By Nataliya Apostolova, Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative
The International Women’s Day is about celebration, advocacy and action for women’s rights both locally and globally. It is about showing support for their rights and recognizing and appreciating the contribution they make in all fields. To me it is also a day to reflect on the injustices and the abuse the women face often on daily basis such as domestic violence, unequal treatment at work, limited access to education, gender-based harassment and many other issues and problems they endure every day.
Since I came to Kosovo six months ago, I met with many women representing institutions, civil society, journalists and businesswomen. All of them strong, educated professionals with integrity. But despite the fact that Kosovo had a female president, now has female ministers, and an electoral quota of 30 percent in the parliament which makes a significant representation, some statistics and data show that much remains to be done to improve women’s position in Kosovo.
Despite the legislation in place, I know that in practice, women in Kosovo still face insurmountable struggles for access to property and inheritance right. The lack of property ownership leads to many challenges with financial dependency being the first one. This limits the women in many aspects from embarking in a business venture to walking out from an abusive household. According to the data obtained from the Country Gender Profile 2014 (last one published), women’s employment rate is approximately 18 %, the lowest in Europe, compared to 55 % of employed men. This data speaks for itself.
I believe women alone cannot fight this huge gap. Men have to engage in the battle for gender equality and women empowerment as they are in decision-making positions. After all, gender equality is essential for the achievement of human rights. But, how can this situation be changed? What are the most effective ways to achieve women empowerment? There is only one thing that comes to my mind and it is: EDUCATION. Education is a key factor for empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to fully participate in the development of the society. Education and knowledge are power. I believe that every educated mother is more likely to make education a priority for her children.
The EU gives a special attention to women empowerment and gender equality. In our Indicative Strategy Paper for Kosovo, which defines the priorities of our assistance to Kosovo for seven years (2014-2020), the promotion of gender equality is specifically mentioned as a key aspect linked to the employment, social policies, education and human resources development.
All women deserve a life with the opportunity to be educated and to participate in all aspects of public life. There should be an end to living within the confines of rigid gender norms, which frequently result in gender inequities impossible to overcome.
I know Kosovo people are very proud of Olympic golden medalist judoca Majlinda Kelmendi and of famous pop singers Era Istrefi and Dua Lipa, who are promoting Kosovo around the world. Such role models encourage women and girls to aspire to leadership and success. But to have more success stories that better than anything else represent Kosovo internationally, Kosovo society should do more to create an equal and inclusive society for women. With reason it is said that the development of women determines the development of a nation and empowerment of women is empowerment of humanity. I strongly believe that the world is a better place with educated and empowered women.