For the past few years, Bosnia and Herzegovina, like the rest of the world, has been marking every 25th day of the month as Orange Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness, preventing violence against women and girls, and sending messages of support to victims.
In the coming period, the Institute for Youth Development KULT will promote the stories of successful women from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia who make a difference in their society as part of the #WomenMakingDifference campaign, as well as use their work and social commitment to promote positive values and support other women, girls, and the wider community. With the regional campaign #WomenMakingDifference, the Institute aims to motivate young people to, based on the example of others, continue to motivate and actively participate in the fight against violence against women and girls, but also to highlight the importance of advocating and fighting for gender equality.
Anjeza Bojaxhiu is one of the women from the region thanks to whom the fight for gender equality is taking a step forward. She was born and raised in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and completed her undergraduate studies in law and politics and her master’s degree in human rights at the University of Manchester. Anjeza returned home after her studies to contribute to the creation of a better society for women. She wanted a job that would enable her to work in her local community. She was offered the position of gender equality advocate in the Municipality of Tirana and has been working there for almost ten years.
About her first activities on this topic, she shares: “One of my first activities was a workshop with young people, with the aim of raising awareness about gender-based violence and domestic violence, and the services available to victims. As a gender equality activist, awareness campaigns are my favorite type of activity. However, many women and girls still do not have access to information and do not know their rights. Activism and advocacy are key to ending gender inequality and can successfully contribute to important changes when it comes to the political agenda, strengthening laws and policies, basic services and prevention strategies.”
With regard to her many years of experience in the fight for gender equality, about the equality of women in Albania and the countries of the Western Balkans, Anjeza says: “Despite all the efforts made and the efforts that continue to be made to improve gender equality in Albania and the Western Balkans, we must accept that in reality she is still absent. Inequalities and discrimination exist, and they rely on a series of social assumptions built on the basis of stereotypes present in the family, culture and society.
Comparing today’s situation with the period of 20 years ago, Anjeza believes that progress can be noticed in Tirana: “In my work, in the Municipality of Tirana, I have noticed significant changes and progress over the years. Specific areas related to gender equality such as empowering women and young people, improving specialized support services, ensuring the most effective protection and treatment of cases of domestic violence, encouraging young women and men to advance in sectors related to technology and digitalization, improved care for girls and boys in kindergartens, additional services in the community and many others, have become a priority and are being invested in.
The creation, approval by the City Council and then the implementation of the first Local Action Plan for Gender Equality 2018-2020 gave very positive results in practice, enabling the first understanding of the fact that gender issues and the discussion of gender equality pervade all areas in which the Municipality operates. The steps taken in this direction have enabled real progress in women’s empowerment and gender equality. The commitment of the Municipality of Tirana is clearly reflected in the preparation of the Second Action Plan for Gender Equality 2022-2024, with the aim of integrating the gender perspective into all plans and areas for sustainable development in local politics.
Some of the key goals of this plan are increasing the participation of women and young girls in decision-making, reducing gender stereotypes in education, ensuring equal access of women and men to health services, social protection and inclusion, housing, cultural and social activities, securing public spaces from sexual harassment and violence, and improving gender equality in employment.”
In dealing with this topic, she says that the most important lesson she learned is that changing the traditional way of thinking about gender issues can take time and requires a long-term commitment from all actors at all levels: international, national, local and the civil society sector. He believes that young people should be aware of the power they have to make changes in society and to take everything that has been achieved so far one step further. He also expects men to get more involved, because as he says: “The involvement of men and boys, along with women, is fundamental to solving gender inequality in our societies.”
When it comes to support, Anjeza is especially supported by her work environment: “I am lucky to work in an environment that values women and girls very much.” In fact, 70% of Tirana Municipality staff members are women, which is an indication of the appreciation of the role of women, as well as their professionalism and ability to offer quality services to our community.”
However, she believes that a larger number of female employees does not necessarily mean that gender equality has been achieved in society, because when comparing urban and rural administrative units, rural employees are predominantly male. “Women and girls from rural and remote areas are part of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups that suffer multiple discrimination, and are confined to the house. These women and girls can fight discrimination only when they join the discussion on gender equality”, she believes.
In the documents of public institutions, gender language is sufficiently present, she says: “In the past years, Albania has achieved significant progress in terms of gender equality, especially by developing a comprehensive set of laws to promote, implement and monitor non-discrimination on the basis of gender. However, much more needs to be done to strengthen law and policy implementation, accountability and monitoring mechanisms to make gender equality a reality.”
She believes that a lot has changed in Tirana for the better when it comes to this topic, but that there are still many steps to be taken to achieve the final goal. She considers her greatest achievement to be involved in the reintegration of survivors of gender-based violence: “I know women and girls who break their silence, ask for help and take advantage of the socio-economic programs launched by the Municipality of Tirana. I know of hundreds of women who have fully integrated into society and changed their lives. This further motivates me to do everything I can to help women and girls live a life free of violence and discrimination.”
Finally, Anjeza says that achieving gender equality is not only positive for women, but for the whole society. Equality between women and men is essential for economic and social success – not only at the European and national level, but also in local cities and communities.