Women’s unequal political representation remains a problem all over the world, including in Albania. Women constitute approximately 50 percent of the 2.88 million people in Albania but, only 28 percent of Albanian parliamentary seats are held by women.

“Barriers to women’s participation in politics are numerous. Albania has made progress in its democratic development since first holding multi-party elections and destroying the communist regime in 1991, but women in leadership still face a lot of barriers,” said Blerta Balilaj, the Executive Director of the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) Albania chapter.

Since 2010, the WDN Albania chapter has implemented awareness-raising campaigns to prompt women to vote, trained women campaign managers and campaign candidates, and worked with women deputies to ensure elected women have the knowledge to advance in politics.

Blerta has been part of the WDN chapter since inception and now leads the chapter of over 100 women. “At the beginning of the informal creation of the WDN Albania chapter, we did an assessment of women’s needs and the number one thing that came up was a lack of women’s trust in themselves. This has been one of the challenges,” said Blerta. “I, myself, think that women must believe in themselves and must eliminate the pervasive perception that men should be leaders. Women are equal and have the same potential as men, but they struggle for their rights. A kind of culture of fear prevents women from competing in elections.”

The idea of women not being able to believe in themselves may be foreign to some. However, Albania’s male-dominated culture has made women second guess their place in society. “Albanian women make immense sacrifices in their lives. They are the pillar of their families, but also at work and in society. There are still many women who are prone to gender-based violence and this is unforgivable. There are still many women still considered as property or as an object. There are still many women who have no support and whose rights are violated every day,” said Blerta. “On the other hand, there are many women in Albania who have succeeded and have become a success story.”

It is those success stories and the women who are breaking the Albanian glass ceiling that keep Blerta going. With help from Blerta, the WDN Albania chapter has trained more than 350 women candidates, campaign managers, political activists and members of parliament. The chapter has worked with different political parties helping women elected officials build non-partisan bridges that have initiated successful legislative initiatives.

Blerta’s success is the success of the women she has helped empower. She continues to lead women to the decision-making table and while she does that, she inspires generations of young girls everywhere. When asked what advice she gives to young Albanian women, Blerta said, “Be well educated, believe in your values, step up to challenges and aspire to become part of any decision-making level. Make public matters a concern. The world, but also Albania, needs to hear your voice and opinion.”

In honor of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) will feature four of our members from around the world. Each woman comes from a different background and has a different story, but they embody many of same qualities; determination, passion, purpose and a strong voice. This month, we honor those women, their achievements and their commitment to a better world.

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