The story of women’s rights in Albania appears to resemble a tale of two realities. On the one hand, the country is receiving considerable praise for its efforts to increase women’s participation in politics, and that praise is indeed deserved. No one can contest the fact that the share of women in the Albanian parliament has quadrupled in the last 15 years.
However, below this layer of political glitter, another reality does not get the attention it deserves.
Despite the progress made in recent decades, evidence suggests that the level of women’s rights and women’s well-being in Albania is still, to put it mildly, utterly appalling.
The overall Gender Equality Index for the Republic of Albania stood at 60.4 in 2017, thus indicating a significant gender gap. Another startling statistic provided by the UNDP shows that more than 50% of Albanian women have been victims of some form of “physical or psychological violence.”
But it does not end there.
In addition to facing inequality and violence regularly, women in Albania also have to put up with public insecurity, sexual harassment, unemployment, lack of promotion in the workplace, social prejudice, and discrimination, to name just a few.
Many women right’s activists believe that the situation of women in Albania is unlikely to change unless there is a paradigm shift in the mentality and the social norms of Albanian society.
They point out to the sobering observations mentioned on the UNDP Report on Violence Against Women, which showed that “1 out of 4 of women age 18-74 maintained that all or most people in the community believe a woman should be ashamed or embarrassed to talk to anyone if she is raped, and 1 out of 5 of women maintained all or most people in the community believe that if a woman is raped, she has probably done something careless to put herself in that situation.”
While there is no shred of doubt that the most substantial improvements in women’s rights are going to come from changes in mentality, this paradigm shift is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take a few decades until the mentality of Albanian society begins to align with that of the western world.
Therefore, until the tides turn, the Albanian government should dedicate a significant share of its time and resources toward enacting legislation that improves the well-being of women.
Increasing Women’s Safety
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to live, to be free, and to feel safe.” However, even though this is a fundamental human right, past and current Albanian governments have repeatedly failed to guarantee the protection of this right to every citizen. Women in particular seem to be left out of the equation. That is shown by the fact that Albania is one of the countries with the lowest conviction rates for domestic violence in Europe. Based on information received by Exit, only 13% of complaints of domestic violence were criminally prosecuted in 2020.
Therefore, the Criminal Code has to be amended and the judiciary must be educated on how to implement and enforce it.
Recent changes made to the Criminal Code have expanded the scope of punishments related to domestic violence offenses, but not the severity.
Currently, beating and any other act of violence against the person who is a spouse or former spouse is sentenced up to two years imprisonment. That sentencing has to be much more severe.
Even in developing countries with very bad human rights records such as Guatemala, the minimum prison sentence is 5 years for cases of domestic violence. In addition to increasing the severity of the punishment, additional fines ought to be introduced as well. No matter the way it is achieved, swift and serious sentencing is important to decrease the incidents of domestic abuse.
In addition to increasing the severity of sentencing, there are many more policies that the government can follow to increase women’s safety. For instance, the government can establish a wide network of women centers that will provide shelter, legal, medical, and counseling services to victims of violence. The government can set up a functional national domestic abuse helpline. The government can provide housing relocation funds for domestic violence victims. The government can also incentivize NGOs that are focused on women’s issues by awarding them for their efforts in rendering distinguished services for the cause of women.
Increasing the Number of Women Land Owners
Out of the numerous shocking statistics that display the dire situation that women in Albania find themselves in, there is one statistic that often ends up going under the radar. That statistic has to do with the abysmally low number of women that own land.
To be more specific, according to UN Women, only 8% of all women in Albania own land. What is interesting is that this low number of women landowners is not a result of faulty legislation, as the Albanian civil and family law recognizes women’s equal right to land and property.
The main cause of this problem has to do with the fact that women lack information and awareness about their property rights, and, as a result, they either resign or don’t claim their inheritance rights. That lack of information was illustrated in a report by Kristi Kola, who found out that most women are informed during a court case about the property rights entitled to them.
Bearing in mind the above-mentioned statistic, the Government of Sweden has taken the responsibility to offer free legal aid to women in 10 municipalities in Albania by funding a project called the Centre for Legal and Civic Initiatives, which is aimed at increasing access to information about women’s property rights.
That is a wonderful initiative that deserves a ton of praise, but it is not nearly enough. The Albanian government has to step in. It should offer free legal aid to women in cases of inheritance disputes. For women, having ownership over land or any other property means greater security for themselves, greater independence from their spouses, and greater access to credit for entrepreneurial activities.
Improving Women’s Well-Being
In addition to ensuring that women enjoy basic human rights, the government should also design policies that will improve women’s well-being. One such policy is free access to menstrual products.
According to Deutsche Welle, girls and women on low incomes often cannot afford pads or tampons and are forced to improvise with “rags, toilet paper or old newspapers — even in prosperous Western Europe.” That is why free access to period products such as tampons, sanitary towels, and menstrual cups has to be made a legal right.
Even if that policy proposal cannot be put into practice due to financial constraints, the government should at the very least significantly decrease the VAT on period products. In most European countries, the VAT on period products is around 5%, whereas in Albania it is 20%.
The Albanian government must take into consideration some of the proposals outlined above. Even if that is not the case, women should begin taking matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for Godot, women in Albania should make it clear to the government that it can either respect their existence or expect their resistance.
Let equality bloom!