From: Arjola Tafaj
Scidev Conference: People Who Live in Poverty Can Be Agents of Change

Last week, an e-discussion on “Equality in transition economics, empowering Albanians worldwide” was organized by SciDev, in collaboration with the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), United Nations in Albania, and supported by the Embassy of Sweden.

Bringing together several local and international experts, it aimed to unpack equality as a critical dimension of prosperity, growth, and democracy in transition economies such as Albania.

During the discussion, one of the main concerns highlighted was “the concentration of wealth that is also accompanied by the concentration of political power and the capture of the media and the state”.

Official statistics from 2018 show that inequality is high in Albania: 40% of households are deprived of material income and 23% of the Albanian population are at risk of falling into poverty. The data also shows poverty affects mostly people who are unemployed, nonskilled, live in rural areas, vulnerable women, Roma and Egyptian communities, and persons with disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed further hardship to women. For instance, an Albanian woman spends more than 6 times unpaid household work than a man.  As Sweden has a feminist foreign policy, Sida supports interventions to fight gender-based violence and gender mainstreaming in institutions that go hand in hand with EU accession.

“If there is no shared growth and inclusive prosperity the repercussions can be economic, but also impact the political system perse”, professor Jesper Roine mentioned.

“If there is too much concentration of wealth and economic power, this impacts the political process in a way that is anti-competitive over time. So, it is important to have enough equality to prevent elites from capturing the whole process. This is important for a competitive economy” he added.

In response to questions from participants related to informal vs formal economy, impact on equality, and economic incentives, Prof. Roine highlighted that “The market is one part and the other is political power. If political power is too skewed and if the playing field is not leveled, then it creates inequalities”.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Albania Fiona McCluney mentioned that “the economic inequalities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 and thus the issue of equality should be explored further”.

“There are several specific goals that offer opportunities to address issues related to equality and inequality, such as gender equality and women empowerment, Covid-19 impact on household work distribution, disadvantages to access healthcare, climate crises which affect the poor, digital technology inequality”, she added.

Albanian Profesor Selami Xhepa said that “At the start of the transition, Albania was one of the poorest countries, although the transition has produced some welfare for the country, the inequality remains high and stable”.

“Income and remittances are the primary sources of income for the majority of the population in Albania. Weak economic and employment structures are the key factors for increased inequality in Albania. The extreme inequality in Albania is much more serious and it is increasing. In the early transition, Albania had progressive taxation and inequality remained high.” – Professor Xhepa mentioned.

The majority thinks that the political system works for the interest of a few and not the public general interest, he added.

The implementation of gender quotas in Albania was reintroduced in 2015 and the percentage of women in local councils increased almost threefold reaching 34,8% in 2015. There is still however stigma regarding gender quotas, for instance, the assumption that women elected through gender quotas are not qualified, they end up in politics because of connection with party leaders” said Marsela Dauti, Research Affiliate.

 Blerjana Bino, Co-Founder of SCiDEV, moderated the e-discussion and noted that participation and inclusion are also important key areas such as democracy and good governance, media and communication, research to society links, and digital transformation.

“While poverty is a complex issue that affects different groups in different ways, people who live in poverty can be agents of change.” – said Swedish Ambassador Elsa Håstad.