Women’s Empowerment in Kosovo

Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga was elected in 2011 (Photo: Corbis)

Kosovo, Europe’s youngest democracy, is striving to become a regional leader in women’s empowerment. The country’s legal framework ensures gender equality in both the constitution and in labor laws. Moreover, Kosovo boasts a female president, two female Deputy Prime Ministers, and a quota for female representation in the parliament (30%).

While having strong female role models is a significant step towards female economic and political empowerment, the success of a few individuals in Kosovo does not necessarily translate into a culture of gender equality.

Kosovo’s progress towards women’s empowerment remains miles behind the aspirations of its legal framework. Economically, women own only 6.5% of businesses (2006), and on average these businesses are twice as small as their male-owned counterparts. Women also have an average of two years less education than men, and, perhaps most staggering, the unemployment rate for women is over 60% (Kosovo’s overall unemployment rate is at 45%).

As Hope Fellow Lejla Sadiku, political adviser for the Norwegian Embassy in Kosovo and manager of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ development project, said at an event at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on April 11, solving these challenges is “not about men giving favors to women.” Rather, it is about all of Kosovo’s citizens recognizing these challenges and building economic and political institutions that provide equal opportunity to men and women alike.

Looking forward, there are three areas that are crucial to empowering Kosovo’s women:

Property rights: To effectively reduce Kosovo’s large informal sector, property rights must be protected and accessible to all citizens. In Kosovo, marriage and inheritance issues limit women’s access to property ownership. By law, men and women should receive equal inheritances, but in reality women either give up their right to property or the parents decide so for them. In marriage, the husband generally owns property, so when a divorce occurs the property stays with him. In turn, without property, women cannot secure the loans necessary to start a business.

Political empowerment: True democratic governance entails an enabling environment for all citizens, including women, to participate and have equal representation in the decision-making process. Despite Kosovo’s political representation quota for women, parties continue to be dominated by men, and women in decision-making positions remain an exception to the rule.

Education: The United Nations has identified education as “women’s fastest route out of poverty.” While education is vital to women’s economic empowerment, Kosovo’s cultural and economic incentives favor male education over female education. For families in dire material situations male education has a higher return on investment, as men generally stay with their parents after marriage while women tend to leave their parent’s homes to join their husbands’ households.

Property rights, political empowerment, and access to education are not the only challenges facing women’s empowerment in Kosovo. However, they represent important institutional barriers that, if addressed, can lead to greater systematic change. Strengthening these economic and political institutions will ensure Kosovo’s democracy delivers to all citizens, regardless of gender.

Comments are closed.