My take, your take: how is Albanian legislation fighting gender inequalities?

In this new intergenerational series for the Generation Equality campaign, young people take the lead to shape the conversations. Ilvana Dedja, a 22-year-old human rights activist, is talking with Vasilika Hysi, Deputy Speaker of Parliament in Albania and the Chair of the Human Rights Sub-committee.

Date: Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Ilvana Dejda (left) and Vasilika Hysi (right) at the premises of the Albanian Parliament. Photo: UN Women Albania
Ilvana Dejda (left) and Vasilika Hysi (right) at the premises of the Albanian Parliament. Photo: UN Women Albania

Ilvana Dedja, a master’s student in criminal law, believes that the Beijing Platform for Action is still very relevant to young people today: “We have not yet reached gender equality,” she says.

She thinks the greatest achievement in Albania is that women today are more vocal. “Now, we can ask for our rights with our heads high, ask for education, equal pay, to be equal.”

But for Dedja, the mentality needs to be changed. “We see people advocating for gender equality, but there are still cultural norms and traditions that hold women and girls back. I am still afraid to walk at night on my way home. I fear that I will not be granted the same rights as a man in my work or that I need to have a husband to acquire a certain freedom. As long as our society continues to cry the birth of a girl and bless that of a boy, we will never see ourselves achieving gender equality,” she highlights.

Dedja says that young people are hopeful that one day social norms will stop restricting women’s rights. Girls will not go to university only to get a degree and then become someone’s wife; women will not be put in decision-making positions just because of quotas. Women and girls will participate fully and equally in all spheres of life.

Dedja was inspired by the conversation with Vasilika Hysi, who filled her with hope that women and girls are being listened to.

Why did you become an activist for women’s rights and human rights?

Vasilika Hysi: I have been engaged in human rights issues since before I was involved in politics. I am a professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Tirana and my PhD doctoral thesis was on children’s rights. After my PhD, I was more engaged in the field of human rights, in criminal proceedings and the justice system. From 2000 to 2009, I served as executive director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, the first nongovernmental organization for human rights in the country. I have focused mainly on women’s rights, women and girls deprived of freedom, women from minority groups, and women in local government.

What do you think has been the biggest change for women in Albania since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action?

Vasilika Hysi: Undoubtedly, women have more voice, meaning we have more women in decision-making positions at the central and local levels. This is thanks to quota implementation, resulting in an increase of women participating in politics and municipal councils. The law stipulates that municipal councils should consist of 50% of each gender.

If we take a look at the legislation, I think we have more rules, principles and standards that protect women in work relations, in social and health services. In general, the spotlight is on women’s rights to create a society with equal opportunities. The women’s movement has been strengthened. I dedicate the progress that has been achieved so far to women’s rights organizations and civil society, to the many veteran women who may not be very active today in social and political life but have given a huge contribution to addressing women’s issues.

Also, there is an increase of awareness among women to say no to things that harm them. Before for example, we could not talk so openly and with such a strong voice about women survivors of trafficking. In the past 15 years, women and girls have become more protected; they are not scared to report trafficking cases and they ask for help. Regarding domestic violence, we have an ongoing debate today: has domestic violence increased, or are more women reporting it? I think it is both. There are more services for women survivors of violence. They can be heard, and there is a door to knock on and find support.

What has not yet changed for women and girls in Albania? Where do we go from here?

Vasilika Hysi: Even though we have good laws, we need better cooperation between institutions in central and local government. We have made the latest amendments to the law of domestic violence – but if the police are not aware of the changes, and if the referral mechanism against domestic violence in Albania does not work, it does not matter how good the law is. Its implementation fails.

I think the law is one thing but raising awareness in society and educating people is also important. I believe we should work more with schools, starting with kindergartens, providing education and information so everyone in society learns to have equal opportunities.

In policymaking it is not always easy to do everything you want because there is a financial cost that the government may not be able to afford. But thanks to lobbying, pressure, protests, meetings and discussions from civil society and women’s organizations, we have made it possible to regulate as best we can the protection of women’s rights in our legislation. Now what is left to do is to work hard to implement laws before changing them.

The legislation we have is a good basis to protect women’s and girls’ rights, to offer services, to help them rehabilitate. Parliament has advanced from the phase of drafting and adopting laws, to monitoring their impact. We will look into all the laws that have been adopted in the past three years and see the economic, social and environmental impact they are having in society. If the law is not clear, or it has not been implemented, we will look at the issues and will amend it or make new laws if needed.

This is a special editorial series for UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign. The intergenerational series connects youth activists with veteran women’s rights activists and explores inter-generational perspectives on today’s issues. The views expressed by the participants are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of UN Women.