In a Woman’s Mirror / A Woman’s Reflection - Global Women Summit - july 2019
“The Albanian woman became recently a topic that sparked interest in many colourful ways. Alas, it never grew into a more serious-toned discourse. Regrettably, focus is largely placed on the glitz and glamour of this show. We feel it is high time that all the clamour of rendezvous, dance amusements and makeup delight are put to rest, while the conscious part of our society turns its attention to the social issues of our life as a country, of which, that concerning women is on the forefront”.
The above is an editorial note published in April 1938 in “The Albanian struggle”, a monthly literary magazine by Branko Merxhani, that was a forward to the article entitled, “Feminism and the Society,” written by the first Albanian vocal feminist, Olga Plumbi.
While thinking of what I could talk about in this summit, I asked Edi’s mother: “What is the biggest challenge women face nowadays?
“To stand up to the hostility and preserve the superiority of substance over form,” she answered.
Then, I went on to my mother: “What is the biggest challenge facing women today?” “Before thinking of the challenges, don’t forget to remember the achievements that my grandmother could not even fathom for me, while now I am able to imagine endless possibilities for my granddaughters,” she answered.
I asked Rea, our 29-year-old daughter: “What is the biggest challenge for a girl today?”
“To get to know and fully embrace her own quintessence,” she answered.
Further, I asked Greg, our 28-year-old son: “What is the biggest challenge women face nowadays?”
“To fight for education and employment and challenge patriarchal mindsets in the rural and peripheral Albania,” he answered.
I asked a friend of mine, a very capable professional, “What is the biggest challenge the professional woman faces today?” “To ask for more, to dare and blaze trails, leaving footprints that will inspire other girls and women to follow and elevate her to new heights,” she answered.
I went on to ask other people and got answers that completed the mosaic of the challenges faced by women in a small country like Albania that history tested for half a century with a dictatorship that was among the harshest compared to other similar countries and with an arduous transition in the last 30 years.
It would have been impossible for the country to deal with these two challenges without the girls and women who became examples of a selfless sacrifice to keep family and societal balances. The Albanian woman has been, is and will remain a hero in the vortex of a history that has been less than generous with her. Allow me to remind you that communism marched into the lives of Albanians bearing the flag of emancipation for women, who had lived for centuries ostracised from social life in most of the country.
While it is impossible to address the mosaic of challenges faced by the Albanian woman, both in its historical and actual complexity, with all the mind-boggling changes of a new era, I will focus on the exceptional potential that Albanian girls and women have to offer a more qualitative contribution to the society, and on the advancement of their representation at all levels. This, I believe, is one of those issues that tops the women agenda in every developed and developing country, therefore I believe that, given the Albanian reality, the two topics I will touch upon are indeed meaningful.
Albanian women have never been as educated as they are today. In our mothers’ generation, only 5% of the women had attained university education. Currently, figures speak of six times more girls and women between 25 and 39 years of age who hold a university degree. As we speak, there is no gender gap in compulsory education, giving us reason to come up with an optimistic projection that it will not be long before the narrow gender gap that still exists in secondary education is bridged. Girls who attend higher education nowadays outnumber boys and a few decades ago that would have been unthinkable.
However, this potential becomes weaker in the labour market. Employed women compared to employed men are in lower numbers. There are twice as many women compared to men who are engaged in unpaid work in the family business. Women are the first to leave the labour market, mainly due to motherhood challenges that have increased in this day and age, whereas many others still endure the pressure of a patriarchal mindset that keeps them from showcasing their skills and talents.
Against this reality stands an enormous potential that builds on an entirely new perspective on women compared to the past in terms of the representation rates in administrative and political decision-making that are rather significant and encouraging; even impressive, I would say.
30% of the current MPs are women, 50% of the representatives of municipal councils in the country are women, 50% of Government ministers are women, who currently are at the helm in areas that women were never entrusted with before.
Currently, energy and infrastructure are led by a woman minister. The same goes for the finance and economy. Women are ministers of defence, justice, education, health, culture and relations with the Parliament.
The Ombudsperson is a woman, the Attorney General is a woman, the President of the High Judicial Council is a woman, and so is the Chair of the Independent Qualification Commission in charge of vetting judges and prosecutors. The Chair of the Special Appeal Chamber is a woman, the head of the Serious Crimes Prosecution is a woman, and so is the head of the largest prosecution office in the country, Tirana’s Office.
47% of the deputy ministers are women. 40% of the central institutions and 45% of the General Directorates are headed by women.
30% of the private business owners and administrators are women and more than 40% of the top management positions in private companies are occupied by women.
This significant group of girls and women stands on top of the institutional architecture and this is unquestionably the result of a new social and political capacity to appreciate merit and emphasize the need for women in decision-making. This new perspective stems from a long, challenging and persistent investment in all the uphill battles for development and emancipation. These efforts started almost three decades ago from a core group of civic activists striving to introduce gender quotas in politics and increase the representation of women in public administration. On the other hand, I believe that this new ability is also the result of a distinct integrity and admirable persistence of the girls and women, thanks also to two key factors among others: Mothers who were not willing to merely pass on their own social status, but who fought to see their daughters asked more from the future when it comes to their gender position. And, second, teachers, who, being mostly women, taught us that it is much more critical for the women than for the rest to know how to contemplate the future costs of present decisions.
It would not only be desirable, but also a way to give back to the society, if all girls and women who are now at the top representative levels in politics, public administration or private sector asked themselves everyday a question:
What have I done to make politics, governance and private entrepreneurship more open and friendly for girls and women like myself? What is it that I can and must do to create more opportunities for educated girls and women who want to open the doors of the labour market? How can I help to relieve those bearing the burden of domestic violence, to improve motherhood conditions, to free girls from the claws of the past and guide them towards classrooms and auditoria? What steps do I have to take to build a role model driven by the right models?
In this day and age, women are more than ever present in powerful positions, but contrary to what is expected, their responsiveness to gender issues is not yet there. Society cannot look to find the additional energy to fight a battle that is as fundamental and challenging for its future, like that on gender equality, elsewhere, but among the women who are in decision-making and have a platform in their hands. Who else could give respond with the proper strength to the hostility, vulgarity and verbal violence that are threatening to become a new, pervasive reality in the public interaction domain? Who better than them or, rather, instead of them can take the initiative to be raise their voice and be real leaders against this threatening new normal where the majority of girls and women are at risk of recoiling and withdrawing?
There is nowhere else we could look up to find the power of example against any blackmail, bullying and discomfort in the social environment. There is no one but them we can look up to when it comes to the initiatives to make motherhood easier, to guarantee employment and career support, to ensure that justice is fully rendered for those who exert violence against women, who deny their rights and denigrate women.
We expect them to use the strength of their example to impose societal standards that include the tolerance towards the other, the solidarity with the other; the refusal to condone anyone who harms the others and the refusal to negotiate the essential respect for one another. They have a debt to repay to the society by creating new, clear and safe prospects for women and by gracefully tending to the health of the social environment to ensure more tolerance and mutual respect.
While I wish to thank you for the inspiration and the opportunity I was provided, I will conclude by confessing that I am one of those who still believe that every woman who feels she can make a difference in the lives of people is clearly aware that after a long journey we are climbing a mountain whose peak seems still far away. And, from here on, what we must do together is persevere, combining passion and awareness, free from fear and hesitation, to face all trials and tribulations, keeping our sight on the peak we must reach as soon as we can.