Strengthening "women" in the Balkans

The Ozgecan Aslan case is a very heated topic in Turkey, having initiated discussions regarding the role and rights of women. Meanwhile, the two female presidents in the Balkans, Atifete Jahjaga, the President of the Republic of Kosovo, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the newly elected President of the Republic of Croatia, met on 15 February 2015. The presidents’ pictures reminded me that the power of women is strengthening in the region by way of reassuring their political stance.

Ozgecan Aslan is a female university student who was murdered while resisting a rape attempt. Thousands of protesters in Turkey, women and men alike, took a role to change the perception of women’s rights and freedom. Using social media as a tool, people started to combat violence against women. All this showed us that women in Turkey are not safe even though the country is in the process of becoming a part of the European Union (EU) as one of the Balkan Countries. I do not hold the view that, should Turkey become a member of the EU, everything would be great. However, in the world order, the best implementation of women’s rights is practiced in Europe via equality. Civilization has progressed hand in hand with development throughout history. The most powerful civilizations are often named, whether they be Hellenic, Turkish etc. Now, it is European Civilization In the good times of Turkish civilization, women were associated with house-work and men would more often take their place in the public realm. Furthermore, women, especially in the Balkans, could have established a foundation, individually gotten to court, purchased property, and gotten divorced in an ecclesiastical court. This shows that women were able to use their rights, despite all difficulties. Since the 1800s, the West has shaped lifestyles.

On the other hand, Toše Proeski, Macedonian multi-genre singer, defines Balkan women in his song “Žena Balkanska:“ “One life is a secret, this is Balkan, it is Balkan and one woman is sad, one strong woman, this is Balkan, it is Balkan.“ Here, we see that even though the Balkan women have suffered a great deal, they are very strong women that have persevered despite all challenges. Also, the women were deeply affected by communism in Yugoslavia. The woman’s role in the communism system was good due to equality; especially, women's education and employment had rather high rates. Women could work, study and contribute to the political system. Still, the rate of female participation was low compared to the male participation rate in social and political life. After the world wars and the break down of Yugoslavia, the women in the Balkans started not only taking a role in the instruments of democracy in their own country (NGOs, Parlements etc.), but also using international instruments to combat gender-based violence and especially to promote women's active participation in public life. Therefore, the political participation of women is crucially important for democratization throughout the EU process.

The EU process encouraged the Balkan Countries to strengthen their judicial reform, judicial cooperation, and fundamental rights by contributing to the independence of their governments. Finally, the process promoted the quality between human beings and the efficiency of justice systems in all state bodies. The first step towards solving female injustices in the region came from the Regional Women’s Lobby for Peace and Security and Justice in South East Europe. The movement also had the support of the United Nation Women, which is a unique women’s organization that gathers female leaders from politics and civil societies from 7 countries: Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia Herzegovina. This United Nation Women is led by Edita TAHIRI who is the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, where it is required that women make up one-third of party candidate lists, and there is a key role for women in the region. Macedonia, as a country in Western Europe, has the highest quota for women in its parliament, followed by the others – Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, and Romania respectively, according to the rate of women in the parliament of each state.

In particular, after the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and the Federal Republic of Yogoslavia (FRY), independent countries were led by women and continue to be led by women today. There is a long and ongoing history of women in leadership positions: Atifete Jahiaga and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi are the first female presidents of Kosovo and Croatia, Borjana Krišto is the former president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Biljana Plavšić is the former president of Republika Srpska in Bosnia Herzegovina, Slavica Đukić Dejanović was the acting president of Serbia, Jadranka Kosor and Alenka Bratušek were the first women Prime Ministers in Croatia and Slovenia, Radmila Šekerinska was the acting Prime Minister in Macedonia, and Reneta Indzhova was the acting Prime Minister in Bulgaria. Not to mention that Amra Babic is the first hijab-wearing, woman mayor to be elected to a political position in BiH and Teuta Arifi, a former Member of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister, was the first ethnic Albanian woman in the Macedonian Parliament. Albania, as a nation that does well to empower women, has a rule of law that states that there must exist “the representation of at least 30 percent of both genders in any institution, management level, appointed organ, [or] political party“ to maintain sustainable economic development and implement European standards. Such examples may be extended considering the role of women within different cabinet and parliament positions. An important point is that all these successful women have noted that “there are too many difficulties because I’m a woman.“ The problems hindering women’s rights are, in general, weak social safety nets for women, gender insensitive laws and regulations, a lack of opportunities to improve their business skills, and experiences with and respect from others.

In addition, it can be said that women’s participation in decision-making at the government level would be productive for the integration process of the Balkans. Women have wanted “security and peace“ since creation and are more emotional than men in accordance with disposition. Notably, they should have a more meaningful position in the country, taking into account the traditional understanding of the position and role of women in family and society. Namely, besides raising children and being devoted to the family, women should increase opportunities for educational and career advancements. Primarily, if every woman in an entrepreneurial position would pay attention to the status of rural women in regard to inequality, lack of education, sexual and domestic violence, and discrimination, this movement for women’s rights would spread to the rest of humankind.

Dilek KÜTÜK is an Asistant Specialist at Istanbul based think-tank,Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies - TASAM.
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