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.

“Show Yourself” project continues to share the stories of empowered girls and women of the Albanian civil society.

Check out the video-interview to Holta Koci, director of Albania Community Assist, an organization aimed to improve the situation of people in need (youth, women, people with disabilities, etc…). Find out her passion and her committment to help the community, and how Albania can promote better gender equality!

 

 

MARSIDA KARAJ (Tirana)

      “The more you participate in society, the more you will be aware of the world and how to be part of it!”  

I met Marsida the first time I attended “Multi-Languages Cafè”. Every Monday, from October until June, youth and elderly as well are invited to gather at the Tirana Youth Center to practice foreign languages… no participation fee required, of course! Since 2014 Marsida works hard as volunteer to keep alive this interesting activity. “It started actually as an idea from a student who went to Sweden for his European Voluntary Service[1]. I joined it in the second year and I wanted to be part of the organization. Multi-Languages Café was opened in collaboration with Tirana Youth Centre[2]; the entire activity is run by volunteers and everyone who wants to join. In 2015 we collaborated also with the United Nation’s campaign #HeForShe[3]; they wanted us to be part of a video,in order to promote also our organization”.

Anyway, Multi-Languages Cafè is not the only organization Marsida volunteered for. You would be surprised as I was, if you heard about the many activities she attended. 

“I have been part of other organization as well. For example, AIESEC[4]. From 2013 until 2016, I was in the department for people who want to go abroad to volunteer, known as OGX (Outgoing Exchange)[5]. It has been great to be part of it because I also met people from different cultures. Another organization I have been voluntering for 3 years was World Vision[6]; in 2015 I took part in a project called “IMPACT”, organized by World Vision Albania in collaboration with Romania. The project’s goal was to empower youth with community work by giving good examples, sharing stories and different learning-by-doing activities. I am the leader of my group since 2016; we help in advocacy activities and we also create hand-made cards and clean the environment. I invest almost 2-3 hours every Saturday for these volunteering”.

At this point, after taking a breath, Marsida kept on talking about other volunteering experiences…joking on the fact that she also had time to eat! “I volunteered also for the Albanian National Youth Network which is a network of organizations (almost 50) who collaborate with each other to advocate youth and raise awareness on issues and rights. I am part of this organization since the last June. In April 2018 the Multi-Languages Café was selected as informal group to be part of the board of this network; since then, we work to educate students and pupils in high schools, youth until 29 years old. We are in contact with the Parliament and also the Ministry of Education. In the end…I am also part of another organization, set up about 2 years ago, for students for Social Sciences Faculty; it aims to train and support the students to be more participatory and active in their field of study and the community”.

What surprise after hearing all the experiences Marsida had, is that she managed to study, to volunteer and also to find a job at the same time.In fact Marsida works as a lawyer…but she is also an accountant. How is that possible? Easy to explain. “All started in 2009.I volunteered for a project in Germany, 3 weeks of community work, and since then my desire to volunteer grew up. I got my first paid job when I was 26. I volunteered for 3 months in a mortgage of a real estate agency, and after I won a one year working contract at the Ministry of Justice. It is funny, because I think that everytime you engage yourself in something, you will gain more possibility to learn about the one that will bring you to the next step. I have some friends who say that they won’t gain anything from volunteering or even participating. Instead, I think the opportunities you get just involving yourself are huge! Look at me for example! In 2009 the Ministry for Foreign Affairs did a training about Europe and Albania in NATO[7]. We went as class of high school. At the end of the training, we were invited to submit an essay on the following topic: “How do you perceive Albania in the EU”. I presented it…and I won a scholarship for a private university. (Albanian University)”.

Asking more in depth about what made her decide to engage in civil society, Marsida replied that she was raised with the idea that first you work hard to get education, and after you apply for a job. She and her sister were raised by her mother- their father died when Marsida was 4 years old. “With good education, you can have more possibilities to get a job. With no education, nothing would be enough to sustain yourself. My sister and I engaged in volunteering in order to learn and improve ourselves and others. Volunteering fulfills me. People often don’t understand this power. By working with groups I saw how people change by the time, in the way they think and in the way they want to be. Nowadays in Tirana volunteering is quite widespread. We come from communism area, and by that time was mandatory to volunteer for the communist party. Therefore,it might still be perceived as a negative thing or a waste of timeEveryone has to find the target in the things they do”.

So what does it mean, for Marsida, to be part of the civil society?“It means to have the responsibility to speak up for those people who don’t have the network or the opportunities that you had, and to give them the chance to be heard. Now the Municipality of Tirana wants to renovate the council for the youth. What we are doing with the National Youth Network is to educate young people about their rights, and I think this will pass to the next generation. I am not doing it for individual profit, but for the society”.

Marsida is a perfect example of emancipated young lady. I was wondering what she thought about the role of girls and women nowadays in Albanian society. “The situation has changed a bit from the time when women were considered only as housewives. I think with the media and the participation in social activities, girls are more engaged…but there are many things still to be changed. There are still issues with the mentality, parents not allowing girls to go out and get more opportunities, marrying young girls (16-18 years old). There are families that don’t allow girls to express themselves. My mother was been told to marry us before we start to think about having a career or to not marry at all. But..eventually… she did great in supporting us to get an education. But I know girls who got married too early, they didn’t finish high school and now they cannot sustain themselves financially and they are like “prisoners”. The mentality somewhere is still like: ”Do your girl’s duty and don’t ask”. Girls should know their value as human beings. They should understand they have to choose their lives and not to follow others’ direction”.

Deepening the issue of gender inequalities in Albania, Marsida expresses really well her point of view. “The biggest inequality regards the financial part, which has a great impact on other fields. For what concerns the educational part, most of the women in bigger cities get education but they don’t enter the labour market. Regarding the political part, for example, you can notice that politicians are more males than females. It is a men’s world. A woman can be part of the politics, but the higher she may get, there is always a stopping point”. This phenomenon is also known as “the glass ceiling”, and it refers to a situation in which the career advancement of a woman in any work or social organization, or the achievement of equal rights, is prevented through discrimination, which stands as insurmountable barrier even if apparently invisible. “Women do the paper work, but the ones who sign it are actually men”.

What should be changed in Albanian society in order to promote equal opportunities? “For example, Multi-Languages Café is a good opportunity to empower themselves and others as well. This kind of volunteering empowers “in silence”. Talking and getting to know other opinions empowers you and changes your way of thinking without you notice that. Encouraging volunteering and  implementing policies for youth empowerment is needed. Education is also the key but also teaching how to get the information properly is very important. People usually use social media as a way of communication but they don’t go deeper”.

After the interesting reflection, Marsida greeted me with an empowering message for other girls: “Go out and participate in everything you can, because you won’t lose anything. Participation will open your doors. The more you participate, the more you will be aware of your rights, of the world and how to be part of it”.

 

 

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

 

 

 

[1] The European Voluntary Service (EVS) is a program for young people between 18 and 30 years old. The program covers all the costs and provides the volunteer an experience which allows him/her to improve soft skills. https://europa.eu/youth/volunteering/evs-organisation_en.

[2] Qendra Rinore Tirane

[3] “HeForShe”is a solidarity campaign initiated to foster gender equality, and it is promoted by United Nations. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging all genders as agents of change and take action against negative gender stereotypes and behaviors.  http://www.heforshe.org/en

[4] https://aiesec.org/ The acronyme stands for International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences. It provides young people with leadership development, cross-cultural global internships, and volunteer exchange experiences across the globe.

[5] https://prezi.com/imrjxzcreidp/ogx-department-aiesec-in-albania/

[6] https://www.wvi.org/albania/about-us World Vision International is a Christian Relief, Development and Advocacy organization. Its organizational goals focus on the well-being of children through long term community development and humanitarian programs.

[7] North Atlantic Treaty Organization

During the second interview of “Show Yourself” project, with Mariela Kacani, we focused on youth activism as a way to empower women and communities.20 years old, co-founder of the organisation “Grupimi5Plus”, she shares her point of view about challenges and goals of Albanian civil society, women’s issues and youth engagement.

 

 

Gresa Hasa, Political Sciences Student, Activist (Tirana)

 

“You cannot empower other people, if you don’t empower yourself first”

The personal is political. Politics starts at home.”

 

“One of the main reasons I decided to study Political Sciences was because, while growing up, I noticed that many things were wrong in the society where I lived and I thought that a study field like this one was going to help me to understand better this reality, and somehow… it did. There is a huge division between the 99% of the people who live in poverty, who struggle to make ends meet at the end of every month, and the 1% who owns the country. I was a small kid when the armed unrest of 1997 occurred in Albania and I was a student when four peaceful protesters were shot dead by the Prime Ministry on 21st of January 2011. I believe that was the moment when I decided I was going to deal with politics, theoretically and practically, that January, 8 years ago.”

Gresa is not simply a University student. She is a well-known civil rights activist of the Albanian society, a member of the Student Movement (Lëvizja Për Universitetin) protesting against the neoliberal reform of the government on education and (lately) also a member of the leftist movement Organizata Politike (The Political Organization), which mainly deals with workers’ rights.

“It was really awful when a couple of years ago Prime Minister Rama used the platform in an Italian TV Channel, while he was being interviewed, to invite the major Italian entrepreneurs and businessmen to work in Albania while reasoning that there are no labor unions here and that is a heavenly situation for them (read: exploitation of the workers who aren’t getting paid properly, who are violated in many ways, as workers and humans).

Gresa is a feminist and together with a group of some other young women activists, she is trying to bring to life a feminist movement in the country. She also helped with the organization of the LGBT+ Pride Parade this year. What is the mission of this newborn feminist movement? Gresa highlighted some important issues here: “The world is different when you are a girl. You don’t necessarily have to have read Simone de Beauvoir[1] to understand that you are perceived and treated differently – mostly in a very discriminating way – just for being a girl or a woman in an aggressive patriarchal society. My friends and I want to challenge these awful and disappointing ideas on gender roles and how the  relationship between men and women in this society is perceived under the oppressive capitalist system.

We have organized some important meetings and until now we had two public actions. One was during midnight on the 13th of February (before Valentine’s day). We separated into two groups and sprayed the main walls of Tirana with quotes condemning gender-based violence like: “Love, don’t kill” or “Who beats you, doesn’t love you” (playing with the popular Albanian expression that says the opposite – Who loves you, beats you). We also managed to write on the wall of the court “Crime of passion”, putting a line on the word “passion” and protesting against the fact that law doesn’t protect women. Most of the femicide victims in Albania have had protection orders and they were shot dead by the “men of their lives” or in some cases, they were still living with their aggressor.

 

 

We then took pictures and sent them anonymously to the media, together with a short description of the action. On St.Valentine’s Day, the Day of love, we wanted the city to wake up to the powerful message that condemns violence and actually praises love. Love doesn’t take life, it gives life. Only hate harms and kills.

On the second action, on the 8th March, we took some famous Albanian paintings portraying girls and women and we wrote different empowering expressions, bringing these artistic figures in the nowadays violent reality. So we wrote: “He beats me because I provoked him”, under “Motra tone” , a painting of Kolë Idromeno; then “I do not want to get married” on the painting of a little girl, and “Think! Act! Rebel!” on another famous painting from the socialist era. Also, it is important to stress that there hasn’t been a major feminist movement, a sexual and gender revolution in the history of Albania, like the social movements in the West.”

Speaking more in depth about civil society… I loved the expression Gresa used to refer to this important category: the people who do the work. “It’s the way how you perceive the world to be. We want to live in an equal world and society where people are respected and treated equally despite their differences and, most importantly, where there is no place for violence. The world and the future belong to all of us, not only to some of us, the most privileged among the non privileged.”

Have you heard the expression “to speak like a river in flood”? Well, that is how Gresa looked like to me when she spoke with me. When I highlighted this -positive- side of her, she replied that she loves discussing about the issue of gender inequalities and gender-based violence.“We helped some young women to organize a protest against gender-based violence on Saturday 16th June, demanding from the public institutions, like the police stations and the state, to explain us why they do not take seriously the reports of the women who are beaten and threatened with their lives from their partners, fathers or other men in their lives. In most of the cases, it’s the police sending the girls and the women to the hands of their murderers! The gender’s discrimination main issue in Albania is the fact that physical security  is not guaranteed to women. We are dealing with femicide! And femicide – just like women’s rights- is every citizen’s issue, it’s a society’s issue. The violence against one woman, the murder of one woman, it is violence against all women; it is an attack against the human and democratic values and liberties of every -sane- society. It is violence against life. If a girl goes to the police station, the chances are for them to be sent back home, where they might end up dead, murdered by their partners or male family members. In Albania the law functions only theoretically, very little practically!”

What should be changed in the Albanian society, in order to solve these issues?

Education is the basis of every society. If we want to change the way things are, we must reform the educational system, starting by making it accessible for everybody. That’s why I decided to be part of the student movement, demanding free public education, protesting against high tuition fees, corruption in the universities and putting pressure on the government to grant us what we deserve: socially and intellectually strong and valuable educational institutions, where critical thinking is planted, in order to support our pupils and students to become good citizens before they become good professionals. A girl who can’t afford studying in Albania has two choices: to get married or to become exploited in some shoe factory, unlike the boys who are granted more freedom and possibilities. 

The interesting talk with Gresa ended with an empowering message: “Things can get very difficult and life may seem pretty overwhelming in a country like Albania. Generally, one day in the Balkans is equal to 365 days full of events in a normal country where the basic things work properly. That’s why I believe it’s important to learn how to rest but never give up! We all need to put our efforts to change our lives for the better. Change requires patience. Things won’t change in an instance but together we can put brick after brick in the long road towards an equal and prosperous future”.

 

Chiara Silvestri, Volunteer of the Italian Civil Service at the NGO GUS Albania

 

[1]  Simone De Beavoir (1908-1986).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.

 

Albanian women “raising voices” for equality.

/

“GUS Albania continues the activities related to the promotion of gender equality, which began in March with the workshop”As you want me” on the sexual representation of women in the media. GUS Albania gives voice to actively engaged girls and women in society who are not scared but constantly strive to become a “megaphone” for gender issues in Albania to seek recognition and change in society

Their evidences are an inspiration of determination, courage, motivation, freedom and independence for girls and other women. The protagonists come from civil society and each of them brings her history of empowerment by showing how the push from the bottom jointly with sacrifice, study and continuous work is essential  for each change

These examples and inspirational models fully coincide with the mission of our organization that works consistently with the conviction that social improvement comes as a result of the commitment and courage of each of us.
GUS Albania will run on “showing itself” by accompanying every battle for the empowerment of young people, women and girls and vulnerable groups and to contribute on raising awareness and activism for a more inclusive and equal society