Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made headlines yesterday when he announced his new, predominantly female cabinet. The country now leads globally in terms of the number of women in decision-making positions.
While on paper, this is an excellent accomplishment, I cannot help but wonder if this is nothing more than equality washing. I am happy to see women in the majority in Rama’s cabinet, this is in no way reflective of a woman’s status in Albanian society. The media furor surrounding the new appointments has completely eclipsed the reality on the ground for many women and presents Albania as a progressive country for women when in actual fact, it’s not.
Earlier this year, I called out the World Bank for equality washing Albanian women. In a report, they gave the country almost full marks for the way in which policymakers addressed issues relating to women during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It looked at the way laws restrict or support the economic opportunity of women across 190 countries, particularly in terms of parenting, retiring, and working.
Albania scored maximum points in mobility, workplace equality, equal pay, marriage, and entrepreneurship. A score of 50 was recorded in terms of pensions and 80 in parenthood.
Globally, Albania ranked at number 34 out of 190, beating the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore, and Bulgaria. Top of the list was Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, and Iceland.
This paints a picture of a very supportive legal environment for women. But this doesn’t reconcile with the lived experience of women in Albania during the last year or the statistics.
Let’s start at the beginning. Albanian women spend almost a quarter of their day doing unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning and caring. Albanian men spend only 3.47% (if we’re lucky) doing similar tasks. This unpaid work that women carry out is worth up to EUR 1 billion per year to the Albanian economy.
Other sources tell a similar story. For example, the International Monetary Fund found that unpaid work could account for up to 60% of the GDP, although it notes it is hard to quantify in monetary terms.
When I look at my own time, I can calculate that I spend 35 hours a week doing unpaid domestic work, almost as much as I spend on my career.
Domestic violence is a significant problem. It’s estimated that over half of Albanian women will experience at least one form of domestic violence in their life. Most will not report it to the authorities, and those that do will rarely see a conviction. Out of 4701 complaints in 2020, only 13% saw the case progress to court. Protection orders issued in a year, often surpass 3000.
Women that flee violence find it difficult to get accommodation or assistance in paying bills. Maternal mortality is high for the region (15 per 100,000 live births), 12% cannot access contraception, and over 7% get married when they are children.
Furthermore, sex-selective abortion remains an issue in Albania and contributes to the loss of 3.7 million women by 2030. Recent data from INSTAT shows that the boy-girl birth ratio in Albania is still at an unnatural level. 107 boys were born for every 100 girls. The natural level is 105 boys for every 100 girls, suggesting that sex-based abortions are still prevalent.
Year after year, reports show that Albanian women are more educated and work more, but are paid less and get lesser roles. Albania’s gender gap is well below the EU average, and particular concerns include women being paid less despite their knowledge level and hours spent working.
Instead of improving, the gap is getting bigger. Albania fell five places between 2019 and 2020 according to the World Economic Forum.
Sadly, we also live in an environment where rape victims are called “b*tches” and “wh*res” and where those murdered by their evil partners are blamed for “provoking them”. We have a media that calls femicide a “crime of passion” and tries to justify the stabbing of a pregnant woman by speculating on motives. Portals dissect the figures of women and how female MPs dress but ignore the eccentric getups and portly potbellies of male politicians.
Female activists and journalists are regularly subjected to hate speech, death threats, rape threats, and real-life harassment. Yet, I have not seen a single case make it to court. This is a society where women can be looked down on for going to work, not having more kids, and are told “oh you can hope for a boy next time” when they announce they are having a baby girl.
Having a mainly female cabinet is great on paper, but it absolutely should not be used to wash over a serious and deteriorating issue within society. International media doesn’t care about the plight of the everyday woman and are repeating this mantra without question. This does a huge disservice to the women and girls who suffer oppression and discrimination every day in a society that does little to help them.
These female politicians are not representative of the majority of Albanian society. They are wealthy, have studied or sent their children to study abroad, live elite lives, and have little contact with the reality around them, nor do they want to. This cabinet doesn’t include any that have fought to be there, there are no minority women, no (out) LGBTIQ women, and no women that have come from impoverished backgrounds and risen to the top through sheer determination.
The average Albanian woman has nothing in common with them and cannot see their dreams and emancipation reflected in their policies.
A truly equal society starts with the economic and social empowerment of all women, especially those who are less fortunate. It starts with policy changes, providing proper assistance, cracking down on violent men, prosecuting hate crimes, protecting the vulnerable, fighting discrimination, and making meaningful changes with everyday people. It doesn’t start with putting women into senior positions for the primary reason of making propaganda.