Lately | Gender Equality

Kosovo to mark International Women’s Day

By - 07.03.2017

Full day of activities planned for March 8.

Women in Kosovo and around the world are preparing to raise their voices for gender and economic equality. “I don’t want flowers, I want a job contract,” “Protection at work,” and “Raise the minimum wage,” are some of the slogans through which women and other human rights activists and citizens will speak out during a march through Prishtina tomorrow (March 8) to mark International Women’s Day.

The march is part of a series of actions being organized by a group of citizens, including women’s rights activists, trade unions, workers, academics, artists, media organizations and civil society groups. Under the same “MARS’hojmë S’festojmë” (“March-ing not celebrating”) motto as last year’s activities, several events throughout the day will this year address the serious issues of discrimination against women in the workplace and unemployment.

In their description of the activities, organizers explain that they will be marching for economic and social rights as a precondition of a decent society. “We demand employment without exploitation; equality, freedom and social justice,” reads the official press statement. “We demand employment with payment that offers us a life with dignity. We require health insurance, safety at work, and non-discriminative work for all, regardless of ethnicity, age, education [or] sexual orientation.”

Activists globally are encouraged to demand that the world of work works for all women.

Activists will also be speaking out against homophobia, transphobia and racism. “We don’t celebrate we March for equality in employment, family and political representation,” the statement continues.

International Women’s Day was formalized in 1977 by the United Nations, following more than half a century of similar days of annual protest throughout the world. This year, U.N. Women — an entity of the U.N. that focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment — has chosen the worldwide theme of the day as: “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.”

Activists globally are encouraged to demand that the world of work works for all women. Through this year’s campaign, U.N. Women aims to highlight how the overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidizing care and domestic work, and that they are concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skilled occupations compared to men, with little or no social protection.

Economically excluded

Nita Luci, lecturer in the Program for Gender Studies and Research at the University of Prishtina’s Faculty of Philosophy has been involved in the organization of tomorrow’s events. She told K2.0 that the U.N.-chosen topic is of particular importance in Kosovo, since it is somewhere that economic equality has never been properly addressed.

“The idea to focus on work reflects a global need, but also something that is local, and has its own specifics in Kosovo, for a country that has such poor economic development [and] very low levels of employment or opportunities for employment,” Luci said.

“I think this is a key topic and important because if we start to deal with work and employment we [need to] start dealing with the causes of inequality, not necessarily with the symptoms, which is one of the issues that we had until recently. But it can be argued that economic inequality, the lack of economic development, has caused women to become more marginalized and oppressed because of their fragile economic position.”

In Kosovo more than 75 percent of women are classed as economically ‘passive,’ meaning that they are not even looking for a job. The participation of women in the labor market in Kosovo is estimated to be the lowest in Europe; in total, only around 15 percent of women in Kosovo are employed.

Shukrije Rexhepi, legal officer at the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo (BSPK), says that the lack of economic prospects makes it difficult for women to demand their rights from their employers, particularly in the private sector. “Mainly their complaints are either related to long working hours, which are much higher than the 40 hour per week assigned by legislation, or that they not being allowed to use their right to maternity leave,” she told K2.0.

Rexhepi says that most women who report their concerns to the union do so anonymously through fear of being sacked; however without full names, she says that BSPK is unable to pass on the complaints to the Labour Inspectorate.

Marching not celebrating

Organizers of this year’s March 8 actions will hold an information session from 8:00 until 9:00 for anybody who wants to be part of the day’s activities. From 10:00 a discussion organized by art and community NGO, Artpolis, on addressing sexual harassment at the University of Prishtina will be held at the National Library.

From 12:00 to 14:00 activists will march from Prishtina’s Zahir Pajaziti Square to the Assembly and central government building via the Central Bank of Kosovo and the Municipality of Prishtina. Each institution that the march will incorporate has been chosen for its symbolic value, with Luci explaining that the Central Bank is particularly significant given the global theme of this year’s activities.

“The Central Bank is a place where we can best address the inability of women to participate in the financial market,” Luci said. “The Central Bank can be [the place] that creates the possibility for those who don’t have access to economic activities or entrepreneurship to create policies that could push forward improved [economic] engagement and a higher economic productivity of the population.”

She points out that nepotism and politically motivated appointments throughout Kosovo’s institutions are major problems that have a disproportionate impact on women. “This speaks of an [institutional culture] where there is no accountability, which affects women and men; but it mostly affects women because they are more vulnerable — they are in a marginalized position.”

Following the march, from 14:30 a workshop on Gender Mainstreaming in Organizations and Programs is being held by Peer Educators Network (PEN) at its offices in Aktash.

The day’s activities will conclude at 20:00 with a performance organized by Artpolis called “Cope Cope” at Oda Theatre.

At the same time as the noon march in Prishtina, citizens in Prizren will gather in Shadervan Square in Prizren under the motto “8Marshi me kravate” (“march8 with a tie”). The Prizren march is organized by the FEMaktiv initiative — a group of women and girls who aim to challenge the patriarchal mindset in the city’s public discourse. K

A century of protest

The origins of International Women’s Day dates back to 1909. In February that year, the Socialist Party of America designated a day in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

One year later, an International Women’s Conference was organized in Copenhagen by Socialist International — a worldwide association of political parties. At the conference, it was agreed to establish ‘Women's Day,’ international in character, to honor the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women.

During WWI, the day was used as a mechanism to protest against the war, with rallies organized throughout Europe: Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913, while elsewhere in Europe a day on or around March 8 began to be marked the following year. In 1917, the February protest (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian Calendar) was one of the events that triggered the February Revolution that brought to an end to centuries of Tsarist rule.

The U.N. began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1975 — International Women’s Year. In 1977 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a U.N. Day for Women's Rights and International peace.