Beyond “soft” issues: The Women’s Caucus of Kosovo speaks up
Ms. Teuta Sahatqija is President of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, comprised of female members of Parliament from all parties promoting effective representation of women in Kosovo society. She is First Vice President of the Committee on Economic Development, Infrastructure, Trade and Industry and Vice President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the second largest political party in Kosovo. Originally an engineer by profession, Ms. Sahatqija has participated in international conferences on the economy, women’s empowerment, international relations, and democratization. She has spoken at numerous conferences including the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, conferences by the IDEA Institute in Accra-Ghana, UNDP conferences in Istanbul and Prishtina, as well OSCE conferences in Budva and Prishtina.
You were once quoted as saying that although women are able to speak on issues like energy, the economy, foreign policy, women are “only invited [on television] when talking about soft issues.” Why do you think this is and do you think media representation of women is changing?
We analyzed the appearance of women in media and found that for most important issues discussed on TV you see a roomful of men. But when it comes to children, kindergarten, etc., women are invited. And we think this must change. Women are not just the cosmetic part of the party or institutions, but they are really important partners. For this I have to say that the quota election law with a minimum of 30 percent helped create a critical mass of women that has at least increased mandate by mandate the number of women in institutions.
Can you outline how the Women’s Caucus in the Kosovo Assembly seeks to influence policy decisions?
It is very important to realize that institutions, municipalities, government, parliament are all products of political parties. And we cannot change the representation of women and women’s role inside institutions if we do not work inside the political parties. That’s why the Women’s Caucus started a campaign inside parliament. The beauty of this is that women of different parties, different ethnicities, and different religions have worked together.
Together we went to the public television board and asked them to invite women to speak not only about soft issues but also about energy, foreign policy, and about everything that is important for women. We know that these issues are multidisciplinary, complex. So we defined in our strategy that we need to work in a multidisciplinary way, and we started to work heavily with women in political parties, in municipalities, in NGOs, in the media, and always included women from all nationalities. It is very beautiful, and I’m so proud of this. The women from Serb municipalities and from other parties that sometimes have disputes with Albanian parties or other municipalities, these women are cooperating perfectly with the women’s caucus. We are working together.
Do you have an example of where your strategy has been most effective?
We started to push for quotas inside the very structures of political parties. And after two years of our fight in political parties, in the media, in municipalities, in universities, in conferences, we were able to have a different kind of quota in every political party. We managed to have at least one woman vice president in each political party.
But our work was stopped on other issues. We are pushing for the rules and procedures of parliament to require that the president and vice president in all structures and committees be of different genders. Because even though the 30 percent quota exists overall, there are not enough women in important decision-making positions. With our lobbying we managed to have two committees with women presidents out of fifteen. But the rules and procedures of parliament didn’t pass and that was our request for a “decision-making quota.” We think that as the gender quota has created a critical mass that started the process of empowering women, this decision-making quota we want is something that will further improve the status and presence of women. The women’s caucus has made an impact in empowering women and we pushed for creation of women caucuses all over Kosova that will work for issues of women’s empowerment.
Were these issues motivating for you when you first entered politics?
One of the main issues that caused me to enter politics was wanting to get in to decision-making and helping Kosova create a better environment for business. I was an engineer and a business-owner before politics. I am also a big fighter for women’s rights and wanted to help women become equal partners in decision-making.
I entered politics in 2004, and this is the third mandate that I am a Member of Parliament. During this mandate there have been many laws drafted that helped legislation to be more friendly for business and especially for women to become equal partners. Some laws that were very important include the law on gender equality. And it is very important that we have not only gender equality stated as a value of society, but we also have CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) in our constitution. That creates a good base for women to expand their work and to achieve more.
Given your background in business and your role as Vice President of the LDK party, what do you believe are the most important steps for improving economic growth in Kosovo?
The huge difference between imports and exports sends a very strong message about what is lacking in Kosova. The Prime Minister and government for the past two mandates unfortunately had their priorities and ideas of economic development in two spheres. First in asphalt—building highways all over. And the second was raising salaries in the public sector. LDK, my party, thinks that the private sector needs to be promoted and helped to grow so the ratio between imports and exports will improve.
What is your opinion of the Brussels Agreement with Serbia and what do you think are the biggest implications of the agreement?
For countries in dispute there is war, dialogue, or the status quo. And here the status quo couldn’t continue. So I think dialogue is a necessity. We think this dialogue with Serbia should continue until both countries recognize each other. And the good thing is that both countries have a European perspective. I cannot imagine if one country did not have a European perspective, like Russia or some other country, because then it would be much more difficult. But this European perspective helped this dialogue to be more successful. So the dialogue went in two stages: the first was technical and another was more political. But nevertheless both stages have helped common people in their lives with issues such as recognition of diplomas and many others. I think this dialogue should continue, and it’s good for Kosova and for Serbia.
What is your position on the controversial highway from Pristina to Skopje that was approved by the outgoing government for a cost of 600 million Euros? (Some argue it will benefit Kosovar producers, but critics say it will not reduce Kosovo’s huge trade deficit.)
Highways should be built at the time when your economy is strong, and you need more ways to export your goods. But at this time when our economy is weak, building a highway with Macedonia will speed up imports of goods from Macedonia to Kosovo and not the opposite direction. And also the highways don’t have to be built with money from the [government] budget. We saw when the first highway was built the economy of Kosova weakened because there was no fresh money to reinvest in businesses. 700 million Euros were sent out of the country, and that was from the public sector—taken out of taxes from these companies—and it didn’t come back to circulate. So these are some things that this past government did for two mandates that didn’t help growth of the private sector. My party, LDK, thinks that private sector growth is needed to increase the budget and create the working place. I would not have approved the highway.
It was interesting especially during this previous mandate to see that the party boycotted parliament so many times. It’s usually the opposition who does not have the numbers and uses the boycott to try to push their politics. But in this case it was very odd to see the government coalition was not able to push issues. Also, PDK was always trying to go around instead of working through the law. You could see that the philosophy of working through the law was not something that Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and PDK’s government was up to. We think that with LDK being the hat of parliament and coalition, the philosophy of government will change.
Is there anything else you want people to know about the Women’s Caucus?
I am proud that NDI, Melanne Verveer, Howard Dean, OSCE, and others are taking our example of the Women Caucus of Kosova and trying to spread it all over the world. With our example, with our documents, the women caucuses in Serbia, Ukraine, and Albania were formed. So this good example is spreading all over. I have been invited to Washington DC, Jordan, Iraq, Ghana, Tunisia, Egypt, and many other places to talk about the work of the women’s caucus.
Feature Photo: cc/(Marco Fleber)