Macedonia, historically the poorest of the former Yugoslav republics, has suffered further from the imposition of international sanctions against Serbia, the rising tide of refugees, and increasing unemployment. Social care is funded by the government to assist the disabled, elderly, unemployed and poor. Maternity benefits are available for nine months, and women are guaranteed the right to return to work within two years after childbirth.
Although women have the same legal rights as men, the traditional cultures of both Christian and Muslim communities have limited their advancement in society. There are some professional women but generally women are not represented in the higher levels of professional or public life. A few women's advocacy and support groups, including the Union of Macedonian Women, now exist. Widespread violence against women in the home remains unpunished by authorities, and it is extremely rare for criminal charges to be filed against abusive husbands. Children, like adults, have been victims of internal conflict and ethnic violence. Resources are scarce to fund programs to benefit children.
Ethnic minorities, including Albanians and Turks, complain of widespread discrimination. Restrictive naturalization policies have left many Albanians without Macedonian citizenship, and therefore without voting rights. Abuse by police of prisoners and suspects is widespread, with most cases involving Roma, ethnic Albanians, or Kosovar refugees.