Women Must Compete With Formation, Not With Quotas

Women / July 27, 2014

Ky postim ekziston gjithashtu në Vesionin Shqip

Majlinda Bufi was elected as a parliamentarian from the candidates’ lists of the Socialist Party, even though she would prefer direct competition in her constituency, regardless of whether her opponents are men or women. She has led the Socialist Party of the town of Roskovec for over ten years. Majlinda attributes part of her success to the support of her husband. To her, the increase of women’s participation in politics is a top issue. For her, Albania has a long way ahead in terms of “changing the attitudes” related to gender equality.

What is your view on Albania’s political environment?

We have a lot to catch up, from the gender perspective. We politicians have to change ourselves in terms of approaches and attitudes in the first place. The way of doing politics has to change. When discussing participation of women and men in politics we don’t discuss only gender equality. Politics ought to be based on principles, regardless of whether the politicians are women or men. Yet this is not the case today. People are still prejudiced against women politicians.

What is your take on the gender quota? Would you prefer to earn your seat in the parliament by competition, not through a guaranteed quota?

Personally I would support direct competition. Women ought to compete, with each other or with men, based on their own capacities, not based on a legal entitlement to a guaranteed quota. It doesn’t make sense to me to favour a woman only because she’s a woman, or only because a certain quota needs to be filled.
Yet, in the Albanian reality, still characterized by a patriarchal mentality, still full of prejudice against women, the quota is to be seen as a temporary positive discrimination, which shall apply until we have effectively removed the prejudices.

What made a lasting impression on you recently?

In terms of important decisions that captured my attention, I would single out the territorial reform. The necessity of reform has been stressed by the majority and by the opposition. The opposition wanted reform, even though it did not come on board because of its own reasons.
From my point of view as a member of the ruling majority, I have my own question marks, yet I maintain territorial reform has a crucial importance for the country.
Of course, territorial reform is not sufficient per se. This is only a first step. More steps have to follow, related to decentralization, taxes, and local government functions. I believe that upon the completion of the first steps, more steps will be taken, aiming at decentralizing functions and competencies.

How did you engage in politics?

It was not just a coincidence. I started to engage in local politics back in 1997. At that time we had national elections, and that was when I entered politics for the first time. First, I served in the municipal council, then as I served as a local party leader, for over ten years.

What gave to you the impetus to enter politics?

It all came to pass naturally. Politics is like that: once you get into it, it gets into you.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your political career?

I had to face lots of challenges. I competed in primaries several times. I ran for the chair of the party in the so called District Council, and I also ran in the one member-one vote elections. I always faced men in those elections and I always won. My biggest challenge was the last national elections. We competed though party lists, yet we were assigned constituencies on which we had full responsibility. It looked quite similar to a majoritarian system. I was in charge of an area comprising five local government units.
All the heads of the local governments were right-wing, so I had to face them in the field. Of course, I had the unconditional support of my party colleagues, yet I can frankly say I was fully in charge of the overall co-ordination. We had a great result.
You can see it in the overall national election results. In the Fier district, the Roskovec area had one of the best results for the Socialist Party.

Who was your greatest supporter in your political career?

My husband. No one can make it without a bit of support. This doesn’t apply to politics only. It applies to everything in life. Getting support is crucial to every sort of career. My husband is one of the persons who supported me the most and that wasn’t only moral support.
Yet moral support is important. It gives you strength and optimism when you’re down, when you feel tired, when you feel insulted and overwhelmed from countless meetings and debates with men only. I attended many meetings in which I was the only woman in the room. Of course one needs support in certain moments. It’s also because of my husband that I am here today. I owe a lot to his support and to his presence.

Who was your toughest opponent?

I had quite a few tough opponents, running against me inside the party, both women and men.

What is your take on Albania’s development in the next four years?

The economy is a challenge for the government and for the Albanian society. It’s undeniable that the largest cross-section of the Albanian society is in trouble. All economic indicators point towards that fact. I believe that the measures and reforms undertaken by this government by the end of its first mandate, that is, in three years’ time, will manage to bring the growth back. We have to grow again.

What are in your opinion Albania’s biggest advantages?

Albania and the Albanian society have a lot to offer, but we need to be aware of how we can put our advantages to good use. Our country has plenty of untouched natural resources. Suffice to mention tourism, that’s one of the directions in which Albania is sure it can perform better.
Our politics has to show sufficient maturity, so as to allow these resources to be tapped. That would help us bring out the best of Albania.

What are Albania’s main challenges in the way ahead?

Generally speaking, economic growth. We have to get the economy running. Albania’s European Union integration is the next step. We need to follow up on the candidate status by opening the real negotiations. The reforms to be undertaken in this context are another important challenge to the whole of the Albanian society.

Somehow we have got used to seeing EU integration as the very first, and at the same time, the ultimate objective for Albania. How come you rank it at number two?

Everything is inter-connected. I see things from the point of view of the Albanian society and from my personal point of view as an economist. There can be no integration into the EU if we are not able to grow, if our well-being is not improved.

What do you think about gender equality in Albania?

We know the numbers that speak about the situation of gender equality in Albania all too well. There is obviously a lot to do. I don’t want to speak here about extreme or “soft” cases of discrimination. I believe a wholesome change of attitude is what we need. All of the gender-related problems are rooted in the patriarchal mentality of the Albanian society.
Again, if we refer to the government statistics, it’s plain to see that most of the jobs are held by women, yet the closer you go to the top, the fewer women you’ll find. The whole decision-making in the political organizations and in the executive structures is a male business.
The lack of equality comes as a result of an entrenched mentality. It’s the duty of the government, but also of us women in the first place, of all those who hold some position of power, to come together and do something to change all this. This is not a task that pertains to women in politics only. It should be taken over from women in the civil society as well. All women should speak in one unified, clear and strong voice.

What are the policies you pay more attention to?

Gender equality is one the issues I have been engaging the most. I feel it close to my heart, not only because I’m a woman, but because I believe this is one of the issues I have been contributing to most of the time. I would like to continue this contribution, and to further it towards changing mentalities. This is especially important in rural areas. We can’t be democratic only in urban areas. Change starts in the fields, where the extreme cases happen more often, because of that entrenched mentality I mentioned before.

Who are the women who inspired you?

Madeleine Albright is one of my inspirations. I admired her when she was in her best moments, at the very top of her political career. She was a strong woman, who was able to take the right decisions in the right moments.

What would be your piece of advice for a young woman wishing to enter politics?

It’s the right time for all young women and men to get involved, so as to flood politics with young blood. This is the only way to bring a new wave into politics in Albania.

Empowering Women in Politics

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Gjergj Erebara
Gjergj Erebara
Gjergj Erebara është gazetar për BIRN në Tiranë. Ai ka mbaruar studimet universitare për gazetari në Universitetin e Tiranës dhe ka master shkencor (MSC) për Histori Ekonomike nga Universiteti i Lundit. I specializuar për gazetari ekonomike,Erebara ka punuar që nga viti 1998 në disa media të shkruara dhe vizive Shqiptare, si gazetar, redaktor dhe kryeredaktor.

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July 27, 2014