Miriam Neziri Angoni (Shkodra)

 “No one can build the bridge on which you, and only you must cross the river of life”

 

Miriam studied Human Sciences including French literature, sociology and European issues. She has been involved for almost 20 years in developing projects about migration and EU integration, implemented by UN organizations in Albania, and she is currently working for the Albanian Helsinki Committee[1], addressing the topic of human rights, with a special emphasis on gender equality. “I am always in search of something better and I am never tired of trying to improve things around myself. I always believed in women’s strength and power, most probably because during my childhood in Shkodra[2], my hometown, my imagination was nourished with tales about brave women such as Teuta[3] and Rozafa[4]. My studies put me in contact with the thoughts of French writers, philosophers and feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir[5], Marguerite Duras[6], as well as the work of Pierre Bourdieu[7] and especially “History of Sexuality”[8] written by Michel Foucault[9]. I would say they influenced my way of being”.

Interviewing Miriam has been a nourishing occasion, and since she is an experienced and committed women of the civil society, I was deeply interested in knowing about the history of girls and women’s roles in Albania. Albania inherited a patriarchal society. Women couldn’t inherit property, they couldn’t ask for divorce…they weren’t even allowed to demand sexual and reproduction rights! I would say that during the communist regime (1946-1990) it started a revolution to improve the role of women in the society: for the first time in our history women could go to work, they got the right to vote, they were given access to leading positions in factories and political entities, they could go to university and be elected as members of the parliament. However, analyzing more in depth this “top-down” approach, I could say that this revolution put the basis for a greater participation of women in politics, science and economy, but left much space for inequalities in this male dominant society”. Albania has a peculiar history which should be exploited to better understand the current situation of gender issues. Therefore, I asked Miriam to deepen her thought and share her knowledges. “During the communist regime, an emancipatory instrument was introduced into the communist legal system, but this could be described with the statement “Equality without democracy”, which leads to a democracy without equality. By that time the ‘family patriarch’ was just replaced by the authoritarian state and the emancipation was used as instrument for wider political goals, defined by the party”.

How was the situation by that time in the private life of families? “The private sphere was dominated by male chauvinism[10]. This meant a lot of unreported domestic violence, for example. It also meant that men usually had no obligations at home[11], which left women with less time for themselves. Women were made to believe there was no need for change nor improvement”.

After this social and historical introduction, I was curious to get to know Miriam’s point of view regarding the Albanian situation nowadays. “Today, there are better policies supporting gender equality. Albania has a Commissioner for the Protection against Discrimination, Gender Focal Points in each municipality, which do not only watchdog the respect of women rights, but also protect them. Moreover the last year, in Albania, elections heralded an historic milestone for what concerns women’s presence in the Parliament (it reached 28%). In my opinion, gender equality means that different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. Their rights, responsibilities and opportunities shouldn’t depend on their gender. Reaching gender equality is in the same time a cultural, economic and emancipation issue, not only a political one. Our country has still to support women’s economic empowerment. Almost three decades of democratic transformation have not passed unnoticed in the field of women’s equality, but the weakness of the state and the low economic level often hamper it. We see with regret that femicide, resulting from gender- based violence is still persisting among Albanian population, making domestic violence an awful plague”.

According to her in-depth analysis, I asked Miriam what should be changed in Albanian society to promote equal opportunities.

“Both men and women need to work on this topic. In order to access equal opportunities, women need to be trained, well-educated and fully involved in a life-long learning process. Albanian society needs a greater participation of women, more female artists and scientist and, of course, more women in the front row of the debate and civic engagement for environmental, economic, education issues, for the protection of cultural heritage, social care and food safety. Equal opportunities start with education, as the most secure road to personal development, fulfillment of goals and women’s empowerment. From girls’ education both girls and the society get benefits”.

The interview ended with a powerful message to all girls and women:“I would suggest to any young woman to consider her femininity not an handicap, but as a privilege and use it to plant the seeds of love, care and strength that each woman have. I would suggest to be curious, to fight for their dreams, to cultivate their hobbies. But before all, each young woman needs to get educated, to learn and to read, and again read, and write as a way to stop, breath, reflect and decide which direction she should take to fulfill her dreams. Empowerment is a process which involves women and the society as well. Women represent the half of the society and have a great power to have an impact on the other half”.

 

Chiara Silvestri- Volunteer of the Italian Civil Service at GUS Albania

 

 

 

[1] http://www.ahc.org.al/?lang=en  On December 16, 1990, in the context of the first wave of movements for Albania’s democratic transformation, a group of public intellectuals founded the Albanian Forum for the Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, which was later named the “Albanian Helsinki Committee” (AHC). AHC was founded from the very start as a membership organization and as a non-profit, non-governmental and non-party subject. The organization initially focused on the rights of persons persecuted by the totalitarian regime that ruled Albania in the second half of the 20th century, and played a leading role in the education of the Albanian society with regard to the international framework of human rights.

[2] Shkodra (known also as Shkodër) is the largest city in northern Albania.

[3] The Illyrian Queen, regent of the Ardian tribe.

[4] According to the legend, Rozafa was a young mother who sacrificed her life to build the fortress in the city of Shkodra

[5] French writer, essayist, philosopher, teacher and feminist. Her most known feminist essay is “The second sex” (1949), in which she publishes the knowledges on women’s conditions on the fields of biology, psychoanalysis,history and antropology.

[6]  (1914 – 1996) French novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker.

[7] (1930 – 2002) French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, and public intellectual. Bourdieu’s work was primarily concerned with the dynamics of power in society, and especially the diverse and subtle ways in which power is transferred and social order maintained within and across generations.

[8] “The History of Sexuality” is a four-volume study of sexuality in the western world by the French historian and philosopher, in which the author examines the emergence of sexuality as a discursive object and separate sphere of life and argues that the notion that every individual has a sexuality is a relatively recent development in Western societies.

[9] (1926 – 1984), French philosopher, social theorist, and literary critic. Foucault’s theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through the institutions.

[10] It can be also defined as an irrational belief in the superiority or dominance of males.

[11] Even though in the work field women got more emancipated, at the same time, regarding private life and family roles, strong gender inequalities persisted. In fact, they had to work in factories as men did, but they additionally had to run the house and take care of the family.

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