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On the occasion of the International Rural Women’s Day, the Albanian Rural Development Network organized the fourth edition of the event “Pro-Rural Women” on October 15, 2022 in Shirgjan, Elbasan. This event was attended by over 110 participants from different rural areas of Albania, national government and civil society, international organizations, academics and media. Please read the agenda of the event. 

Pro-Rural Women 2022, with the theme “Rural Women Cultivating Quality Food for All,” focused on women working in and contributing to the agri-food sector. The IV edition provided an opportunity to learn about the invaluable role and contribution of women in agriculture and rural development, food security and poverty alleviation, highlighting the successes and challenges of rural women entrepreneurs. In the small community of Shirgjan, girls and women from rural areas of the municipalities of Kolonjë, Korçë, Elbasan and Pukë discussed their challenges in the agricultural and food sector. They also called for actions to improve their well-being and reduce the constraints that limit their productivity and entrepreneurial potential.

The 2022 edition was organized within the framework of the project “Support the economic and social empowerment of rural women in the municipalities of Elbasan and Kolonjë”, implemented by the Albanian Network for Rural Development within the Gender Rural Equality and Tourism (GREAT) project, funded by the Government of Italy and implemented by UN Women and FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Albania. Therefore, the event started with the visit of the representatives of the partner institutions of the project GREAT to the premises of the Agriculture Federation of Elbasan, where they were introduced to the organization and the services that this federation provides to small farmers in the region. In addition, the project for the construction of an incubator for fresh fruits and vegetables, whose beneficiaries will be the farmers of the region, especially women, was presented to participants.

The organizers and guests welcomed the participants, mostly women from rural areas of some municipalities in the country. In her speech, Evelina Azizaj, National Coordinator of the Albanian Network for Rural Development, emphasized that the Albanian Network for Rural Development has defined the International Day of Rural Women as an opportunity to work for the welfare of women and girls in rural areas. Therefore, the Pro-Rural Women event brings together stakeholders working for the social and economic empowerment of women to gain a real and comprehensive understanding of their concerns, priorities and worries, as they are aware of the increasing importance of tools and actions to improve their well-being, especially in times of social, economic, health and political challenges.

According to the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ermira Gjeci, the problem of formalization of women’s activities in rural areas will be solved by the new initiative for gender equality in rural areas. “The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and women, through the GREAT project, is committed to developing the capacity of women by formalizing their activities and strengthening their role and contribution to rural development,” she said.

In her speech, Angelica Ranieli, representative of the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, said, among other things: “Being a woman is a difficult, being a woman in the countryside is doubly difficult, and this is made more difficult by the pandemic and the earthquake that affected Albania, so this project aims social and economic empowerment of women in rural areas”.Discussing the constraints that limit the productive and entrepreneurial potential of rural areas, Estela Bulku, head of programs at UN Albania, said, “Today, only 8% of farms in Albania are run by women, despite the fact that they play the most important role in the agricultural sector. Women in rural areas face various discriminations related to inequality in decision-making, gender stereotypes and unequal sharing of contribution and unpaid work, stressing the need for special actions to improve well-being of girls and women”.

The event continued with the voices of rural women who presented themselves, their activities and products. They also expressed the needs and challenges they face in their daily lives and how these problems can be addressed. “Laws can come from the central government, filtered like the water of the river, but they become murky along the way, and that is why we have these difficulties today. To talk about rural women, first you have to know their reality. When you see the hands of rural women, it means that you have to throw your hands over your head. Therefore, I call on the local government to intervene and support the rural women’s groups, which fortunately exist, to formalize the activity,” said Maria Frroku, representative of the Gjegjan women’s group from Puke.

Part of the event also included a panel discussion focused on eliminating gender inequalities in the agri-food value chain. Tatjana Dishnica, executive director of Women in Sustainable Agriculture and lecturer at the Agricultural University of Tirana, spoke about the challenges and constraints women experience in gender-sensitive value chains and how to address them. “This day is a call for increased collaboration between the central government and civil society organizations to support agroecology as a new approach. The problem and the solution are multidimensional, we all need to work together to help rural women and empower them economically,” she stressed. One of the important issues raised was the property rights of rural women, which is one of the biggest challenges that hinder women’s social and economic empowerment. According to Enkeleda Olldashi, lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Tirana, the patriarchal mentality, the lack of gender-specific data from the relevant institutions and the lack of formalization for women working in rural areas, are a major problem. She notes, among other things, that: “We have very high unemployment in agriculture, even though women actually work in agriculture. Due to problems with land ownership, women do not have the opportunity to register as workers, which creates a great inequality because they do not benefit from social insurance or pensions.”

The event ended with a fair of local products carefully and handmade produced (handcrafting) by the participating women who work in different value chains, such as wild fruits, winter berries, apples, fresh fruits and vegetables. In the upcoming days, the Pro-Rural Women 2022 declaration will be published.