Youth Activists in Albania Take the Lead on Climate Action for Gender Equality
Earlier this year, young Albanian activists got together and developed a “Call to youth-driven and gender responsive climate and environmental action in Albania,” with the support of UN Women Albania, the Tirana European Youth Capital and the Resource Environmental Centre (REC) Albania. The Call to Action consists of a set of recommendations aiming to ensure that national policies and programs on climate change and the environment address the demands, needs and vulnerabilities of women and youth in Albania. We talked to some of the participants that contributed to this initiative, who are also strongly involved in broader issues interconnected with women’s rights and gender equality.
“Now more than ever it is time to speak up for local issues. Without fixing what is within our reach, we can never have a real impact on global issues,” said Fiona Dinollari, a UN Youth Delegate.
The 23-year old from Durrës, Albania, brought her local perspective and experience to the Call to Action preparation process, thanks to her interest in and experience with reaching out to women living in disadvantaged communities and marginalized groups. For her, this initiative is a reminder that climate change does not affect all of us in the same way, and also that women and children are the most exposed to climate and waste management issues.
“Waste management issues are affecting the life of communities. Many inhabitants of the former marshlands area (ish-Këneta) in Durrës have already migrated; many others suffer from various health conditions related to pollution and other causes,” Fiona highlights.
Following the Call to Action, she is determined to make her voice heard in demanding better waste management, clean water and sanitation systems. In addition, she intends to continue to advocate for the formalization of women’s work in agriculture and better working conditions for women in garment factories.
Fiona Dinollari started her activism in speaking up for women’s rights from the age of 15, when she began to realize that women she was close to were unaware that their rights were being violated. “I think that the most fundamental issue we have in Albania is the lack of information on human rights,” she states. Over the years, she has learned that every person can do at least two things in order to reach a common objective: get educated and educate others about a certain issue.
She also points out the role of men and boys should play in fighting inequalities and the importance of having them as allies to “develop a system of shared values, where violence is not normalized, where reporting mechanisms work, and where all of us are engaged in fighting hate speech and promoting positivity.”
“Now is the time to understand that we should not just promote, but also embrace what I like to call the “green conduct discourse”. “Learn how to live green and share the lifestyle. Also think, act, and most importantly eat locally.”
“This Call to Action is a tool to enhance young people’s critical thinking on issues related to gender and climate change as well as to generate new ideas for solving these issues” – this is how Andi Rabiaj, Executive Director of the Youth Voice Network of Organizations, describes the new initiative. For him this is an important step, as it seeks to involve all young people irrespective of their background and engage them in a systematic and meaningful way.
He agrees that climate change is far from an easy matter to tackle in our society. He invites young people – who represent a generation full of ideas, innovation and energy – to be proactive in facing these challenges together. Andi started his activism in his late teens and has never stopped fighting for gender justice, health and reproductive rights, women’s and girl’s empowerment. Through various projects and campaigns, and in collaboration with UN agencies in the country, he spoke up against early marriages, gender-based harmful practices and violence, also as part of his work in assisting marginalized communities.
“I have witnessed and seen first-hand early marriages and many other harmful practices targeting girls. I felt this inner moral imperative to raise my voice and contribute to a society where, as a rule, it is not usual for men and boys to commit to seeking gender equality and gender justice,” Andi states. He suggests that in order to change this narrative, the best approach is to empower schools, youth organizations and networks, community centers, non-formal groups, etc. to work with boys and men in order to address the above-mentioned issues, and to make them part of the solution.
Andi notes that the work of organizations should focus more on the provinces and outlying areas, given that there is a significant gap between people living in city centers and those living in the outskirts, who do not have access to programs and services.
“Albania is not an easy country to work in these areas because society expects you to behave in a certain way if you are a boy.” He calls on all young people to stand for and embrace any movements that address intersecting climate change and gender inequality issues, as women and girls are the ones most impacted by climate change. “This is because of their limited access to resources, income disparities (women and girls are paid less), the greater workload carried by women and girls, especially in rural areas, in sectors such as farming and tourism, that are most affected by climate change,” Andi highlights.