In-depth | Elections2021

2021 Elections: A different perspective on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights

By - 08.02.2021

With elections happening almost every two years, K2.0 listens to ideas on solutions amid dubious promises.

Although elections have become a common occurrence in Kosovo, discussing what is genuinely important for the lives of constituents is rare.

In political party rallies, televised debates and what is written and said by and about political parties, there is a lot of talk of party calculations and maneuvers, polls, slogans and individuals; and less on the practical issues that would inform voters of what to expect after the electoral campaigns. In principle, the electoral campaigns themselves should serve this purpose — so that voters know what they are voting for.

Amid all of this and, above all, to challenge this context, we at K2.0 spoke with experts in various fields. Through their answers we have endeavored to list some of the issues that are not discussed but will be important for voters when they head to the polls on February 14.

Through the series “Elections 2021, a different perspective” that comprises eight articles, each focused on one specific field, we elaborate on what exactly is not receiving due attention, what is the current situation and what should be done to change things in favor of the citizens. We also try to inform voters and make their well-being the focus of the discussion by providing forward looking solutions.

A different perspective on our right to exist unapologetically

The phrases “gender equality,” “equal opportunity,” and “social justice” have become an integral part of every party’s rhetoric, however the rights of LGBTQ+ people — one of the most discriminated against communities in Kosovo — are absent in their programs and the public presentations of their respective prime ministerial and deputy candidates.

Despite the intersection of the women’s movement with that of LGBTQ+ community as a common struggle against the patriarchal system, which starts with the family and extends all the way to the highest institutions, the proposed gender equality policies continue to bypass and exclude LGBTQ+ people.

But even plans to fight inequality between women and men remain limited. This becomes more problematic when we recall how the pandemic has highlighted a number of specific gender issues: Women have been isolated with abusers behind closed doors, and that reflects itself in the increasing number of domestic violence cases; women without legal contracts and those working in the informal sector have been hit hard; on top of that, unpaid work has multiplied for unemployed women, but also for those who are part of the labor market.

In these elections, too, the parties generally do not have clear plans for radically combating systemic gender discrimination.

In the LDK program, which leads the current governing coalition, there is nothing to be found about gender equality. The AAK, on the other hand, has a single program point that aims to provide quarterly financial support for employed women who earn more than the minimum salary.

In its own program, PDK has stated that it will address gender stereotypes, domestic violence, the reintegration of women and girls who were victims of violence, difficulties in finishing school as a significant problem in rural areas, as well as property inheritance issues. It has also provided tax incentives for private businesses that employ women and for women-run businesses. However, it remains unclear what the concrete plans to implement any of the specified policies are.

As a policy to increase the economic participation of women, PDK has also emphasized the establishment of “maternity leave” for men. In fact, the current law excludes fathers from child care, while evidence shows that current maternity leave provisions widen the gap in women’s participation in the labor market.

The involvement of fathers in child care is a policy included in Vetëvendosje’s program, which emphasizes that “maternity leave and parental leave in total will be 12 months, where the state will be a participant in the payment.” But even Vetëvendosje does not specify how many months parents would be entitled to in terms of maternity leave and parental leave, and how they would be financially supported.

Among its other policies, Vetëvendosje has mentioned the growth of women’s businesses, as well as the increase in the number of kindergartens as a precondition for more space for women and their inclusion in the labor market. It also highlighted the inclusion of women heads of households within an affordable housing plan, and financial support for unemployed mothers for six months after giving birth.

"Two of the most troubling issues that make it impossible for women to enjoy their rights are the precariousness that women experience and the position they hold in the economy."

Liridona Sijarina, feminist activist

Regarding women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, we have spoken with feminist activists and experts, including activist Agon Rexhepi, activist and gender budgeting expert Donjeta Morina, founder and editor-in-chief of feminist platform QIKA, Leonida Molliqaj, and feminist activist Liridona Sijarina. To our questions about what we lack, what aspirations we should have and how change could come about, the experts answered:

What do we lack?

Liridona Sijarina, feminist activist

While real political and economic power in Kosovo remains in the hands of patriarchal men, women’s rights still largely remain within populist letters and discussions that do not yet perceive women as subjects (who are equal to men). Today, apart from somewhat satisfactory achievements in the legal field, there are no genuine gender policies that would have improved the daily life and position of women in both the private and public spheres. This is because the foundations of this patriarchal system have not yet been nudged.

Two of the most troubling issues that make it impossible for women to enjoy their rights are the precariousness that women experience and the position they hold in the economy. Violence against women and femicide remain at alarming levels, making the security of women one of the state’s greatest failures. Then problems arise within the family, which the state, since it still functions as a large family, has never taken seriously. In this sense, the state hardly intervenes in the family despite all of the legal obligations it has assumed and that often causes women to be killed by the men of the family.

Another injustice is the economic inequality that often contributes to violence and the murder of women. The economy still remains a male-dominated field, causing inactivity and higher poverty levels among women. Even when women join the market, they are accommodated in jobs where they are poorly paid, sexually harassed and discriminated against in various ways. And this has a common denominator, which is the lack of political will to change the status quo.

Agon Rexhepi, activist

One of the main factors of widespread homophobia and transphobia is the lack of accurate information about LGBTIQ+ people. This lack of information is due to the inaction of relevant institutions. For example, in our educational institutions there is no real sex education (if any at all) and consequently children do not learn about the existence of LGBTIQ+ people as part of society.

The media also play a significant role in informing the general population about LGBTIQ+ people, their culture and the challenges they face. The portrayal of LGBTIQ+ people on television is mainly “sensationalist.” So LGBTIQ+ people are seen as a “rarity” and “something that is not part of us.” This approach is wrong.

Also, [during] political debates and the activity of political parties during this time in the run-up to the elections, plans for LGBTIQ+ rights have never been discussed. This is a fairly clear reflection of the institutional neglect of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Donjeta Morina, activist and gender budgeting expert

Everything [is deficient]. Women and girls remain completely excluded from the process of budget planning. The interests and needs of women are rarely taken into account during budget planning, and they are minimally consulted during budget hearings.

Gender-Responsive Budgeting requires mainstreaming the gender perspective in every phase of planning, execution, monitoring, as well as in central and municipal budget assessments. This means that, in principle, policy-makers need to recognize that while women and men are [essentially] equal, given social and economic differences, they have specific — and often different — needs, priorities and interests. Policy makers need to account for these specific needs and priorities in every step of drafting, implementing, monitoring and assessing municipal and central budgets.

"As long as the state together with all its mechanisms are controlled by men, we cannot talk about comprehensive and emancipatory policies."

Leonida Molliqaj, editor-in-chief of the QIKA platform

How often is this the case? Virtually never. Most public institutions continue to believe that gender budgeting ends as soon as the budget is allocated to Gender Equality Offices [where gender equality officers, who are compulsory staff at every ministry and municipality, are employed]. This comes as a result of grave misunderstandings about what gender budgeting is and how it is done.

Aside from the Law on Gender Equality, which has made gender budgeting mandatory for all Kosovo institutions, everything else in the practical and legal aspects is deficient. 

What aspirations should we have?

Leonida Molliqaj, editor-in-chief of the QIKA platform

The political engagement of women is an opportunity to problematize many issues that have not been part of public discussions, including, unfortunately, because they have only affected women. Only when women intervene in the public sphere, which is now dominated by men, can new opportunities be opened to articulate and address oppression and discrimination. As long as the state together with all its mechanisms are controlled by men, we cannot talk about comprehensive and emancipatory policies.

It has been proven that in a deeply patriarchal environment, the quota has played an extraordinary role in helping women from different regions and professions to become part of parliament. Thus, the quota has facilitated the engagement of women who in patriarchal societies are often marginalized from public life. But quotas should not be our goal.

As long as we have political parties that have appointed men in all organizational and leadership positions, we can not talk about a suitable space for women. However, it should be understood that the discussion about women in politics should not exclusively remain at the level of representation alone.

"We need to work to make LGBTIQ+ youth feel safe, accepted and included in society."

Agon Rexhepi, activist

The composition of electoral candidate lineups is a clear indication of how power is shared within a political entity. Parties are usually seen engaging in the search for women’s names only when it comes time for election campaigns as they need to meet the requirement of the Law on Elections [that the candidate list of a political entity must consist of at least 30% women]. Parties do not have a permanent commitment to help women join and become politically involved.

Instead, even in this year’s campaign, men are continuing to gather in odas and spaces that have historically excluded women. These kinds of rallies make politics inaccessible and unbearable for women. We know that women have no place in odas, so it is unacceptable that they are still used by all political parties as a campaign tool.

It also speaks of an unequal competition between women and men candidates, because only male candidates are able to discuss politics and represent their subject. As long as we have this kind of segregation on the basis of gender, we can not talk about challenging traditional norms.

Agon: The position of LGBTIQ + people in our society needs drastic changes.

However, we must first focus on the well-being of LGBTIQ+ people, starting with creating safe spaces for them. We need to work to make LGBTIQ+ youth feel safe, accepted and included in society. We need to speak publicly about LGBTIQ+ rights and be educated on the history of the LGBTIQ + community in Kosovo and beyond.

Economic independence is a healthy way to empower LGBTIQ+ people and their position in society. Therefore, we should aim to create concrete plans for their employment, in cooperation with them.

The LGBTIQ+ community should be discussed more in educational institutions and special policies should be developed to protect LGBTIQ+ students from bullying.

We should also focus on the legal recognition of LGBTIQ+ couples and the legalization same-sex marriage in the country. At the same time, the population should be informed through the media, but the media should also talk about other fields related to the LGBTIQ+ community.

Liridona: We must work for the long-articulated ideals of the feminist movement that demand nothing less than equal societies and just political organizations for all. These aspirations of our cause should be the principles and goals on which every organization operates. In terms of policy-making, this means designing fairer policies for women, other genders and underprivileged social and economic groups.

"The way in which public budget hearings are held needs to be reformed because they continue excluding women and girls, whose interests are not reflected in the budget."

Donjeta Morina, activist and gender budgeting expert

The society we project when we talk about “change” is a society where being a woman, unmarried, lesbian, gay, trans, Roma, from a village, elderly, of a specific religion, or disabled should not make you less valuable to society and should not be an excuse to experience oppression.

The society we must aspire to is a society where economic stratification does not exist. According to the feminist judgment I represent, one can by no means think of a good society until the distinction between rich and poor disappears and well-being becomes the right of all and not the privilege of a minority.

What changes are needed to fulfill aspirations?

Donjeta: First off, the legal infrastructure that enables the implementation of gender budgeting needs to be strengthened. The Law on Gender Equality is not sufficient, there needs to be an additional administrative instruction that clearly regulates the steps towards implementing gender budgeting in all economic categories.

Every public institution should record separate gender data in all sectors and use this data during the planning of Mid-term Budget Frameworks and Annual Budgets. A systematic process of gender analysis needs to be institutionalized during budget planning. The Ministry of Finance cannot accept any budget proposal that is not supplemented and justified with a thorough gender analysis. 

The way that public budget hearings are held needs to be reformed because they continue excluding women and girls, whose interests are not reflected in the budget.

Liridona: More just policies can only come about with feminist intervention.

There are two alternatives that do not necessarily exclude each other: Street interventions and mobilization that best articulate the anger and revolt of oppressed groups and individuals, and the gaining political stakes by historically marginalized groups. Women, for example, aware of what oppresses them and other groups, need to enter politics en masse in order to rethink politics and bring about progressive alternatives to governance.

We (and the state) must abandon the liberal idea of ​​”neutrality” which asserts that equal treatment of all parties is justice and a principle on which we can continue to govern. It is inconceivable for us that while certain groups and individuals are the target of discrimination precisely because of the “bias” of power throughout history, today it is claimed that neutrality in politics brings prosperity to citizens.

What needs to be done here is for feminist politics to become part of the political discourse. A feminist policy that includes and takes into account the perspectives of all persons and designs policies according to their needs and specificities. Ultimately, this approach means that the state and other structures must take human rights seriously and  see them as fundamental, with particular emphasis on underprivileged groups. This means that the people need to become the epicenter of policy-making.

Leonida: If you look at the programs of the political parties, you get the impression that in Kosovo we do not need interventions and policies that improve the lives of women. Even in the few cases where women are mentioned, they are usually spoken of only as mothers; so financial aid is generally provided to help women [who are] mothers and raise children, not as individuals who are part of this society. We need very concrete but also bold policies that shake the existing discriminatory order in Kosovo. It makes no sense to pretend that poverty and the oppression of women will improve with a few minor patches. Without a fundamental change in this regard, we can not talk about progress.

There are fewer working women and even fewer women who are politically engaged. This should be everyone’s concern. Instead of the erroneous discussion blaming women for their unwillingness to get involved in the public sphere, their difficulties in taking this step, which are often directly related to unpaid work in traditional households should be talked about very often.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.