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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 16:56 GMT
Kosovo leads Europe in woman power
Presidential candidate Flora Brovina
Presidential candidate Flora Brovina: "Too high"
By The BBC's Nicholas Wood in Kosovo

When Kosovo's parliament is sworn in, it will not only be the region's first democratically elected assembly, but it will be the only parliament in Europe with an electoral system guaranteed to elect high numbers of women.

The system has provoked criticism from male politicians and women's groups alike, and prompted accusations of hypocrisy as the United Nations administration in the province introduces rules that exist in barely a handful of Western democracies.

This is just enabling them to say in the front of the public how equal we are in society. I don't know that we are

Sefete Rugova
Regulations for the polls, which took place on 17 November, dictated that every third candidate on party lists should be a women.

This combined with a proportional representation system using "closed" party lists has ensured women have a 28% share of the assembly - or 34 out of 120 seats.

While many countries, including France, Italy and Belgium have systems that demand a minimum number of women candidates, virtually none ensure that they are elected. Argentina is one of the few exceptions.

Criticism of the rules has predictably come from politicians unhappy having to cede seats to women.

Not equal

A recent editorial in the hardline Albanian nationalist daily Epoke e Re, complained that the "international community is imposing the female view on the future of Kosovo."

But the strongest and perhaps more valid criticisms have come from Kosovo Albanian women's groups, who have been working hard to promote the women's rights in the province.

Kosovo Albanian woman
Under the new system women are guaranteed places in the assembly
Sefete Rugova is the director of Motrat Qiriazi, an organisation that encourages women to become economically independent in a society that she argues is still highly patriarchal.

"Ten years ago I was amazed by how many women had still not visited Pristina," she said referring to the provincial capital.

"Since then my message has been get to Pristina, Europe will follow later."

In other words real change has to take place at home, and should not be imposed from abroad.

"I think it is better to leave us so we can fight by ourselves," said Ms Rugova.

"This is just enabling them to say in the front of the public how equal we are in society. I don't know that we are."

Parachuted in

At first sight Kosovo's three leading Albanian political parties have been keen promote their credentials as the defenders of sexual equality.

Both women and youths have featured heavily in slick party political broadcasts that talk of "democracy" and "freedom".

A women even ran for the presidency - Flora Brovina, a human rights campaigner imprisoned for two years by the Serbs.

Ms Rugova's argument is that many candidates have simply been parachuted into posts they would have never had held if it was not for the UN's rules, and have little prospect of influencing policies.

"She has been placed so far, so high," she said referring to Ms Brovina, "She is in the air."

Dividing issues

The quota system was introduced after a similar one was used in Bosnia, where women make up more than 50% of the population but had few elected representatives.

You could say that they are the pawns of their parties, but so are the men

OSCE legal adviser Liz Hume
Liz Hume, a legal adviser with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which oversees the polls in Kosovo and Bosnia, said women's groups were just as divided in Sarajevo as they were in Kosovo.

"It was a debate that could have taken any place in the world. Women's groups were split, some of them came up with the same issues as here." But she says the system - that has now been dropped - was effective.

"I sat in the parliament for many of the debates. The women were just as vocal as the male candidates. You could say that they are the pawns of their parties, but so are the men."

Proponents of quotas also argue they help promote democratic reforms in countries undergoing transition from authoritarian regimes.

"In training with political parties we really highlight role of youth and women, because they are the ones that are open to Western democratic ideas," said Scott Bates from the National Democratic Institute, an American foundation which has been running courses for prospective politicians.

The NDI claims there is widespread support among Kosovo Albanian and Serb voters for quotas.

From scratch

A recent poll showed 54% were in favour, but when faced with a choice at the polling station Mr Bates admits that both voters and political parties still favour men above women.

Bosnian woman
A similar system also raised objections among women in Bosnia
This was shown during last year's local elections where quotas for women were introduced, but voters were free to choose from list of individual candidates.

Sebahate Krasniqi-Grajcevci, a member of parliament with the Alliance party in the new assembly says the election system is an experiment introduced by the international community.

She also argues that Kosovo's political parties have a reasonable track record of electing women, without quotas being imposed on them.

"In 1999, our parliament of Kosovo [an unofficial body set up in opposition to the Milosevic regime] had 111 members of which 18 were women... That was good for that time, and I know we have the potential for more."

The resentment is easy to understand when few Western states see the need to implement quotas at home, a point Liz Hume admits.

"The US has one of the lowest number of elected women officials of any (Western democratic) nation," she says.

But, Ms Hume adds, it is incredibly difficult to change an election system once it is introduced.

"Kosovo and Bosnia can start over from scratch, she says, "then why not meet the highest standards and go beyond that?"

Listeners in the UK can hear Nicholas Wood's report from Kosovo on Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 1000 GMT Friday.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo prepares to vote
14 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo gears up for elections
17 Jun 01 | Europe
UN takes peace mission to Kosovo
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: Protecting the Serbs
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