My take, your take: Advancing the feminist agenda and LGBTI rights in Albania
In this new intergenerational series for Generation Equality campaign, young people take the lead to shape the conversations. Xheni Karaj, a 34-year-old LGBTI activist from Albania is talking with Delina Fico, who was part of the Albanian delegation in the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing.
Date: Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Xheni Karaj was among the first activists to launch the LGBTI rights movement in Albania about ten years ago. She is the co-founder and currently Executive Director of LGBT Alliance. For many years she has been at the forefront of many human rights and women’s rights initiatives and her organization has also been a UN Women programming partner. She agrees that since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action there have been improvements, but there is still much work to be done, considering the high rate of gender-based violence in the country.
“In the future, we should focus more on media education, the way they discuss women's issues and feminism. Because TV debates shape the opinion of our society, the way it is discussed nowadays does not help the cause; it creates more stereotypes,” Karaj explains. She thinks that it is critical to also start an academic discussion on feminism, and points to the lack of feminist studies and queer studies in Universities.
Karaj feels optimistic about the new radical feminist groups and says that we cannot only talk about improving laws and increasing women’s participation in politics. For her, it is important to have a connection between the services available for women, the public discourse, and also the intersectionality between various movements, such as the LGBTI and feminist movements.
In this series, she interviews Delina Fico, a feminist leader who supports LGBTI rights in Albania and serves in the Board of the Shelter for LGBTI Persons. Xheni saw Delina for the first time in a TV show about gender-based violence. She was inspired by the passion, strength and eloquence of her arguments. She decided to invite her for a coffee and since then, they have stood up in solidarity to advance gender equality and LGBTI rights in Albania.
When and why did you become an activist?
Delina Fico: I think I was born a feminist. Since I was a child, I had a very strong sense of equal rights: what is allowed for one person should be allowed for the other, especially when it comes to men and women. When I was in high school (in the early 80-s), marriage seemed very oppressive to me, and I told my mother: “The best I can do to please you is to get engaged but never get married.”
I'm also invested in people's well-being. When they have a problem, I want to help. This led me into my activism.
What has been the biggest change for women in Albania since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995?
Delina Fico: The conference in Beijing was a life-changing experience for me. We learned that women face similar obstacles everywhere. At a workshop, I listened to a woman from a village in India and I realized that we shared the same concerns. She had found a solution to the problem and we felt inspired because we could do it, too.
We established relationships and connections that became a source of learning and support for the decades to come. For example, we attended a workshop by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (today Advocates for Human Rights) that included a group of women who pioneered services for women survivors of violence in the United States. The lawyers and activists of these organizations later trained and mentored us to develop the legal framework and launch services for women survivors of violence in Albania.
Many major changes have taken place in Albania since 1995, such as the adoption of the 2008 Gender Equality Law, when quotas for women's participation in politics were introduced. This led to a significant and steady increase in the number of women parliamentarians and high-level government officials. The 2006 Law on the Prevention of Violence in Family Relationships was another win. It was drafted and proposed to the Parliament by civil society and passed with support by all political parties. This law paved the way for important changes, such as the introduction of the protection order and the increase of public funds for services for survivors of violence.
What are some priorities and emerging issues for the women’s rights movement in Albania, especially now in the context of COVID-19?
Delina Fico: The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on women and girls varies based on their social, economic, and cultural situation, as well as their sexual orientation and other parameters. For example, in the first months of the pandemic, access to health services was severely curtailed for women in rural areas and Roma women, as intercity travel and public travel halted and these women often don’t have the means to travel by private cars. There was a spike in violence against women cases starting in early April 2020 that continued in the following months and women’s rights groups never stopped their efforts to provide support to women victims of violence. As children attended school remotely, men and women lost their jobs or began working remotely, women’s workload as primary caretakers grew and became often more stressful as boundaries among work and private life were blurred, some of the school’s responsibilities fell on the parent’s shoulders, and there were those sick because of Covid-19 to be taken care of. When Covid-19 related restrictions loosened up, some women didn’t dare go back for fear of getting infected, some were asked to work fewer hours and paid less, and some were unable to pay the loans.
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.