Op-Ed: The importance of women in politics

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2015 10:01

Op-Ed: The importance of women in politics

Story Highlights

  • Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd stressed the need for positive policies to be implemented in the field of women's involvement in public life in Albania.
Dutch Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd

Dutch Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd

By Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd

The Netherlands Embassy in Albania in cooperation with the Albanian Institute for International Studies hosted a lecture at the European Information Center in Shkodra on women in politics. Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd stressed the need for positive policies to be implemented in the field of women’s involvement in public life in Albania. Women in Albania have traditionally shown great potential to bring positive change. Women representation is not only about women, it is mostly about the society as such, its ability to fully provide for equal opportunities, respect differences and make use of its best resources. The full remarks of the ambassador are below.

I feel kind of particularly welcome in this city. Everyone is so bike friendly. I am Dutch so I therefore cannot resist this comment.

During my research on women in politics in Albania it impressed me that this city has almost a national record on leading women in politics. It is impressive to know how many women in the liberation movement were heroines, like Shejnaze Juka or Margarita Tutulani and Mysine Kokalari.

A picture of the first Albanian Parliament in 1921 shows no women in it. While in 2005 for the first time a woman (who again happens to be from Shkodra) chairs the Albanian Parliament. Today, for the first time in Albania, both candidates running for this municipality are women. And this is a good record I may say. In my country women could vote from 1919 onwards. Albanian women had the right to vote since 1920 and that is even before Sweden, France or Italy.

In 2013 the number of women in the Albanian parliament increased slightly to 17% and female representation in the current government is the best since the last 20 years, 6 ministers out of 19 in total. However, last time during elections political parties failed to respect the 30% gender quota requirement in their candidate lists. In those cases where the gender quota was respected women were listed in the end with no real chance to win. This is unfair.

One of the recommendations of the EU progress report in relation to women in politics was related to the need to strengthen gender provisions and to create a more enabling environment for women to advance in political and public positions. As a follow-up, a positive change took place early this year when the Electoral Code changed and a quota of 50% for the municipality council was approved. And we see there has been a positive effect on the candidates for mayors too, there are much more female candidates now.

Many argued that it was too early to introduce a similar quota also for the election of women as mayors. In my opinion it is never too early on this matter. The fact is that we have to step out of comfort zones.  It is certain that such changes make few people unhappy, and nevertheless are very necessary. Albanian women are well educated, outspoken and strong enough to draft and implement policies at the local and central level. So why not? If equal representation is possible in terms of potential, than it should be possible in terms of the law and equal opportunities. Let’s see and give them a fair chance. Women might be more able to talk to their opposite parties, more able to listen and who knows, women might be less corrupt.

But what is for sure is that more women in politics will set an example. An example for the overall emancipation that is needed in society. Women in power will be able to create an enabling environment for women and girls in many other policy areas and will contribute to an overall respect for human rights of all. Think of areas like education and health for instance.

We are talking about equal opportunities as a basic human right that should not be limited to gender, race, sexual orientation or whatever reasons. Worldwide there is not enough political particiation of women. So it is very important that Albania is making this move. You are really setting a progressive example here.

Political campaigning in Albania is expensive. And by the way, I think the money spent on hanging up all these flags would have been of more use for providing training to new candidates. I find it interesting that one of the candidates for mayor in Tirana has now disclosed his financial campaign support. I hope many other candidates will be so transparent. Political parties should pay attention to their female candidates and support them accordingly.

Economic empowerment of women is still a primary necessity. In daily rural life, Albanian women not only work alongside men on the farm, they also manage childcare and household chores. The time they spend at home doing unpaid and unregistered work limits their participation in society – in such a way cementing male dominance.

The two women running to become mayor of Shkodra are great examples of female entrepreneurs. However, we need specific policies that target rural areas. Shkodra is well known for its handicraft tradition. Filigree jewelry is characteristic for the city which also exports to western countries. Yet, keep in mind that employment conditions should consider womens rights and gender equality with a specific focus. We see women working longer hours and often for less money. The local government together with the central government should make sure abuse is avoided.

Since the elections are approaching fast I want to stress another issue: family voting. The 2013 ODIHR/OSCE report on the general elections stressed that family voting was highly present in several of the former communes that now belong to Shkodra municipality. We need to keep in mind that this phenomenon is a direct violation of women’s right to vote. More work should has to be done in these areas to raise awareness among women and men of the equality of the vote and of its independent character. I find this a tremendous violation. I would like to call on everyone here to inform themselves on the candidates. Google them, as my EU colleague suggested, find out which person really has the best ideas for your city in her or his programme. And vote out of your own belief. Because it is your personal right.

Let me now take a look at the European level and to the Netherlands particularly. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer on unpaid domestic work.

Much of the increase in female employment in the Netherlands has been on a part-time basis: many women work part-time. This adds to their job satisfaction and frees up time for childcare. It’s maybe one of the reasons why Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. But it can have some negative consequences on career progression and sometimes underutilizes women’s education and skills. Overall however, this possibility for Dutch women to combine work and private life through part time working has led to a large percentage of Dutch women working. And that is what counts.

Society as a whole benefits from a climate in which all persons, regardless of race or gender, have the opportunity to earn respect and advance based on their abilities. If you think this is all about women, I can firmly say no. We all know the phrase, it’s the economy stupid. And that’s exactly what it is about. The most progressed societies are the ones that made most efforts to enhance women’s role in politics and any other aspect of life. They are tapping into the economic and creative potential possessed by half of their population!

I think Albania is on its way to doing that. And I feel honoured to be here today with two excellent women candidates for mayor. I wish good luck to these ladies and to you voters, to make the right, informed choice.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2015 10:01