Many of us are well familiar with the patriarchy we live in. To change it, we need to understand the mentality that results from a male dominated society.
It is a fact that for over five hundred years, men and women in Albania were the slaves of the Ottoman Empire, literally and metaphorically. Over those centuries there were no free men, nor were there free women. But for women, their picture was that much bleaker, because women belonged to men as chattels, given no more status than their livestock. No matter how low the status of men in a slave society, they had one certainty to cling to and give them pride: that they were superior to women. The women who lived with them became the slaves of slaves.
Stuart. A. Mann, in 1929, travelled to Albania on a ferry from Brindisi in order to learn Albanian and familiarize himself with the culture. He got a job in Tirana as an English teacher at the American Vocational School run by Harry Fultz and stayed in the country until 1931. Here is his 1969 account of the state of Albanian women he saw there.
”But I am talking of the Albania of forty years ago, when country brides, not town brides, were auctioned by their fathers to the prospective son-in-law. At such an auction, preceded by a feast of food and drink provided by the bride’s father, the father would sit at one end of the table with his daughter, discreetly veiled, while the future son-in-law would sit with his male friends at the other. When the party had become sufficiently softened up with rakia, the fun would begin. “What will you give me for my daughter?” the father began. The boyfriend would form a huddle with his friends and they would confer in whispers. “Five sovereigns,” came the answer from the other end of the table. “Nonsense,” from the father, amid laughter. The barter price would reach 250 to 300 sovereigns, according to the worth of the daughter as a housewife and farm worker. The deal was clinched by more drinking, and the gold would be handed to the bride’s father in a leather bag. After the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom would often see his bride for the first time. She was now his chattel, and she would henceforward walk behind him carrying his loads, while he rode in state, sidesaddle upon a donkey.”
That male sense of entitlement meant they defended all the privileges granted to them through history. They really believe that is the natural order of things. Of course it helps that it suits them. And, historically, they have never had to fight very hard to hold onto their advantages, while we women have had to fight every inch to gain whatever equality that has so far been achieved. One of the reasons men cling on to the habit of subjugating their wives, daughters and sisters so arrogantly, is because once that privilege has gone and that women can face them as equals, confronting them with the results of their actions, men will be forced to deal with the pain that they have caused. They see themselves as strong, but not strong enough to face the truth about themselves and their behaviour.
If we were to examine what happens to us as women in our society, physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally, only then are we able to see the reality in which we exist. Once born into this reality as a woman, you have no shared past and future, because you are taught that the history of success belongs to men. Albania’s heroes are all men. The great national hero, Scanderbeg, was a man. The priests and imams are all men. The kings are men. The warriors are men. The fables and tales are predominantly about animals who are also male, and they always win. Your grandmother lets her husband walk first into the house, because he is a man. You have never seen or heard anything different. Only after recognizing this pattern do you know how this reality has impacted on your soul and mind.
Your mother doesn’t tell you anything different. She has nothing to tell you, because it is not for women to tell. It is for men to tell history. And that alone should make you raise a question about women’s place in the history of our country. Once you realise that, then we women must ask why, today as it was in the past, our mothers do not talk to their daughters about a set of values from their own point of view, rather than repeating to them only what the father demands. This must be the decisive moment for a woman to ask another question, whether men have your best interests at heart.
We have to act together as Albanian women, as sovereign individuals, as mothers and daughters, and fight this legacy. Women must flex their muscles and become formidable: and how happy we will be to see the man of each household fearing and respecting the women they live alongside. And then to do the same to male police officers, educators, parliamentarians, local politicians. We must continue to make them feel uncomfortable by our demonstrations and demands for rights. We women must embrace every action that disturbs the male domination of our society.
Our goals will be achieved only when a police officer won’t ignore your complaint any longer and a parliamentarian will be held accountable in our parliament.
How shameful that politicians and public figures at the highest levels in our society dare to use derogatory comments towards women – unfortunately we have seen so many clips of this kind of behaviour. Former President and Prime Minister Sali Berisha called the wife of the former Minister for Youth and Social Welfare a whore and a prostitute. This is common knowledge. As a consequence, he was expelled from parliament for a mere ten days. Not a single woman there challenged this language as sexist. While it was seen as an insult, it was seen as an insult to Mr Veliaj – the feelings of his wife were not considered. Not one person in the house said that this language offends all women, and is discriminatory because Mr Berisha would never dream of using the same type of words directly towards Mr Veliaj. This specifically sexual language is used only by men against women. Albanian men, to cause the most grievous insult to another man, insult not him but what they see as his possession, his wife, or the person who has given birth to him, his mother. And always the sexual slur, as if Albanian men are paragons of virtue and faithfulness. Why did Mr Berisha see fit to call the former Chief Prosecutor of Albania, Ina Rama, a whore (“putana”) in public? Is female sexuality such a threat to him that he seeks to undermine through abuse any woman who challenges him?
The current Prime Minister, Edi Rama, is also known for vulgar language in front of women and towards them. On one occasion he called Monika Kryemadhi, the wife of the President, a witch. Again, a specifically female insult. He would not dream of describing a male adversary as a warlock.
This vulgar vocabulary from politicians also determines what tone is used in live broadcasts. Male violence in parliament has on occasion even been physical, in front of women, families, children watching TV at home. Hardly a good example in a country that already suffers from disturbingly high levels of domestic violence. Care and respect for women in the political arena, making parliament a safe environment for all participants, seems as far away as it ever has been.
We need to fight for a time when a local male politician will, if he ignores your economic needs and issues, fear you as a woman, just as he would a man. And that our courts will properly represent us and give us restitution for the wrongs done to us, even to the extent that male judges or prosecutors will quake if you feel that you have been discriminated against because you are a woman. It is only by making men fear the consequences of their discrimination that we will change them – for otherwise they will continue with the same old ways, the same old attitudes. It is too much to expect many of them to change voluntarily, change will happen only through necessity.
We must make our politicians not only fear us, but also force them to listen to and accommodate our needs, such as ensuring we are represented in every local and central government policy consultation all the way through to implementation. We must also talk about other issues that impact on women in the darkest corners of the country, such as under-age marriage, sexual exploitation in and outside Albania, mental illness, racial and social stigma and discrimination.
Despite the magnitude of these challenges and the damage wrought by them, aren’t we proud of the fact that in every protest by women and for women, we call for no violence. The pressure we exert avoids the base male tactic of force and intimidation.
We must ensure that in every demand we pose to government and wider society that we find a balance between the fierce courage necessary and language which will not hurt anyone or alienate those most vulnerable amongst us whose liberation we seek. We must help men understand that it is their lives that will be enriched by the full and equal partnership of their female companions, colleagues and partners.
Ultimately, we must use the language of love, and help our opponents understand the respect so far denied that we deserve in our society. We must remind each other how much we love the love of our fellow humans, if we do that then no one will get hurt. We are there together, walking hand in hand with men, fighting for their liberation from patriarchal attitudes, just as much as we fight for ourselves. It is in every woman to know her own worth, despite the antiquated attitudes of society as a whole: we know that that each of us deserves our crown, we’ve paid enough, we have worked for it, we now need to wear it with pride.
This is where we are today. We have yet to fully examine our place in our society. Women’s subjugation across the world has been scrutinised and the old traditions I’ve described above are in the process of being challenged fiercely.
In countries which are less institutionally sexist, women have a far stronger voice in politics and everywhere else. Women such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Finland’s Sanna Marin are not only challenging received ideas about male power, but enhancing the reputation of their countries, demonstrating how competence and leadership are not male preserves.
The question that we all should ask ourselves, men and women from Albania, a country in the middle of Europe: must be: are we, or are we not, going to join the most civilised and developed countries in the world, the ones that hold gender equality as an inalienable right? And if not, why not?