Local elections on May 8 in Albania are an opportunity to put more women in public office in a country with one of the lowest percentages of elected women in Europe. That was the message delivered by Jozefina Topalli, Albania's speaker of parliament, to women who had just completed a 10-month program on campaign management, messaging and advocacy organized by NDI.
Topalli urged all Albanian parties to include more women on their candidate lists for the upcoming elections. Valentina Leskaj, a member of parliament from the opposition Socialist Party, echoed Topalli’s sentiments during the graduation ceremony for the 30 participants in the “Developing Women’s Political Leadership” program funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The graduates are participating in the May elections as both candidates and campaign managers.
In a country marked by extreme partisanship and polarization, this multi-party gathering and training series stood out as a cause for optimism, said Sasha Pajevic, NDI’s resident director in Albania. “The common efforts of party leaders and international and civil society organizations will lead to significant increases in the number of women elected to office, especially during this year’s local elections,” she said.
As part of the program, the women were charged with designing advocacy campaigns. A woman from Erseke, a small town in southeastern Albania, conducted research in her community and found that women were concerned with the lack of economic opportunities. She successfully lobbied her town’s mayor to provide space in the town market for women to sell their handicrafts and also secured “tax-free” status for these women entrepreneurs.
In other campaigns, women in the capital city of Tirana brought together parents, teachers and local officials to discuss how to improve childhood nutrition, while women in the southeastern city of Korca joined with municipal officials to raise awareness about domestic violence and educate women about resources for victims.
During a study mission to Kosovo at the conclusion of the program, the participants, from multiple parties, met other successful women politicians and civic activists. The women from both countries shared their experiences in lobbying for greater political participation by women. The Kosovar women also provided the Albanians with strong examples of inter-party cooperation – a significant takeaway for the participants who face a highly polarized political environment in Albania.
NDI is continuing its work bringing together Albanian women activists from across the political spectrum through ongoing support of its local civic partner, the Women’s Network for Equality in Decision Making. A multipartisan, nongovernmental organization, the women’s network raises public awareness of the need for greater political participation by women, and supports economic, social and educational projects that benefit women at the national and community level. With continued NDI support, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, the network is becoming a leading proponent of women’s political representation in Albania.
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Pictured above: Jozefina Topalli, Albania's speaker of parliament, congratulates a graduate of the “Developing Women’s Political Leadership” program.
Published on March 29, 2011