What is the Albanian culture for marriage
There is a harsh climate in the mountains of northern Albania. The laws that apply here are also rough: the Kanun, a customary law from the Middle Ages, still determines people's everyday lives. Women are therefore the property of their husbands, who not only decide about their lives, but also about their death.
Fabiola Laco-Egro is a co-founder of the Albanian women's movement. She lives in the capital Tirana. Her fight for the elementary rights of women leads her again and again to the archaic mountain world of the north.
Puka is a small town with about 3000 inhabitants. The cafes and bars in town are still almost exclusively visited by men. Fabiola and her colleague Migena are not afraid to go for a drink here. The two are self-confident enough not to be unsettled by the curious male looks. A few years ago, Fabiola recalls, she wasn't even served in a café a little further up in the mountains:
"The café was full of men, and these men probably thought we were foreigners. In this village the men couldn't even imagine that women could go to a café by themselves and they immediately started to be excited and loud about it discuss how something like this is even possible. That was the reason for us to open a women's center here in northern Albania so that in the future women also have a place where they can meet. "
The women here at least get a coffee now - but a woman who comes from this area would never dare to order something here without her husband.
"A lot has changed, but there is still a lot to be done. Violence in the family is still a big problem. Vocational training for women and the fight against unemployment is also an important issue for us. For as long as women are dependent on their husbands, they can hardly defend themselves against violence in the family. "
Here in Puka, Fabiola's organization runs one of a total of three women's centers in Albania. They are financed by German and Austrian aid organizations.
Violence by men against women
Western-style feminism would be out of place here, says Fabiola, and her work is based on the customs of the region. It is no coincidence that the pretend bride looks sad. Many Albanian women, at least here in the north, go into the mostly arranged marriage with mixed feelings.
24 Albanian women were killed at home last year - by their husbands, their fathers or their sons. The Kanun gives them the right to do so if the woman is disobedient or unfaithful.
The medical specialist Meliha carries out examinations free of charge in an adjoining room of the center. Because at the local hospital, even the gynecologist is a man. With such offers, Fabiola also gives women an excuse to get permission from their husbands to leave the house on their own.
Only a man can be the bearer of the family honor - this is what the Kanun prescribes and he must defend this honor, if necessary with a rifle: vigilante justice and blood revenge still exist in northern Albania, even if the government in Tirana likes the number of cases downplayed. Because the Balkan state is striving to join the EU.
Mustafa Arifaj is head of an extended family. There are only a few of them left here in the village of Kryezi. Many have already moved away because survival in the mountains is becoming more and more difficult.
Mustafa's daughters-in-law moved here to the farm after they got married - that's tradition. Hasije and Mustafa's daughter, on the other hand, lives with her husband, whom the father has chosen for her.
Field work is a woman's business
Working in the fields is a woman's job. Hasije Arifaj and her daughter-in-law are used to backbreaking jobs. That was also the case during communism. At that time there was a professional obligation, also for women. In addition to household and farming, they often had to work far away from their place of residence. But that hasn't changed your subordinate position at home. The rules of the Kanun in the arch-Catholic north also outlived the period of the Hodja dictatorship.
Fabiola and her colleague Ermira are on their way to meet one of their protégés. It takes about two hours to get there from Puka, and longer if it rains.
Lumturije Fetaj has been married for 12 years, but is on her own in everyday life. Lumturije means bliss in German. But the 37-year-old is far from this condition: she has to look after animals. And when it's not pouring in torrents, she still has to chop the wood, keep the garden in good shape and work in the fields.
Fabiola and Ermira sometimes look after her and help her with the children.
Lumturijes husband is in Greece. He is looking for work there, but has only found odd jobs for four years. After his infrequent home visits, she becomes pregnant almost every time. The youngest is only three weeks old and has no name yet.
The husband hardly sends any money home. That is why Lumturije and her five children have to live on social assistance of 30 euros a month.
Durrёs, the second largest city in the country, is the destination of many immigrants from the north. Here the archaic customs from the mountains meet Mediterranean flair. Durrёs has the largest port and is the most economically important city in the country after Tirana, which is only 30 kilometers away.
Fabiola lives in Tirana, but actually comes from Durrёs. She is often busy here. In the meantime, cases of domestic violence against women are increasing.
Domestic violence - finally a criminal offense in Albania too
Domestic violence has finally been a criminal offense in Albania for two years, following a campaign by independent organizations like Fabiola's. The perpetrators now face up to five years imprisonment, but only if the woman files a complaint herself.
The majority of women affected still shy away from filing charges against their own husbands. And when they do, the pressure within the family sets in and many victims eventually back down.
Fabiola tries to support them in her center in Durrёs with the help of psychologists. But she cannot offer effective protection from the beating men. The "Today for the Future" center is not a women's refuge in the traditional sense, and there is no financial means for it.
"We get calls every day from women who are violated in their families. Here is a focus. Because unemployment is particularly high. And there are also many immigrants from the villages who have their special mentality, shaped by the patriarchal structures there, brought here. "
Together with her colleague Viola, Fabiola is on the way to a victim whom she wants to stand by. She worries that the woman who narrowly escaped death will keep her ad.
Vojsava Arapi and her husband moved here from northern Albania a few years ago. She has found work as a seamstress, the man is unemployed. Vojsava wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for her seven-year-old son Elidon.
A few months ago Vojsava came home from work a little later than her colleagues. Because of a holiday she had prayed briefly in the church. The jealous husband accused her of being unfaithful. Together with the older son, he cut off Vojsava's hair and threatened her with a knife. Little Elidon ran to the police and saved his mother's life.
She wants to divorce her husband - she assured me today. But she doesn't yet know how her life will go on here alone.
The woman alone does not count
The family is everything in Albania, the individual is nothing. It is therefore difficult for women who want to go their own way without a family.
Fabiola's consequence after many years of commitment to the cause of women: the men must be included, otherwise nothing will ever change:
"I believe in Albanian women and their strength. Only they can change society and the family. But I am not a feminist who fights against men. We have to change Albania together with men."
Fabiola tries to strengthen the position of women within the family. That is why their center supports them on their way to economic independence and enables them to receive vocational training.
During communism, women were at least officially equal. But after the collapse of the old regime and the associated economic crisis, many women have been ousted from their posts and have disappeared from the public eye.
The chaotic political development after the fall of communism was determined by the men - and this has largely remained so to this day.
A lawyer is suing the government
There are self-confident women in the capital Tirana, but they are still a long way from the matter of course with which their female counterparts in the West now demand their rights.
Man or woman - if you want to achieve something, in the new Albania you have to come to terms with the powerful in the country. Corruption and nepotism are widespread here.
Ina Rama, now a legal advisor to a bank, wanted to take action against it. But then she was dumped cold. The former judge was unemployed for almost two years, now she is happy to have found a new job here.
As a former attorney general, Ina Rama did not shy away from indicting members of the government. Her term of office was shortened to five years and her return to a judge's office has so far been refused, even though she is entitled to it.
The lawyer is now writing her dissertation in her private study. She has become cautious. She was shown too clearly how the male clique in the country treats courageous women.
For Transparency International, Albania is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe - only Russia and Ukraine are rated even worse.
Selection already during pregnancy
Another phenomenon that is widespread in Albania is otherwise only known from developing countries: As in the rest of the country, more boys than girls are born in the newborn ward of the women's clinic in Tirana. According to the statisticians of the United Nations, there are 112 boys for every 100 girls - conditions like in India or China - and an indication that girls in Albania are deliberately aborted.
Doctor Erlin Kurti, gynecologist and obstetrician, has also been confronted with the desire to have girls selectively aborted. But he has so far managed to change the parents-to-be, he says.
"We are still a patriarchal country and we have such cases. But selective abortion is not legally possible, because the gender of a child can only be determined from the 13th or 14th week. But we have an abortion only allowed up to the 12th week. We had an intense public debate in Albania about whether the future parents should be told the gender of their child before the birth in order to minimize such cases. "
So far, it is still possible to find out the gender of an unborn child with an ultrasound examination. This expectant mother is four months pregnant. She doesn't care if it's a boy or a girl. Yet again and again, husbands or mothers-in-law exert pressure to abort female fetuses.
Terrifying conditions in a European country that wants to receive the status of an official EU candidate country in the near future.
The desire to absolutely have male descendants is not only widespread among the Muslim majority in the country, but also among the Orthodox and Catholics. Since Skanderbeg's time, who fought the Ottomans almost 600 years ago, not much has changed on this issue in Albania. And the political will to do so is apparently still lacking.
If an equality law is passed in distant Tirana, it is of little importance to Hasije Arifaj. She surrendered to her fate, like most of the others here. Women like Fabiola will need staying power to fight for women's rights in Albania.
This text is a greatly abbreviated and edited version of the broadcast manuscript, which you can download in full here.
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