Kosovo’s new government includes most women since independence

Vjosa Osmai has a clear vision for how she and her government will run the country.

“Every single law that comes to the assembly should be seen through the gender lens,” Osmani said in an interview with Al Jazeera, less than a month after being elected as the first woman to serve as Kosovo’s speaker of the Assembly.

Osmani is among a new generation of politicians who have entered the political scene in Europe’s youngest nation, instilling hope that was lost during previous governments led by former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders and where corruption and nepotism ruled.

Besides Osmani, five women were appointed ministers of the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Local Government.

The new government comes after opposition politician Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-Determination Movement (Vetevendosje) won the most votes to become prime minister.

Osmani was the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo’s (LDK) candidate for prime minister, who came in second after Kurti.

“It was the first time that people were openly speaking up saying ‘we want women’,” said Igballe Rugova, executive director of the Kosovo Women’s Network network, which comprises more than 150 women’s groups and organisations that advocates on behalf of Kosovar women.

The appointment of these six women in senior leadership posts represents the highest percentage of women in government since Kosovo’s liberation and the end of the war here more than 20 years ago.

“They are women with experience. They are women with courage,” Rugova said.

Women’s groups and activists are hopeful about a new era of change for Kosovo’s 1.8 million citizens.

The Self-Determination Movement and LDK formed a power-sharing coalition after a snap poll following former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj’s resignation having been summoned by a war crimes court in The Hague.

Rugova expects that this new generation of women in government will finally address Kosovo’s pressing gender-based issues, such as domestic violence, health, unemployment, and education.

Around 18 percent of women in Kosovo are part of the workforce, according to Riinvest Institute, a think-tank in Kosovo – the lowest rate in the region and one of the world’s lowest rates.

Osmani believes this represents gender inequality and harms the economy.

“That is why the government programme, which we drafted together, focuses quite a lot in creating such conditions for women in our society to find a job and get economically empowered,” Osmani said.

Rugova and members of her network recently presented Osmani with a list of demands they hope she will address in her mandate, including allocating a permanent budget for shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, and parental leave.

Osmani said she will ensure that the national budget will always take into account for shelters to protect women and children who are victims of violence.

“I really have high hopes that the situation will start slowly to change concerning the development of the economy because, for me, development of the economy is the key to fighting violence, having better health, life and education,” Rugova said of the new government.

In the previous government, maternity leave was taken out of the labour law and put as separate legislation.

Amid reports of poor treatment relating to women who were pregnant or on maternity leave, the new government has said it will place 400 inspectors from the Ministry of Labour to report on discrimination. Previously, there were fewer than 10 inspectors for the whole country.

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