There are only a few of us women here in Kosovo who own property. The reasons are many: Some of us are not employed and do not have enough capital to purchase any property, so inheritance remains the only way to obtain it. Some have not inherited anything. Some of us adhere to patriarchal traditions regarding the role of women in society, and we choose to renounce our inheritance in favor of male heirs in the family.
The final result is that women in Kosovo own a disproportionately small share of property. But the situation is slowly changing.
Rina Shabani, 17, is a high school student and a member of Property Inheritance, a non-formal group of young activists. She has engaged in a public awareness campaign on women’s inheritance rights in the Gllogovc area of central Kosovo.
“When we started this initiative, I had many difficulties to convince my family about why it is important for me and for everyone to work on this issue,” she says. Rina and her friends are working to encourage parents, brothers and husbands to support and respect a woman’s right to make her own decisions about property.
A national survey on property rights conducted in 2015 revealed that only 17 percent of women in Kosovo own real property — a situation that poses many negative consequences.
For women, this results in a reduced ability to be an equal member in a family and society. It means a complete economic dependency on male members of the family as well as the government and institutions. It is also a lost opportunity to pursue personal dreams and ambitions.
Only 17 percent of women in Kosovo own real property — a situation that poses many negative consequences.
And it means that, while women make up half of Kosovo’s society, they lack the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and create new businesses, help the economy grow, and generate employment for others. Without property, they cannot gain access to loans. They simply are not participating in the development of the youngest nation in Europe.
As a Kosovar, I was lucky as I benefited from a good education and easier access to information, laws and loans. But this is not the case for many. Traditions and social pressure, especially in rural areas, has hindered, and continues to hinder, women’s empowerment.
Few women have challenged the obstacles like Valbona Ajeti, an enthusiastic, strong-willed woman. She employees 20 women through her company GRASEP — an acronym that translates to “women of Sllatina e Epërme.” The business produces preserved vegetables and pickles, but its main product is Ajvar, a famous sauce made from red peppers that goes with virtually everything.
Valbona, together with other women and men from Viti municipality in southeast Kosovo, attended continuous USAID-supported training in 2016 on women’s rights — with a focus on property and inheritance rights, business and other managerial skills — organized by the local NGO Kosova Women 4 Women (KW4W).
After learning about her rights, Valbona and her husband registered their property in both of their names instead of just his. This ensured that Valbona would not be rejected for a loan from a local bank to develop her business.
“Registering the property on my name gave me strength and empowered me a lot! Having a parcel carried in my name from my husband’s inheritance was a boost to my success as a businesswoman,” declares Valbona. She now has no limitations on getting loans and expanding her business in terms of space, larger equipment and an additional workshop for her staff.
The Per Te Miren Tone (For Our Common Good) social media campaign has combined broadcast, print and live events to promote the idea that women should be equal players in society. The USAID-sponsored campaign is designed to influence social and community norms around property rights and encourage attitudes and behaviors that support women who accept their inheritance and who purchase property in their own name.
As a result of the campaign, in the last year, the percentage of people with affirmative attitudes toward equality in property rights between women and men has increased from 64 percent to 73 percent, and the percentage of people who have knowledge of their property rights increased from 27 percent in 2015 to 51 percent in 2017.
Last February, the Kosovo Government, with support from USAID, launched the National Strategy on Property Rights. The strategy calls for changes to 40 laws that hinder anyone from claiming their property rights, be they a woman or a member of a minority community.
Even as actions take place in the legal domain, changing the behaviors embedded in tradition is a very long process. It needs women like Rina and Valbona to advocate for women to claim their rights.
About the Author: Xheraldina Cernobregu is a senior communications specialist for USAID’s mission in Kosovo.
Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation publication on Medium.