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In Montenegro, women and girls face a strong patriarchal social structure that limits their opportunities and rights. Despite some progress, they encounter economic and gender discrimination and often become victims of violence, especially in less developed parts of the country where they have limited access to support and rights. To improve their situation, it is crucial to promote awareness, implement measures, and ensure equal opportunities for women and girls throughout Montenegro.

The economic independence of women is key to their equality and improved status within society. This independence grants them increased control over their lives and choices, affording greater freedom in career selection and broadening prospects for personal growth and advancement.

The EKOS project promotes the economic empowerment of women and girls through the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic herbs, which have a rich tradition in Montenegro. The climate enables the cultivation of numerous herbs such as lavender, melissa, savory, lemon balm, rosemary, and others, which hold significant role in local cuisine, medicine, cosmetics, and aromatherapy.

In 2023, 20 women and girls participated in a training program focused on cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants, with 10 participants from Nikšić and 10 from Rožaje. Led by experienced mentors, each group attended five sessions, encompassing lectures on the concepts, uses, and properties of selected medicinal and aromatic plants, stressing the importance of fertilization, crop protection, sustainable practices, processing, packaging, market readiness, and business communication. In Nikšić, a practical one-day session took place at the "Djed Radoš" Farm Tourism in Orah village.

Two study visits were arranged for the participants from Rožaje to the companies Flores d.o.o., Mojkovec, and Hodesa d.o.o., Rožaje. Both companies operate successfully in the sector of cultivation, processing, and sale of medicinal and aromatic plants. Meanwhile, participants from Nikšić visited the Bešović estate in Dinoša village, Tuza municipality, and the small company Herbs&Clay in Nikšić, skillfully combining ornamental and aromatic plant cultivation with clay products. In Montenegro, successful companies in this sector have gained recognition in local and international markets by prioritizing sustainable production of high-quality herbal products like teas, essential oils, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. They innovate in processing methods while preserving the environment and advocating for a healthy lifestyle, thus fostering the growth and acknowledgment of the herb cultivation and processing industry in Montenegro.

Study visits to herb growers prove vital in educating women keen on herb cultivation. These visits provide practical knowledge and offer an excellent platform for sharing experiences and networking with other herb growers, promoting collaboration, innovation, and the development of fresh business opportunities. With the necessary knowledge, their confidence is strengthened to successfully establish themselves in the herb cultivation industry, accelerating their economic independence and strengthening their role in the local community.

Under the EKOS project, diverse seedlings and planting tools were distributed to all women, with additional greenhouse setups for some, ensuring better seedling protection and increased yields. Both selected mentors conducted a month-long mentoring program for all participants, assisting in seedling selection, planting, customizing these practices to suit the varied climatic conditions of both regions.

A web manual titled "Training in the Cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants with a Focus on Biodiversity Conservation and the Environment" was prepared. The manual summarizes the main topics covered in the training for the production and sale of medicinal, aromatic, and herbal plants. The manual can be accessed on the website of the  Zavod Krog/Institute Circle.

The project "Education and Economic Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups of Women and Girls in Montenegro - EKOS", carried out by the the  Zavod Krog/Institute Circle, ,  NVU Impuls and NVO Ikre in five participating cities (Nikšić, Berane, Rožaje, Plav, Bijelo Polje), highlights multifaceted approaches to improve the situation of women and girls in Montenegro. The project, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia within international development cooperation, comprehensively covers several objectives: activating a network of 10 non-governmental organizations in northern Montenegro (EKOS Network) to prevent violence and strengthen gender equality, implementing extensive campaigns to raise awareness of gender equality and violence prevention, training 16 members of the EKOS network to provide appropriate counseling and assistance to vulnerable groups, involving local public institutions in supporting this issue in local strategic plans, establishing a web academy on gender equality rights, violence prevention, and promoting economic independence, and training 20 women/girls from rural areas in the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic herbs, contributing to their economic independence.

Engaging in herb cultivation presents a highly advantageous entrepreneurial avenue for women in Montenegro due to various compelling reasons.It allows the utilization of natural resources and the local environment, developing a business with low initial costs. Additionally, herb cultivation is an accessible activity that does not require much land or infrastructure, while also promoting environmental conservation. This enables women to generate additional income and achieve economic independence. With proper marketing and processing of herbs, they can create high-value products that can be sold in local and international markets, thereby promoting tourism and sustainable development in their region. In this way, they not only create business opportunities for themselves but also contribute to the economic development of their environment.


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