Recently in Kosovo we have witnessed debates about how society, especially women’s rights activists, must vote for women so that we have a representation of women in the Kosovo Assembly.
Deliberately or not, this way of thinking is a form of oppression that comes as a consequence of a system which since the end of the war has not managed to treat women and men equally.
Now apparently we must elect women that do not represent anything else besides being women themselves. Apparently they must be a part of the Assembly. Discussions go deeper as we see how women are placed in election lists, or how calls are made to vote for women as much as possible, disregarding the political parties which they represent.
For some, what these women represent is of little importance, or more accurately, what has been done up until today in Kosovo regarding gender equality issues is seemingly less important than the cry: “vote for women!”
In the past few days I’ve seen certain political parties, and especially women deputies, being quite active in campaigns, promoting gender equality and their parties’ programs. We’ve had positive progress in this direction in the political scene in Kosovo, having a woman for president as well as many women as ambassadors in different countries. However, this does not undo the fact that women are not represented equally in institutions at local and central levels.
Furthermore, it does not mean that these women candidates push forward policies for gender equality which would offer solutions to many problems that women in Kosovo have. This was proven in 2015 when certain women deputies within the Kosovo Assembly did not vote for the amendment of the law for inclusion of survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo.
The parties that were in power in the past 10 years and the women that represent their policies are mainly responsible for the situation and vacuum created in Kosovo in issues like education, women representation in decision-making, their representation in the security sector, and their systematic discrimination.
A fund for “Females” by PDK!
On a Klan Kosova show that revolves around the programs of political parties, Enver Hoxhaj and Besim Beqaj were invited to explain the program of their party — the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Beqaj said that in their potential new mandate, they would create a “Female Fund” for empowering women in the economy, especially in business, creating new jobs. Even the name of the so called “Female Fund” is problematic, as the word ‘female’ refers to the biological aspect of a woman, whereas the term ‘woman’ refers to gender.
It is interesting to note how individuals within this party, that has been in power for 18 years, have not created any space for women and men to be represented equally. They did not create jobs — still only 13 percent of women are employed.
According to the Kosovo Statistics Agency only 5 percent of women have properties registered in their name, only 13 percent of women lead businesses, and only 4.9 percent are owners of agricultural lands. According to the same report, women are better placed in decision-making positions at a central level than they are at a local level. Around 42 percent of women are in decision-making positions in ministries, compared to 27 percent at the municipal level.
However, in general, when we compare the position of women to that of men in security institutions, there is an outstandingly high discrepancy between them. For example, in the Kosovo Police only 144 women are in decision-making positions, compared to 1,423 men. In the Ministry of the Kosovo Security Forces, 203 women are part of the military staff, compared to 2,295 men.
It is the same people that have not managed to improve the situation who are now seeking votes, because apparently now they’re going to create a unique fund for women.
Such a fund will in fact only serve to treat women separately from men. Women’s participation in economic, political and social live can be improved and addressed only by compiling long term policies.
So why must we have such funds? To continue the oppression further? Or to hear women deputies of these subjects asking for votes and then contributing to class oppression against women, by not offering any perspective in education, employment or emancipation.
This was proven by the campaign of the party that was in power in 2014 (PDK, who formed a coalition government with LDK). In their program, “the New Mission,” they foresaw the creation of 200,000 new jobs through the creation of a so called “Fund for employment.” We are in 2017 and the 200,000 new jobs have not been created, and the position of women remains the same.
One of the chapters of the New Mission at the time was dedicated to “empowering the role of women in society.” This chapter foresaw a 10 million euro investment for women — a promise that was never realized during the PDK-LDK coalition government. This further shows that such programs for issues of gender equality are only empty promises made during campaigns. On the other hand, we’ve never seen PDK’s 10 woman deputies (from the 36 deputies that PDK had in its most recent mandate in Parliament) speaking about the failure to realize this promise.
Among other things, the New Mission stated that “women must not be treated only as mothers, but also as bearers of positive development in the country.” This is also where the problem lies, in the way women are represented in programs that promote empowerment, emancipation and employment, because they consider women to be of a “positive nature.” This mentality neglects the fact that some women deputies were and are still the main component of negative development in the country, a part of unjust policies for women in Kosovo, and a part of a government which makes them be of a “negative nature”; or better yet, positions them in such a way that they do not represent anything, rather just fill seats in the Assembly.
Within PDK’s program, two points attracted my attention. The first is where they state their intention to “increase the level of employment among women and give 10 million euros per year from the New Employment Fund to businesses that have at least 50 percent of women employees.” The second is the declaration that: “as we have fulfilled our promise to build 100 schools, we will now begin building kindergartens, because no woman should face the dilemma between their work and their children. PDK insists that women can work and have families.”
So as we see here, we are dealing with a basic oppression of women’s rights from a party which promises to create funds for women, or as they call them “female funds,” by not seeing them as equal before the law, and by not offering employment in the same forms through which they do to men. Moreover, such programs that refer to women solely through the mother’s role prove that these subjects promote the patriarchal spirit in Kosovar society.
Their programs foresee the creation of kindergartens as a form of relief for women, however, not all women necessarily want to create families and be mothers. Although the idea of opening more kindergartens is a good policy on its own, there is no special reason to include this policy in the women empowerment chapter.
Did these politicians think that there are men who want to take care of their children?
Care for children should be a general responsibility of the family, and this must be reflected in policies, because otherwise we only re-strengthen gender stereotypes and the separation of duties on the basis of gender. This program fails to include young women who are not mothers.
The role of women is without a doubt determined also by the circumstances which Kosovo faces, however progressive changes cannot happen by contributing to oppression, rather they happen when we offer institutional support and decision-making positions.
Regarding the last two points of this program, it is worth noting that they mentioned the right to property heritage (in one sentence) and the right to education (in one sentence).
Mothers are not the only women
In these election campaigns, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) has also started to promote new practices in its political program, namely for representing women, but also by seeing women only as mothers; one of their promises, as an apparent contribution to gender equality, is extending maternity leave to 12 months!
We cannot overlook the fact that this party has contributed to the situation which has been created by being a partner in the coalition government. Furthermore, we cannot forget the fact that the leader of LDK insulted women in civil society by saying that they “graze funds” purporting to use them to further women’s rights in Kosovo.
Other LDK deputies continue to contribute to the oppression of women by enforcing stereotypes about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man in our society. We recall the infamous comment made by woman deputy Nexhbedin Gaxherri, that “women are not empowered in politics by acting like men.” Treating women as a unique category has created circumstances in which it is women particularly that are the ones who are excluded from institutions, especially in rural areas, and are not given the necessary space to raise their voice for their rights, which are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo.
I wish every woman would look at the programs of all the parties that will run in this election. Saying that you’ll vote for women, so as to have representation in the Assembly, does not constitute change, rather it contributes to oppression. We must not accept the fact that we are a conservative society, and we must not continue to vote for women deputies that contribute to oppression. They have always been voted for, but the situation in Kosovo has not changed. Society changes particularly when such individuals are not given the right to represent, when funds like the aforementioned are not created, and when there is resistance from women who are oppressed on a daily basis.
Vote for women, but vote for women which represent you, women which will have their voice heard and which have clear programs for women’s rights to property, for their emancipation within the community, for helping women report domestic violence, women that understand that the position of women in society is beyond Assembly seats and election campaign votes.