Kosovo can no longer afford to leave women behind

March 14, 2019

During my five years serving at UNDP in Kosovo*, I have seen many positive developments in the arena of women’s rights. Yet there is still a long way to go.

Statistics show that many women are not active in employment, decision making, policy making or politics. Women hold lower paid positions; only nine percent of women are in top managerial positions.

In our societies, women should always hold an equal position to men, especially on matters of family, inheritance and property issues. Yet in Kosovo, despite the strong legal framework, decision-makers –most of whom are still men – often rely on patriarchal values rather than the letter of the law. Because of this, many women are excluded from property and inheritance rights; only 1 out of every 5 women have any property registered in their name.

These unfortunate realities result in women being unequal members of Kosovar society, and in turn, ensures that many are economically dependent on men. This inhibits women’s freedom to make independent choices, and in some cases, facilities a pattern of control and violence against them.

Gender-based violence in Kosovo is another challenge to women’s rights and freedoms. Often considered a private and closed matter to society, such thinking allows this mark of shame to take place, most of the time secretly and in complete silence. And this ‘private’ challenge actually influences public life.

Finally, though women are the ones who shoulder the responsibility for providing care towards children, the elderly, and other family members in a disaster, they are rarely supported or empowered to make decisions in crisis situations.

Agriculture and rural entrepreneurship can be a promising source of income for Kosovar women who are willing to work the land. Photo: Arben Llapashtica / UNDP Kosovo

All of these are reasons that at UNDP we are mandated to ensure that gender perspectives are always integrated into our development initiatives. Here are some reflections from my work in Kosovo:

-        To create lasting change, we must address the root causes of gender-based violence, and this can only be achieved through coordinated efforts. We recognize the ongoing work of national agencies against domestic violence, but laws and regulations continue to fail our most vulnerable. Delayed justice is denied justice. We need to do more to ensure laws get implemented.

-        Only 15% of Kosovan families have clearly defined roles ahead of a potential disaster. Women’s needs must be considered when any strategy is formulated by institutions responsible for disaster prevention. We are making sure that women are involved in every step of responding to disasters.

-        Since 2014, 720 women have benefited from job opportunities, better incomes and new skills through the INTERDEV project and more than 1200 women have benefitted from our Active Labour Market measures. I’m proud of this work because I can see how it helps women become more independent, gain confidence in their abilities and provide for themselves and their families.

-        We are striving towards bettering access to justice for women through our support on free legal aid and mediation and in developing the capacities of judges, prosecutors, and the police.

I know we cannot solve gender inequalities on our own, but more needs to be done. In a territory with less than 2 million inhabitants, even seemingly small numbers make a big difference. Too many women are excluded from meaningful employment, property ownership, politics, or justice. Too many women are facing gender-based violence that leaves not only themselves, but their families and communities scarred. Too many women are not receiving the justice they deserve when these crimes are committed against them. We have made progress, but we cannot rest until women become equal members of society.

I call upon everyone to work tirelessly towards the empowerment of women and girls. If we want Kosovo to have a prosperous future, we can no longer afford to leave women and young girls behind.


Editor's Note: If you found this blog useful, also check out our Photo Essay: The new entrepreneurs of Kosovo.

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)