Situated in the Balkans region of Europe, Kosovo’s two million citizens have not been spared the ravages of Covid-19, with thousands infected and hundreds succumbing to the disease. As elsewhere, the pandemic has upended the lives of women, who have lost their jobs in hard-hit retail and hospitality sectors where they predominate, stepped forward as essential medical workers to fight the contagion, and devoted themselves as primary caregivers to children and the elderly. Single mothers and women in Kosovo’s ethnic minority communities have faced particular burdens in navigating the pandemic’s scourge.
Democracy in any country is difficult, but without women democracy in every country is impossible.
Madeleine K. Albright, Chairman, National Democratic Institute, Pristina, Kosovo, 2012.
As Kosovo emerges from the worst stages of the pandemic and takes a hard look at its post-Covid future, the status of women has become central to discussions about how to advance democracy, rescue the economy, stabilize society, and protect the natural environment.
In snap elections held in February, 44 women were elected to the 120-member parliament--the highest level thus far--and more women were elected by preferential votes than by a gender quota, instituted in 2001, precisely to position women to compete for office alongside men. In April, Vjosa Osmani ascended to the presidency as the second female head of state. Local elections in October hold additional promise for women’s political leadership, particularly in city hall, as none of the current 38 mayors is female. Underscoring these overall gains is NDI polling, which has tracked shifting public attitudes—from reluctance to acceptance to support—for gender equality and women’s leadership. With a median age of 30, Kosovo is Europe’s youngest country and a harbinger of next-generation democratic values.
In and around the parliamentary elections, and at this inflection point in the pursuit of full gender equality, NDI set out to assess the status of women in politics and governance, to mark the gains made and to help set the agenda for what comes next. The assessment, part of NDI’s long-term democracy support portfolio funded by the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), drew on NDI public opinion research as well as interviews with men and women in government, politics, business, and civil society. The report is a reflection of Kosovar views and priorities.
This week NDI released the report’s findings and recommendations, hosting a conference in Pristina that featured President Osmani, former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman, Deputy Speaker of the Assembly of Kosovo Saranda Bogujevci, and Birgitta Ohlsson, NDI’s Director of Political Party Programs, with opening remarks by USAID Office Director, Democracy and Governance, Christine Danton.
Kosovo has seen impressive gains by women in elected office, powered by their talent and drive to make a difference in society. Drawing on this momentum, NDI’s assessment uncovers barriers to full and equal participation that can be reduced by women and men working together.
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, NDI/Kosovo Country Director.
Key takeaways from the report and this week’s conference are:
- Stepped-up efforts by political parties to reform structures and decision-making procedures that don’t sideline women and disfavor their climb up party ranks, and efforts to elect women as mayors, as that office is not subject to gender quota thresholds;
- A whole-of-government approach to mainstreaming women’s leadership and gender mainstreaming, both as ends unto themselves and as means to improve government performance on building gender parity in public policy design and implementation;
- Harmonization of legal statutes that maximize gender equality gender parity in political representation and broader governance;
- Prevention and sanctioning of all forms and sources of violence against women in politics;
- A summons to men to join women in advancing gender equality in politics and governance.
NDI used the occasion to announce the formation, under its auspices, of the Gender Policy Strategic Network, comprised of women and men in government, politics, civil society, and business, which will use assessment findings and recommendations to spearhead gender equality legislation and policy initiatives.
Driving toward full and sustainable gender equality in Kosovo means going through internal political party reform championing women’s leadership and sound legislation improving the lives of women as citizens equal under the law.
Pranvera Lipovica, NDI/Kosovo Program Director.
Guided by the example of its board chair, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, NDI has a global commitment to women’s political leadership and gender equality--no less in Kosovo, where Secretary Albright’s leadership in 1999 was consequential in the most fundamental of ways. In its two decades of ensuing support of Kosovo’s democratic transition, NDI has set in motion many gender equality initiatives--a parliamentary women’s caucus, the annual Week of Women leadership development and policy dialogue gathering, and cross-ethnic initiatives in municipalities across the country—in which women’s individual and collective voices have produced legislation supporting single mothers, safeguarding environmentally threatened habitats, and demonstrating that government can enhance the well-being of citizens in many other areas.
“Change is happening,” President Osmani noted at NDI’s conference, reflecting on her own unprecedented rise through the political ranks to become president, and signaling the onward pursuit of gender equality throughout Kosovar society as a cornerstone of its young democracy.
NDI supports this vision and, under its banner of Building Back Democratically, will devote itself to it as Kosovo emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
NDI’s work to advance gender equality as a critical party of Kosovo’s democracy is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.