Kosovo is Europe’s youngest country, having declared independence in 2008 following United Nations’ oversight in the wake of armed conflict with Serbia. Fittingly, Kosovo boasts Europe’s youngest population. Kosovars young and old are building sovereign institutions of government and are creating a culture of civic activism.
Kosovo’s approximately two million citizens enjoy many benefits and rights guaranteed by their constitution, which upholds citizenship equality along ethnic, gender, and other lines. Given Kosovo’s demographics, women and youth in particular have much to say as to whether constitutional guarantees of equality do not exist only on paper but in reality as well. As part of its long-term assistance to Kosovo’s democratic transition, NDI has supported women and youth political activists in their efforts to secure equal rights for all citizens and to make government responsive to the needs of female and young constituents.
On December 14, NDI presented the accomplishments of a remarkable group of Kosovar women and youth activists at an event which gathered approximately 100 prominent politicians representing Albanian, Serbian, and other minority communities, along with foreign diplomats. These activists have embraced their civic responsibilities, helping raise citizens’ concerns within their political parties and to other decisionmakers in order to bring about change in their communities.
With NDI’s assistance over the past three years, they designed and led community-driven initiatives to improve how government serves the public in very concrete ways: for example, providing free childcare to single mothers, improving the management of an important geological site, and promoting the establishment of dog shelters and stray dog adoption.
These individuals stand ready to take their place in Kosovo’s political life—and we need to make room for them….Too often citizens believe that government officials and institutions have lost touch with the people they serve...but bringing new voices into the establishment powerfully combats the notion that influence is concentrated in the hands of the few.
– U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie’s Remarks at the NDI event
While their achievements are significant, political parties need to channel these initiatives into public policy that can be enacted through legislation and fiscal decisions, ensuring that government actions reflect public concerns and interests but benefit from the actions that citizens take.
It is important to constantly nurture [the] process of debate on the policies which are applied in our state and society. The training provided by NDI carried out this very task—[to] foster and intensify this debate.
— President Hashim Thaci’s remarks at at the NDI event
Since 1999, NDI has helped citizens and political leaders throughout Kosovo build these connections, contributing to a strong civic culture and durable democratic institutions. One way NDI has done this is through skills-building of over 700 women and youth activists representing diverse ethnic and political backgrounds, such as those celebrated on December 14. NDI’s Women’s Leadership Academy (WLA) and New Media School (NMS) provided these leaders with training as well as opportunities to network and connect with each other across party, geographic, and ethnic lines while exploring common concerns and developing shared strategies to approach them.
Women from all walks of life and political parties across the political spectrum, committed their time to learn policy development, public speaking, advocacy, time management, and communication skills, but most of all they learned how to work together. Young activists from political parties and civil society learned about using social media and new communication technologies to develop political and advocacy campaigns, focusing on message development, research, and effective outreach. And then they put their knowledge and skills to the test, undertaking advocacy initiatives with mentoring by NDI staff and experts.
At the event, NDI launched a publication to showcase the progress and successes of initiatives from WLA and NMS activists. The event also showcased the paintings of young artists whose work expressed their hopes for inclusive and productive interethnic relations in Kosovo. The initiatives and artwork are the results of these emerging leaders’ strong commitment, hard work and willingness to stand up for their communities and take part in determining Kosovo’s future. The efforts presented at the reception represent first victories in what NDI expects is just the beginning of these leaders’ activities.
NDI’s programming with women and youth leaders is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).