The Lights and Shadows of a Society – A Biography of the Albanian Woman - Event on the occasion of Women's Day - march 2017


Last year, Eni Vasili asked me to write a note on the cover of her impressive book, “I have killed”: 10 portraits of women sentenced for murder.

It was exactly on that day that with a group of experts we were giving the final touch to a study on women participation in decision-making roles in politics, the public administration and business companies in Albania. The survey had come to a clear finding that, although girls and women perform better than boys and men in education, they are not under equal conditions in terms of their access to education or the evaluation of their education level and professional skills. 

Nonetheless, I would agree with everyone who says that they have managed to become a remarkable presence as teachers, medical doctors, PhD graduates and professors; they currently make for one fourth of the parliament and more than one third of the Government; they randomly compete for senior administration positions and their representation is satisfactory in the first management line of large companies.

That side of the coin showing the quality of undeniable progress in this respect may, however, mislead us when seen in isolation from the other side, that is the discrimination against girls and women from the early childhood years until later in life.

Eni’s 10 portraits, a book that I would kindly suggest to all those who have not had a chance to lay their hands on it are a valuable roadmap to have a proper understanding of this other side of the coin; a side that is grim, sombre, impossible to relativize as disturbing as it is in its content in the light of positive achievements in gender equality attained in the course of these years.

The extreme crimes committed by these 10 girls and women are the brutal mirror reflecting the daily life that unfolds far from the walls of institutions and companies, in a country that is discriminating against our fellow female citizens of which we only get to hear when a serious crime is committed, but where harsh behaviour as a prelude to violence against them is the rule, a way of life. This is a different Albania, an ostracized world behind the curtain of archaic sensitivities and contemporary shame, impenetrable to the eye of the media, invisible for the world of clicks and likes that so powerfully absorbs attention and dictates the moment, becoming a sort of a dictatorship of the superficial.

I feared such dictatorship from the outset and have consequently tried to show resistance by refusing to open any Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account. I am rather aware, however, that it impossible to escape its presence that is in my face and around me as something inevitable, its consuming dictate through subjects and objects forced into conversations increasingly resembling a surrender to all that is fleeting and superficial that has made relationships among people more like clicks, rather than true communication.

Many would say that the internet has considerably expanded our capacity to communicate. Forgive me if I humbly respond that, while it is true that it has enhanced our opportunities to expose ourselves and be exposed to increasingly succinct opinions, it has reduced our ability to communicate, to listen and question our truths. It is no coincidence that Eni’s 10 portraits and the dozen and thousands of other portraits of girls and women living outside the walls of the great virtual exhibit of clicks and likes are even more estranged and isolated from our own reality, where the major progress made in this respect has turned into a stonewall hindering our very own range of vision.

In times like these, I feel, threated even the understanding of the developed part of the society that a woman is not hostage of the fatality and scandal, a quintessence of the “lethal beauty” Migjen used to talk about, but a herald, a forerunner and guarantor of the “Unseen”, as Saint John Paul II used to say; namely, of the Good, of Virtue and the true success stories that are so little, if at all, talked about.

We seem to be constantly sliding down into slippery grounds that pull us down; the physical is gaining grounds over the spiritual, the shallow over the essence, the immediate likeability over the depth of liking. What makes this shift ahead on the opposite direction rather frightening as it veers away from what we have been striving to achieve over the years and decades is the division, segmentation, fragmentation that undermine the vision and synthesis of the equal society we wish to have.

“No matter how plain a woman may seem. If truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face, all will be attracted to her,” used to write Eleanor Roosevelt, in wonderful message that would hardly receive enough clicks and likes ranking it on top of the classification of daily quotes

The history of civilisation with its ups and downs can be read as a product of the law of the strongest, be interpreted as the sum of everyone’s fears. It seems to me that is the challenge of women in this period of our civilization to foster democracy and to refuse to fall a prey to fear,” Mrs. Roosevelt used to write a long time ago.  

But what should we think today, so many years after, when many societal  and women issues appeared resolved once and for all in principle, and how are we supposed to respond to falling a prey to fear now that they are being questioned again? How should we react to a brutal relativization of ethical norms, social values, of the notions of truth and lies displayed daily? How are we supposed to react to the mass exodus of our children away from the world of reading to the world of clicks? 

I don’t know, but I am strongly inclined to still believe that, just like in those times where Eleanor Roosevelt considered fostering democracy and resistance to falling prey to fear as a woman’s challenge, the answer to the questions raised by the times we live in can mostly come from women, rather than men.

Eni Vasili’s 10 portraits are the reaction to the most extreme despair that could be a powerful drive for us to find an answer to the courage of believing in a better world for our children; of believing in the importance of the traditional communication, where listening is as important as speaking; of believing in the impactful influence of the good example, by respectfully appreciating and commenting without being conditioned by the bending pressure of an environment that dismays and diminishes the success of others. 

In these years, while standing under the lights of a stage I did not chose, but where I have to be for the sake of a great love, I have often seen that we, women with a public profile, are faced with a mirror that distorts our image into a caricature. That certainly hurts me, but what hurts most is the general indifference towards the truth, that all of you have experienced, each at different levels, in the growing sense of emptiness you feel inside every time you are unjustly harassed. Unfortunately, we have become increasingly used to not taking seriously the mounting transgressions that present themselves daily in this environment where being publicly slapped with accusations, slander, defamation has turned into a routine as usual as the clicks.

At the end of the day, however, we are left with an unanswered question: “What all this radical transformation in the stomach of the society has done and will do to our children?"

This morning, Zaho turned to me and looking right in my eyes told me with a child’s innocence something that surprised me: "Mummy Linda, you are so beautiful!" That melt my heart and made me think that the speech I had prepared and read in front of you could go down the drain and I could be hopeful that the future will be shiny. just like a sunny 8th of March.



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