International Women’s Day

We need a whole-of-society movement to achieve full gender equality – by Michele Ribotta, UN Women Representative in Albania*

Date: Sunday, March 8, 2020

Michele Ribotta, UN Women Representative in Albania
Michele Ribotta, UN Women Representative in Albania

2020 is an important year for gender equality. It marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. A lot has happened in the past twenty-five years: women and girls are better protected against gender-based discrimination, participating more in the economy and political institutions. However, progress has been unacceptably slow, with hard-fought gains constantly at risk of reversal.  With not a single country in the world having achieved full equality between women and men, the commitment to empower all women and girls by 2030 was reaffirmed as central to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted five years ago.

In Albania, the Beijing Platform for Action – together with key international human rights instruments – has provided the framework for legal and policy advances. Through a dedicated National Review process that took place last year, both the Government and civil society have taken stock of progress and identified pending challenges for future action.

One of the biggest changes for women in Albania since this visionary Platform was adopted has been the improvement of the legal framework in line with international obligations and EU standards. Many pieces of legislation were enacted or reformed over the years, such as for example the Laws on Gender Equality, on Protection from Discrimination, and the one on Measures Against Violence in Family Relations. In addition, a National Gender Equality Strategy guides national policy action to overcome gender-based discrimination, while several sectorial strategies and action plans address gender perspectives. Women have become more active in the labour market, taking advantage of education opportunities. In addition, the number of women in decision-making positions increased considerably since the early 90s, putting Albania today among the top five countries with regards to women in government positions. The introduction of gender quota in the electoral systems brought many more women to Parliament and local councils.

But like many other countries, Albanian society is still characterized by entrenched patriarchal values that prevent women from fully realizing their rights. Especially in rural areas, hard-to-die gender stereotypes limit the space for many women and girls to pursue their dreams and choose for their own lives. Focusing on the youth perspective is key. The “Generation Equality” global campaign recently launched by UN Women, is not only a clarion call to demand full equality in our time, but also an attempt to intensify intergenerational dialogue and solidarity for the full empowerment of women and girls.

More investments are certainly needed to empower women economically, both in urban and rural areas. Unequal sharing of family care and household work remains an obstacle, together with limited access to property rights and financing. In addition, violence against women and girls remains alarmingly high. At least 1 in 2 women report to have experienced some form of violence, particularly in their homes. Other forms of violence are also a cause of concern, including sexual violence, harassment, forced marriage, and stalking.

Clearly, we need a whole of society movement to say Enough! of gender-based violence and of the deeply rooted beliefs that justify and perpetuate it. We are trying to put in place a multipronged approach to ensure prevention, protection of survivors, and provision of services, working with a wide range of actors. Albania is part of the EU funded sub-regional programme on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.  So far, the program has engaged 400 women’s rights organizations and 6000 community members, training 1,000 service providers.  In addition, through the Sweden supported intervention on “Ending Violence against women in Albania” that we implement jointly with UNDP and UNFPA, we support state and non-state institutions to ensure coordinated and integrated response to address cases of violence.

We need to focus on women from rural areas, those with different psycho-physical abilities, from different ethnic groups, or with different sexual orientations, who are more likely to experience multiple forms of discrimination. Leaving no one behind is at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that all member states of the United Nations adopted back in 2015, and central to the work of the entire UN system. For UN Women, this means understanding the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that some groups of women face. If we are to promote lasting change, we need to go at the heart of the problem and understand the root causes of exclusion. We have supported community-based groups in assessing the actual accessibility of services by different groups of women (e.g. the Roma, persons living with disabilities, LGBTI), to better understand what would it take for them to reach out to local referral mechanisms more systematically, reporting cases of violence and seeking assistance.

The other key approach is to give the most marginalized a space to speak up. Our work with the "Leave no one behind" UN program, supported by the Swiss Government, builds on the idea of providing groups of vulnerable women with a platform from which their voices can be heard, their issues acknowledged and hopefully integrated in local plans and budgets.

*Adapted from the interview of Michele Ribotta, UN Women Representative in Albania with Albania Daily News for International Women’s Day