June 2017 elections. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

A test for political parties before local elections

The equal participation of men and women in public life cannot be seen separately from both genders having equal treatment and opportunities in all spheres of law. The current Law on Gender Equality clearly demands the equal representation of 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men within every body and level of decision-making in political and public life.

The equal participation of men and women in public life cannot be imagined without equal opportunities for both genders, in all spheres of life. To live in the 21st century means that gender equality is not only a simple statement or promotion, but a natural response to the gendered structure of the population and the balance based on merit and achievements. Welfare, social, and economic advancement cannot be achieved without creating the normality of active participation of women and men in all spheres of public life. Kosovo is no exception!

Attempts to achieve gender equality in our country have entered a period that has a clear legal foundation in line with the country’s Constitution. Since the summer of 2015, three laws, part of the legal package on human rights, have been adopted: the Law on Gender Equality, the Law on Protection from Discrimination, and the Law on the Ombudsperson. The equal participation of men and women is not only an aspiration, but a legal obligation.

The three laws in this package, with all the flaws that they might have, are amongst the most progressive laws that Kosovo has in force. They are the foundation for protection from discrimination and serve as umbrella laws when it comes to equal opportunities, treatment, and representation in all spheres of life.

Nevertheless, the gap between the written word and the implementation of legal obligations in daily social and institutional life continues to be wide. The lists of candidates of political parties for the June 2017 Elections for the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo were certified by the Central Election Commission, CEC, despite the fact that they did not include an equal representation of genders. This exemplifies how the gap is being widened.

Elections, as a fundamental process of citizens expressing their free will through their vote, should be at the epicenter of progressive movements and the implementation of the Constitution and other laws. Unfortunately, despite calls from the Institution of the Ombudsperson for political parties to offer equal opportunities for men and women in their lists sent to the CEC, which would respect the Law no. 05/L-020 on Gender Equality, no such thing happened.

Article 14 of the Law on gender equality states: “Political parties with their acts are obliged to implement measures to promote equal participation of men and women at authorities and bodies of the parties in accordance with provisions of Article 6 of this Law.” Amongst other things, it is specified that, “Legislative, executive, judicial bodies at all levels and other public institutions shall be obliged to adopt and implement special measures to increase representation of underrepresented gender, until equal representation of women and men according to this Law is achieved” (Article 6, paragraph 7).

The same law clarifies that “Equal gender representation in all legislative, executive and judiciary bodies and other public institutions is achieved when ensured a minimum representation of fifty percent (50%) for each gender, including their governing and decision-making bodies” (Article 6, paragraph 8).

To remove all eventual legal hesitations and ensure equality between men and women and the applicability of this standard of human rights, Law no.05/L-020 on Gender Equality, in force since summer of 2015, describes precisely that “Any provision which is in contradiction to the principle of equal treatment under this Law shall be repealed,” (Article 5, paragraph 2).

In line with the basic principle of the country’s Constitution – the principle of equality – equal opportunities without discrimination on any basis is absolutely necessary. This principle could be considered fulfilled if the participation of women and men in candidate lists would have been equal. As a starting point of processes and visions for a legislature and a government that results from the free and democratic vote, the election process in its entirety should reflect the fundamental principle of a democratic state.

The non-fulfillment of the legally specified quota reveals the position of women within political subjects and the mentality within which they operate not simply as individuals, but as carriers of institutional responsibilities as well.

The fact that the composition of lists did not respect the 50-50 participation of women and men means that there was no opportunity for equal representation! Furthermore, whoever was attentive to the media representation before and during the election campaign could have easily noticed that there too, political parties were rarely represented by women – again in violation of equality!

This treatment of women, by denying them the opportunity to reveal their intellectual preparation and individual political offer within the subjects that a woman might represent for the voter, denies her the opportunity to be part of the competition of values and violates to the core the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

Despite the discouraging signals given by political subjects, as well as public authorities and influential organizations in Kosovo, which have violated the quota on representation of women within candidate lists in national elections, one should not stop attempting to re-establish women’s rights, firstly for equal opportunities, including for representation, which have so far been violated.

Local elections, planned to be held in autumn this year, will be the next test for the political and institutional will, but also for the will of the society as a whole. The representation of 50 per cent for each gender, which ensures the compliance to Law no.05/L-020 on Gender Equality and the legal package on human rights, and with a special emphasis on the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo, must happen.

The Ombudsperson, in line with its mission as an institution of equality, will continue to advocate and insist on constitutional and legal obligations to be respected and enforced, as well as for the necessity of creating a favorable societal and economic environment. We hope that civil society and media will be our partners in our attempt to implement the laws as social norms, but furthermore, to respect equality between men and women as human rights, as a natural norm.

Hilmi Jashari is the Ombudsperson of the Republic of Kosovo.

31 July 2017 - 11:04

Hilmi Jashari

31/07/2017 - 11:04

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Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.