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Claudia Hinojosa: We have to fight to get resources allocated to women’s progress. We have to fight to have laws and policies that really make a difference in the lives of women and our goals.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Beijing plus five; and tourism in Albania.
FRANKA POLAKA: And we have to stop for the moment the construction in this area because we need to demolish all these illegal constructions and to create new developments with the priority of tourism.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in 1995. At that time over 180 nations signed a landmark document called “The Platform For Action,” which committed governments to raise the status of women in twelve areas from education to healthcare to violence against women. This past June the General Assembly of the United Nations held a special session to assess just how far governments have come in implementing those commitments. But as Common Ground‘s Helene Rosenbluth reports, progress for women doesn’t always come from the government level alone.
UNNAMED FEMALE PARTICPANT: The most empowering part are the women. It’s depressing to listen to the delegates. I think there’s an enormous disparity between how much women have done to be the backbone around the world and how little governments have done. The women are coming up and saying, “But at home I am being beaten by my husband. At home I cannot relate.” And therefore the whole question of empowering women for me reemphasizes the need to have a multidisciplinary approach and a confirmation that the work we are doing is actually relevant and appropriate.
UNNAMED FEMALE PARTICPANT: You can prepare a document but without practically supporting the women who are fighting for their cause. So this document will be implemented properly if it reaches the victims of poverty, victims of violence, victims of social discrimination.
MARY ROBINSON: There must be no going back on the commitments. Far from it. They must be affirmed. They must be given legal impetus. No going back! Absolutely. No going back.
[women chanting and singing in the background]
HELENE ROSENBLUTH: Mary Robinson chanting, “No going back,” a common phrase often heard in the grassroots movement all over the world, as women take their issues to the streets. But this time it was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights chanting the slogan at a rally outside the UN. Finally the echoes of women’s cries have trickled up to the international arena. Here was the official lawmaking branch of the United Nations hammering out carefully worded recommendations to 180 nations on how they needed to improve the status of women in their countries. In the end a consensus was finally reached, but the verbiage of their final document was a bit tamer than some would have liked. Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, saw the outcome document as a bit of a mixed bag, even though the UN did recommit to implement Beijing Platform for Action.
CHARLOTTE BUNCH: Overall they didn’t make as much advance as we would have liked. We had hoped that they would make more time commitments about when they would try to get certain things done. There are a few of those, but they’re often prefaced by, one of my favorites is the one that says, when are they going to end discriminatory laws against women. It now says, “as soon as possible, preferably by 2005.” I mean, this is typical of sort of UN compromise language. But if you think about the fact that that means 180 countries at least went on record saying that somehow this should happen, then in a sense, in the political sense, it was a showing of the power of women to keep it from going backward. But it was also a showing that at this moment we don’t have the power to make governments go very much further forward, either.
NANA ITUWE OTEY: We’ve come a long way and for the whole process to rather focus on the language that has already been agreed, I think it’s a complete waste of time and a shame to so many women who worked so hard throughout these five years to make progress for women’s health. Because for millions of women it’s a day-to-day thing that they have to go through. It’s a reality where women do not have access to contraception, where women do not have access to services, and women have to deliver in abject poverty, without any recourse to trained health personnel. And for somebody to ever think that this is not an issue of rights, I don’t think how that can be possible. For every man who sits there to negotiate, or every woman who sits there to negotiate and doesn’t see this as an issue of human rights, I think is a complete disgrace to the human race.
ROSENBLUTH: Nana Ituwe Otey is one of hundreds of thousands of impatient women not waiting for their governments to implement change. She is part of a global grassroots movement that include women who work in battered women shelters, in villages and cities alike. They are the link to immigrant women and providing legal and emotional support. They are the women setting up rape crisis hot lines in Belgrade, in Serbia. Or the ones counseling single teenage mothers in Italy and Brazil. They come to these conferences to form their own networks. Learning from their counterparts thousands of miles away, how to use these international instruments on a local level to put pressure on their governments. It is through these avenues where tangible results can be felt. Grassroots organizing, coupled with international commitments, has created a global awareness that women’s rights are indeed human rights and need to be taken seriously. Nana Ituwe Otey believes this concept has made a tremendous impact for African women like herself.
ITUWE OTEY: Whereas before you wouldn’t find African women actually talking about the issues, now you find a lot of grassroots women actually coming out and
saying, “Yes, it’s abuse of their rights, and their rights need to be highlighted at all levels, and that women’s rights are human rights.” And for me that is a clear sign that the message is going down, that people are now realizing the barriers that have actually prevented them from really living lives that would make them contribute effectively to the community and to the nation as a whole.
ROSENBLUTH: Originally from Ghana, Ituwe Otey now works in London with the International Planned Parenthood Organization, where she focuses on health concerns of ethnic minority women. She was in New York City to take advantage of the networking that happened across the street from the UN, in church offices, in school auditoriums, vacant lots, and anywhere women could garner space to network. It is in this unofficial arena where she feels most hopeful.
ITUWE OTEY: For me, one of the positive things is the fact that we’ve been able to set up an international network on the area of women’s marriage and rights, and especially on early marriage. And this morning, for example, we had a meeting where organizations pledged to work more within this area and to share information and develop a strategy on how to work within this area in the future, the whole area of children’s rights and marriage and violence within marriage. How can a young girl of twelve years be married and would say that she consented to her marriage. This is all forced marriages; and a forced marriage amounts to abuse and amounts to a violation of the girl’s rights.
Kristhanti Dharmaraj: I think it’s really important that we recognize the links. And in this day and age of globalization and in this day of Internet, borders have been very artificial. And that means that our struggles have also need to be linked.
ROSENBLUTH: Kristhanti Dharmaraj works with the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development in San Francisco. They have been able to do locally what the US government has been stalling on for twenty years. They have pressured city officials to ratify CEAFOD—the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women. This UN treaty was passed in 1979 and to date 165 nations have ratified, with a few lonely holdouts, including Afghanistan, Iran, and the United States. By implementing this international document locally women will not have to wait for congressional approval to gain laws that will protect their rights. Acting locally using international instruments is a new strategy being shared across borders.
Kristhanti Dharmaraj: Today we were in a workshop where women from Argentina, San Francisco, Spain, and Portugal were talking about how to do work at a local government level. How do we take the Platform for Action and make it concrete at local levels. And we were, you know, strategizing how do we link up. How do we do what we did in San Francisco, that is taking an international document and passing legislation on it and implementing in other parts. Actually Kenya is very interested in looking at it, some of their villages in Kenya. And they have started that work. And I have talked to a sister from Uganda and Ghana today who are interested in doing it. I think it’s very powerful to see how women are really going beyond. And I think the Internet has helped a lot, too.
ROSENBLUTH: The Internet has revolutionized women’s ability to communicate globally. Issues that affect women in one part of the world are now being transmitted through e-mails daily, alerting an international community overnight. In Norway, for instance, there was a major outcry when a woman’s rape case was thrown out of court. Instead of a due trial, she was made to pay a huge fine for defaming her accuser’s reputations. Tova Smallo?? saw this as a direct countermeasure to the commitment Norway agreed to when they signed the Platform for Action in Beijing. She took her case online.
TOVA SMALLO: Whatever we did we put it on the Internet so everyone could, in Norway, could see what we have done. And with all the letters we said that this, “women don’t have human rights in Norway.” And every time I wrote a letter to the Minister or whatever, I write, we have been written, got some action from Beijing in 1995. So we must work after it. Internet is a new way of having a demonstration and spread information. And somebody’s group from Japan who wrote to the Minister. And two days before we went to New York, there was a proposal, we have a new law.
[sound of a group of women stating agreement]
TOVA SMALLO: And we win!
[sound of women cheering and applauding]
ROSENBLUTH: Governments are responding to international pressure for fear of being ostracized in the global arena. Whether it’s updating rape laws to guarantee a woman’s right to due process in Norway, or outlawing marital rape in Namibia, women are exerting political pressure from both within and outside their countries. Recently, new legislation was passed in Mexico City banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Claudia Hinojosa, is a lesbian activist in Mexico. She sees these changes as a direct reflection of the Beijing Platform for Action.
Claudia Hinojosa: The notion of sexual rights as human rights as part of the platform has had some tremendous appeal socially, for social movements working for lesbian and gay rights, transgendered, for sexual diversity. So it has become a kind of an organizational tool for many groups. And it has come from there. That we keep reminding them that they attended and signed the document. Because it’s a way to exert some pressure on them.
CHRIS CURRAN: There are countries in which lesbians are killed for being lesbian. There are lesbians in certain Muslim countries who can be stoned. In certain Western countries certain rights are taken for granted socially and culturally.
ROSENBLUTH: Chris Curran lives in Glasgow, Scotland. But during the week of the Beijing Assessment, she was able to strengthen the link between European lesbians and those in Latin America. This international women’s network has been extremely helpful to women working on the grassroots level.
JANE WAMBOI KIRAGO: I’ve been able to network with women from different parts of the world, from Asia-Pacific, from Latin America, from America itself, and from Eastern Europe. And seeing the diverse problems that center on the gender gap, the power dynamics between men and women, and seeing that we have to fight to get resources allocated to women’s progress. We have to fight to have laws and policies that really make a difference in the lives of women and our goals.
INDIAN WOMAN: The women who are trying to organize themselves to fight for their cause, there is no support, no funding, no finance, no any infrastructure support.
ELIZABETH NAMIBIA: I know women who are speaking to others, saying “this must change. We must look at the issue of debt, we must look at the issues of structural adjustment. So women, feminist women in the North are addressing these issues, even if it’s not the issue.
ROSENBLUTH: So do you think that by women coming together on an international level like this, it could make a difference globally?
[In the background women are chanting and singing]
PHILLIPINE WOMAN: Oh, yes! Plenty! Even in the sharing of ideas alone it is helping one. You know, we keep on patting each one’s back because we share the same cries. If singly we go crying out for a love lost, husband in the war, alone cannot do anything. But if they organize themselves, and united they will have a voice. So I think this is doing a great thing.
[In the background women are chanting and singing]
ROSENBLUTH: Four thousand women attended the world conference on women in Mexico City in 1975. Twenty years later that number grew to over 40,000 in Beijing. Today, women have developed an international movement that can be felt around the world. Whether it is providing legal support to cases continents away, or sending e-mails to a foreign minister to help change laws, a vital network has been established that crosses all kinds of borders. For Common Ground, I’m Helene Rosenbluth.
MCHUGH: Coming up, efforts to draw tourists to Albania. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: The economy of Albania has been in severe trouble ever since a large part of the population was swindled out of its life savings by the notorious pyramid investment schemes three years ago. The scandal not only ruined tens of thousands of people in what was even then Europe’s poorest country; it also toppled the government and ushered the reformed Socialist party back to power. Since then the Albanian economy has taken another battering from the waves of refugees from the war in Kosovo. The Socialists are trying to revive the country by attracting more foreign investment and developing tourism. But getting Albania ready for tourists isn’t easy. As Common Ground‘s Max Easterman reports, the infrastructure isn’t there and cash isn’t the only shortfall in efforts to build it.
[classical music plays in the background.
MAX EASTERMAN: The Albanian National Ballet Orchestra is busy rehearsing for its grand reopening with Prokofiev’s Lola, one of the cultural attractions planned for this summer in the Albanian capital Tirane. The ballet and opera house is just across the main square from one of Tirane’s biggest tourist hotels. And what tourists there are, are advised to stay in these hotels because they have their own water supplies. The city’s main water is often cut off. This is partly because there’s so little investment, but partly as opposition politician Genc Pollo claims, because of government incompetence.
GENC POLLO: Practically, in terms of building of a decent administration, in terms of having a growing economy, in terms of having the rule of law, providing security for the citizens, providing legal security for the businesses, it has been a disaster.
EASTERMAN: Much of what Mr. Pollo says is true. But it’s equally true that when his party was in government they encouraged the very pyramid investment schemes that bankrupted so many Albanians it caused economic chaos. And it’s that chaos that is the third reason behind the lack of water in Tirane. People outside the city steal it.
[sound of closing car door]
EASTERMAN: This is Bathore. It’s an illegal settlement on the outskirts of the Tirane, built by people from the north of Albania. They abandoned their villages there because they can’t make a living, and they came south looking for work. Not one of the houses here has planning permission, so there are no services for them. No electricity, no water supply. But the twenty thousand people of Bathore need electricity, and particularly water, so they just tap illegally into the mains and take it. Hence the empty pipes back in Tirane. Besnik Aliaj has set up a scheme to try and persuade people here to be more responsible, to pay for what they use.
BESNIK ALIAJ: Albanians are hard working first. And the second was, these people had not options by authorities for housing, for infrastructure, for a better life. So, in one way or another they were forced to find a solution on their own. But from the other side, they released authorities from investment in housing. So it is a contradictory situation. These people ended up here because authorities did not offer solutions for them, options for better life.
EASTERMAN: No Albanian governments since the fall of communism has set up a decent civil administration. No one’s had the courage to tackle the morass of conflicting responsibilities and rivalries between the various arms of government. Albert Brojka is the mayor of Tirane and he’s decided not to stand for reelection because, he says, he is so deeply frustrated by this situation, which doesn’t allow him to tackle the problem of illegal building.
ALBERT BROJKA: It’s very difficult for me, because I don’t command the police, here in Tirane. So if somebody is going to construct illegally, and to take water illegally, to take energy, how can I control if I don’t command even a policeman? I am not the state here. I have not the legal framework to run the city. So, the government is not giving me money to run the city. It is not giving me the institutions because I am in the opposition here. The people have given me the vote, but the state has not given me the legal framework and the money to run the city.
[sound of traffic]
EASTERMAN: The impact of this administrative mayhem on the tourist industry can best be seen here in Durres, about thirty miles of west of Tirane. Durres is an ancient port city and it stands at the northern end of miles and miles of sandy Adriatic beaches. Behind me are acres of small resort hotels. But in front of me is another of those illegal settlements, known as the Wetlands. It’s built on a swamp and on a hot afternoon like today the guests in those hotels can smell it even though they can’t see it.
[sounds of waves cresting upon a beach]
EASTERMAN: There could be thousands of jobs here in Durres. The Adriatic coast has miles and miles of soft, white sand backing onto pine plantation and rolling hills. Tourism could bring in a lot of money. But the investment needed will be huge as well. Albania doesn’t just need sewers and water pipes and electricity lines, it’ll have to spend billions of dollars to get rid of a problem from the past, a legacy of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Hoxha was paranoid about being invaded. So he built thousands of domed concrete bunkers everywhere, and especially along the coast. They look like giant mushrooms and they’re the first thing you see when you land in Albania. There are several here on Durres Beach: gray, flaking, covered in graffiti, and in full view of the tourist hotels. One enterprising hotelier here has managed to get round this problem by putting his bunker to good use—he’s built his hotel on top of it.
[sound of waves cresting on a beach]
EASTERMAN: This is the Lighthouse Hotel, which is owned by Baskim Salilari. Mr. Salilari, when did you build this?
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] He says he built it in 1996.
EASTERMAN: Okay, let’s go round the back of the hotel here to open up the bunker. [sound of walking] It’s a huge reinforced concrete door; swings very slowly back.
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] He says this bunker is used for 122 millimeter canons.
EASTERMAN: My goodness. You have to bend down quite low to get in here. It’s painted white, is it? I suppose it’s about the size of a good-sized front room but with a domed ceiling. And on the roof just above my head here, there’s a little date stamped into the concrete, showing that this as actually built in 1979. So it’s just twenty-one years old.
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] So he says that he’s using it as a warehouse, but he’s not changed the function. In other words, the door can be opened. Here is where the canon can stay, and the…
EASTERMAN: So if the Italians get uppity, you’re ready for them?
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] [laughs] No, no, they won’t. But he says since the Italians do also have some bunkers in their coast, why can’t we have some! [laughing] But he said it takes a lot of money to build them. As since they were built, why destroy them?
EASTERMAN: How much would it cost to blow it up and dispose of it? Whatever you would do?
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] He said it would cost up to $10,000.
EASTERMAN: And there are a lot of bunkers on this coast, so that’s a lot of dollars.
BASKIM SALILARI: [via a translator] He said it would have cost a lot of money.
EASTERMAN: Meanwhile, illegal building, but of a different kind, is creating another major headache for the planners. I’ve come down the coast to a place called Golem, with Franka Polaka, of the National Tourism Committee. Golem is the site of a brand-new tourist village, built with foreign investment. From where I’m standing it’s a splendid vista of ecru-colored apartments with pools and tennis courts. But by the time it was finished other local investors had surrounded it with dozens of illegal holiday apartments and small hotels. Franka Polaka is appalled by what’s happened.
FRANKA POLAKA: Here we have more illegal buildings—legal buildings—and we have to stop for the moment the construction in this area because we need to demolish all these illegal constructions and to create new developments with the priority of tourism.
EASTERMAN: How did all this illegal building come about? Why didn’t you stop them?
FRANKA POLAKA: It was impossible because it was out of our managements to do it. Because the management of the area, of the tourism plan, depends from the local governments.
EASTERMAN: So the local government ignored the plan that you had put together in Tirane?
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes.
EASTERMAN: What sort of tourists are you trying to attract here?
FRANKA POLAKA: Foreign tourists and Albanian tourists.
EASTERMAN: And so far who has bought the apartments, mainly?
FRANKA POLAKA: Mainly are coming Albanian tourists.
EASTERMAN: So you haven’t had much luck so far getting the foreigners to come?
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes.
EASTERMAN: Why do you think foreigners haven’t come?
FRANKA POLAKA: Because we have the difficulties to create the image of Albania, with the safety and security environment.
EASTERMAN: These buildings are not just often badly designed eyesores, they also put an intolerable strain on the dilapidated sewerage system. In some cases they ignore it altogether. Franka Polaka has brought me to another spot just up the beach where no tourist would ever want to come.
FRANKA POLAKA: Here we have an open sewer that goes down to the sea. This is about five kilometers far away from Durres.
EASTERMAN: And this sewage, where’s it coming from?
FRANKA POLAKA: This sewage is coming from the houses of the local population. And this is damage for the touristic areas because of the pollution of the surface and the underground waters. Because the success of tourism is related with the cleanliness of the water.
EASTERMAN: It’s polluting the sea as well, presumably?
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes.
EASTERMAN: How would you describe this beach?
FRANKA POLAKA: It’s terrible. Dirty.
EASTERMAN: It’s covered in garbage.
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes.
EASTERMAN: Where is that coming from?
FRANKA POLAKA: From these hotels that are here, around.
EASTERMAN: The tourist hotels are throwing their garbage on the beach as well?
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes.
EASTERMAN: So the whole system is basically destroying everything that you’re trying to do?
FRANKA POLAKA: Yes. This is a problem that we are facing everyday.
EASTERMAN: How dangerous is it, do you think?
FRANKA POLAKA: I think for the health of tourists is dangerous, this situation.
EASTERMAN: Would you come here?
FRANKA POLAKA: No. I have been two years ago and my daughter, she got a skin infection from the sewage.
EASTERMAN: Franka Polaka has, perhaps not surprisingly, had enough of this uphill task. She’s applied to emigrate to Canada. But Besnik Aliaj, the man who runs the self-help scheme in the illegal of Bathore, is not packing up and leaving just yet. On the contrary, he says he has two jobs to do: to persuade foreign aid donors and investors to see Albania in a different light; and perhaps more importantly, to persuade Albanians to see themselves differently.
BESNIK ALIAJ: Well, I mean, I must say that in general Albanians are people that respect foreigners. But to the people, they think that every kind of solution will come from foreigners. So I must say there is this kind of naiveté. But still I think that the solution now in Albania should come first of all from Albanians, and what is most important is that now the international community should stop seeing Albania as an emergency case. Now Albania needs development projects to change the mentality of people. Not to supply food, not to supply goods, but first of all to change the mentality of people.
EASTERMAN: That’s a message that the Albanian government would also do well to take to heart. There’s been little evidence so far that politicians are at all prepared to make unpopular decisions. They should have closed down the pyramid investments, but they didn’t. They should have taxed wealthy entrepreneurs, but they didn’t. They should have stopped illegal house building, and they must if public health is not to deteriorate even further than it has. That nettle has to be grasped soon if Albania’s potential as a tourist paradise is to stand any chance of blossoming into reality. If not, the piles of garbage and feces will go on landing on beaches like this. This is Max Easterman for Common Ground, on the Adriatic coast of Albania.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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