Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dateline Tirana

I am in Tirana to speak at the 28 October National Conference on Empowering Women in Albania. Eighteen years activism by Albanian women’s groups with support by international programs has delivered results which should even impress British Minister for Women, Harriet Harman. The enactment by the Albanian Parliament of a new gender equality law, a far-reaching law on domestic violence, and the introduction a 30% gender based quota in the new electoral law, serve as a solid basis for efforts to advance gender equality in the country.

I have always enjoyed my visits to Albania. I just had breakfast in the sunshine on the second floor terrace of the excellent Tirana International Hotel looking across the main square to the Albanian Mountains. This is a city in transformation – first time I visited Tirana (around 2001) every shop had a noisy polluting generator outside. Pavements were cracked and dirty, there was rubbish and plastic bags everywhere. Mayor Eddie Rama (the Albanian Capital city's Socialist counterpart to London's Boris Johnson) has been cleaning up the City. Now most of the Albanian Capital has electricity 24 hours a day, pavements have been paved, rubbish cleared and last night and I had one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve eaten in a long time, anywhere in the world, in a little restaurant called Amoy.

This morning I woke aching with regret last night’s dinner conversation had not been filmed. It would have made a documentary on the Balkans different from all others. My dinner hosts and companions were four professional, intelligent, witty, Balkan women - Socialist MP Valentina Leskaj, an Albanian Judge, and two Leading women’s rights activists Delina Fico, Board President, Albanian Women’s Association “Refleksione” and Igo Rogova, Executive Director of Kosova Women's Network (KWN comprises 92 NGOs). They brought me quickly up to date with all the latest Balkan political intrigues!

Our topics of conversation? ...rigged June elections - (why does the international community perpetuate the calumny of declaring free and fair elections when they aren't?) insights into life as an MP in Albania, party politics, political campaigning, the future, grandchildren, women’s rights campaigns past and present,belly dancing on tables, domestic violence, sex trafficking, the back-story to the joint US/Albanian scandal of the military arms dump that exploded in March 2008 near Vore village (14 kilometres from Tirana)killing 27 people and injuring hundreds more - many were women and children.

The new Gender Equality legislation we discussed in detail is seen by the Albanians as a useful, even critical factor in Albania’s application to join the EU – the country is already the newest partner in NATO. In a recent opinion poll 90% of the population want to join the EU (why not!).

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