An informed woman is an empowered woman: Gracanica women learn about new property rights law
Justice that is equal for all – this was the main message during a panel in Gračanica/Graçanicë informing local women of their property rights after an historic law change.
Local NGOs and members of the public gathered in Ulpiana Hotel in the village to learn about amendments to the Law on Family championed by women’s rights activist and head of NGO Initiative for Justice and Equality (Inject) Luljeta Aliu.
As part of UNMIK-funded project “I Insist on My Rights”, Aliu spoke about how the judicial practice of distribution of joint assets in divorce proceedings had been detrimental to women in the past, ignoring the value of their contributions to the household.
“Justice has not been equal for all,” she said.
Aliu explained how previously the law did not acknowledge ‘household work’ as an economic contribution when dividing property after a divorce had occurred. This typically impacted women, who have much lower employment rates than men in Kosovo, and meant they were not given an equal share of the relationship property – that is until she successfully campaigned for an amendment that specifically recognises this contribution, passed by the Kosovo Assembly in January this year.
Listing a number of reasons women have typically suffered discrimination, Aliu underlined a patriarchal mindset and high level of women’s unemployment as leading causes. The overriding concern expressed by all panelists was that even if the laws are good on paper, their implementation is flawed.
The importance of women to be properly educated about their rights was highlighted by “Ruka Ruci” (Hand to Hand) NGO director Nevenka Rikalo .
“An informed woman is an empowered woman,” she told the approximately 30 women and men gathered.
Rikalo, who also volunteers with the first multiethnic gender-based violence shelter in Kosovo located in Novo Brdo/Novobërdë, spoke about how stereotypes about the women’s role in family, society and the workplace needed to change and that this was best achieved through awareness-raising activities.
But this was not just a ‘woman’s issue’, according to Communication for Social Development NGO general manager Oliver Vujović, who said educational initiatives about women’s rights to joint property should focus on men just as much as on women.
“I think if men and women are not aware that equality is good for all, we will have problems.”
The event was also informative for those women who work in the space. Civic Energy Centre Gracanica manager Snezana Perić said while she was aware of the initiative to amend the law giving women greater rights to property ownership she was pleased to learn the new law had already entered into force.
However, she expressed concern that inheritance customs whereby men overwhelmingly inherit family assets still prevailed in Kosovo society.
“I think the women are not adequately informed about what they are entitled to,” she said, calling for further open debates and information campaigns on women’s rights, Perić believes.
Aliu also informed those gathered about an initiative to form a network of civil society organisations that would request individual institutions implement existing women’s rights laws – and would keep reminding them on a weekly basis. She called on those present to join forces on this initiative.
“United we are stronger and if the message we want to send goes out from each of our organisations, they will see the civil society has come together around a joint cause. We will be active and pursue these goals until a change is achieved.”