From: Marija Radulovic
Comment: Tradition Stands in the Way of Higher Female Representation

Although the problems we face are apparent, we have seen signs over the past few years which make us hopeful women will have the place they deserve in Kosovo’s politics.

For those who live and work in Kosovo, especially those who deal with human rights, law enforcement, administration, NGO activism… the phrase ‘the law is well-written but not well-enforced is heard very often, maybe more often than the situation requires. When we talk about the representation of women in public institutions and the position of women in politics more generally, the law is both well-written and well-enforced. So, what is the missing link?

When we write and discuss the role and representation of women in Kosovo, especially in politics, we must inevitably consider the traditional perspectives that prevail. The lower level of trust female citizens involved in political life enjoy about their male counterparts has its roots in patriarchal families, the education system, traditional gender roles in society, and many other things. All this has led to the perception that women are either insufficiently qualified, capable, and brave to fight in the political arena or, if they dare and are given agency, are seen as ‘puppets,’ or merely fulfilling a legal obligation to be present and meet the quota, and not much more than that.

Although Kosovo is not a member of certain international organizations and therefore not a signatory to a large number of international conventions aimed at protecting and promoting human rights, and consequently the right to equality, women’s right to participate in political life is guaranteed in several international charters directly incorporated into the Kosovo Constitution. Moreover, the guarantor of women’s participation in the legislature, both central and local, is the Law on General Elections, which requires 30% participation for women in the Assembly. This brings us to the question – are we really equal, and what does equality at a 30:70 scale really mean?

Somewhat later (in 2015), the Assembly of Kosovo adopted the Law on Gender Equality and the Law against Discrimination, which is also the guarantor of gender equality and affirmative measures introduced to promote equality. Let’s go back to the beginning and state that the legal framework is well-constructed, somewhat respected, and yet systemic discrimination against women as a vulnerable category is still noticeable.

Although the problems we face are apparent, we have seen signs over the past few years, making us hopeful women will have the place they deserve in Kosovo’s politics. The number of votes that women receive in elections is growing from one process to the next, and the number of seats that women receive in executive government is also higher. Two women served the Presidential mandate in a concise time span, unlike most countries in the region. However, what is clearly lacking is support from parent political parties for women to advance to decision-making positions. Merely filling quotas, assigning less important functions in executive government in terms of concentration of power is not the way towards true democratic and sustainable development, especially of a young democracy like Kosovo.

The situation has obviously improved compared to previous decades, with the education of women at prestigious universities around the world, and to some extent, emancipation within the traditional families themselves; this has significantly contributed to the overall awareness of the gender issue in society. Still, Kosovo as a multi-ethnic society, in particular, has an obligation to empower both women from the Albanian majority and women from minority communities, encourage them and provide them with opportunities for both personal and professional development, while bearing in mind the treatment of women (this time, all women, without discrimination) over the decades by society at large.

Marija Radulovic, philologist and political scientist, human rights activist, fighting for social and legal equality.

Published with permission from the Vicinity online portal. Vicinity is an open platform, available to all those from the region, or the Western Balkans, whose voice needs amplifying, and who are eager to express their critical perspective, fresh ideas, and points of view on current affairs. Vicinity is a common initiative of the European Fund for Balkans and the European Fund in Serbia.