The emancipation and advancement of women are glorious achievements of socialist Albania.
Before liberation, the suppression of women was brutal, despite the fact that in the national folklore of Albania the woman was often treated as a dignified figure, represented in lovely colors and with special tenderness, particularly as a mother. In reality, the woman was divested of every economic right. She could not have a say in family gatherings, nor could she have a voice in the marriage of her sons and daughters. When a young bride, she did not have the right to call her husband by his first name, but had to speak of him as “he”. In some sections women, no matter how young, were addressed as “old women” by their husbands. When travelling, the husband would ride while his wife had to follow behind him on foot. The “lashrope”, from the bride’s dowry that parents had to give their daughters, would be carried along by them when fetching water, going to the mountains for firewood, laboring in the fields or taking wheat to the mill. lt was a symbol of medieval backwardness and feudal cruelty towards women.
Women were assigned separate places apart from the men, both in the church and in the mosque. Even at home they had their separate place in the waiting room where, from latticed windows, they were permitted to watch their husbands celebrating at weddings or other family celebrations. Even on mourning days men and women did not come together.
Muslim women had their heads covered with a kerchief and in the towns they wrapped themselves in veils or black cloaks. In the towns Christian women also veiled their faces.
In some regions whenever a woman was spoken ill of, after having her hair cut off, she would then be mounted backward on an ass and paraded through the streets. An old canon said, “The husband is entitled to beat his wife, to bind her in chains when she defies his word and order.”
Young women not only had nothing to say about their marriages but they were often sold, even when infants, for future betrothals. Women had a personal name, but after they were married they were referred to as so-and-so’s wife, so that their names fell into disuse.
And since descent in the female line did not count, their names were not considered worth remembering.
lt was against this background of centuries-old tradition, based at the unwritten laws of the canons, that the Communist Party issued the call to women to join the partisan forces of the national liberation war to drive out the fascist invaders. Albanian women had on occasions over the years fought alongside their men for freedom from national oppression, but the mass response to the Party’s call was epoch-making.
In 1920 Urani Rumbo and others founded in Gjirokastër, Lidhja e Gruas, (the Women’s Union), one of the most important feminist organisations promoting Albanian women’s emancipation. They published a declaration in the newspaper Drita, protesting discrimination against women and social conditions. In 1923 Urani Rumbo was also part of a campaign to allow girls to attend the “boy’s” lyceum of Gjirokastër. Limited women’s suffrage was granted in 1920, and women obtained full voting rights in 1945.
In 1967, a plenum of the Central Committee of the PLA was held on just two questions, one of which was “On the Further Deepening of the Struggle for the Complete Emancipation of Women.” In that same year,
Enver Hoxha said in a speech,
“The Party and the whole country should rise to their feet, burn the backward canons and crush anyone who would dare trample on the sacred law of the Party on the protection of the rights of women and young girls.”
After that speech, many infant betrothals were dissolved voluntarily by the parents. Now it is written into law that no marriages can take place without the consent of the two parties involved, and penal action is taken against violation of this law.
A further example of the educational work done is that Enver Hoxha has recommended that family income be handled by wives. He said,
“Having money in her keep, the wife will not only manage it better, but she will also have equal voice in the discussions with her husband.”
The new Constitution of Albania adopted in
December, 1976, states:
“Equal pay is guaranteed for equal work.”
“No restriction or privilege is recognized on the rights and duties of citizens on account of sex.”
“The woman enjoys equal rights with man in work, pay, holiday, social security, education, in all social and political activity, as well as in the family.”