People say that women don’t want to be in politics, that it’s a dirty job for them. As if washing dishes, changing diapers, and mopping the floor are somehow more noble.

Thirty years ago, with the outbreak of civil war in Yugoslavia, I was among the very few women who dared to venture into politics. I organised a protest against the war, together with Women of Kotor, an organisation I was leading back then. Those were turbulent times, but maybe things could have taken a different course if women were pulling the strings. I’m not saying every woman makes a great leader, but maybe we would have been more willing to negotiate, to find common ground in a peaceful way, and avoid a destructive war.

When I joined politics, I believed it was my duty to contribute to peace, democracy, and prosperity. While nationalism was tearing the region apart, I chose a party that in my view cherished respect for diversity. As someone of Croatian nationality who married into an Orthodox Montenegrin family, I saw this party as something that I could bring value to.

When I served as mayor for ten years, my municipal management team was 90 percent comprised of women. People challenged me about positive discrimination, but I was the first and only woman mayor at the time, so I had to set an example. The rest of the country was dominated by men, so we were only improving the average. When I took office, Kotor was deep in debt. We managed to increase the budget from 2 to 30 million euros. When I left, there were more than 6 million euros in deposit. So, I said to everyone, that’s what happens when women lead.

Montenegro introduced the 30 percent quota into electoral legislation in 2011. Nine years later we are still short of the benchmark. This is why the Women’s Political Network is trying to raise the bar to 40 percent, hoping to make a historical breakthrough for women’s political rights in our country.

In Montenegro, there’s an expression often used for strong women that translates to "woman like a man". And it has some truth, because unless you show some masculine features, you will find it difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder with men. I have experienced this discrimination, but I did not let it overpower me. Women like me are often called witches, for a lack of a better term. They even burnt me as a human-sized doll at some carnival festivities. It didn’t bother me much, as I grew up in Kotor, famous for its carnivals, but I think it did affect my sons.

My plan is to continue helping other women rise through the ranks and get into positions where they can make decisions and get things done. My advice to young women is to always have a goal, strive to achieve it, and never let anyone put them down. They shouldn’t look back or sideways, only ahead.