Former Kosovo female president urges to fight ‘glass ceiling’

Marshall Dunham

The first female president of Kosovo urged her audience to fight gender norms and push for gender equality in a speech at Colorado State University on Wednesday.

The event was held in the Lory Student Center as part of the Global Engagement Distinguished Speaker Series and the CSU sesquicentennial celebration. It “sold” out of free tickets, with Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda commenting that it’s “wonderful to see such a packed room for such a distinguished visitor.”

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Atifete Jahjaga was elected as the third president of Kosovo in 2011 and was in office until 2016. Prior to holding office, she served as Kosovo’s director of police. 

Jahjaga encouraged men and women alike to lift each other up while continuing to deliver blows to what she referred to as the “glass ceiling” holding up patriarchy. 

“There are other glass ceilings all over the world,” Jahjaga said. “But they can all be broken. Every woman’s achievements in every field are a blow to those glass ceilings.” 

Ten years ago, the idea of a woman as the president of Kosovo was unheard of. Yet, here we are.” -Atifete Jahjaga, former president of Kosovo

Kosovo officially declared its independence in 2008, according to a New York Times article. Prior to that, it was subject to conflict between Serbia, during which Jahjaga was denied access to an education under the ruling regime.

“We saw homes burned to ashes,” Jahjaga said. “Hope was lost, but we persevered.”

Instead of going to school, Jahjaga said she and her peers would venture from house to house, where each neighbor would teach the youth a different class.

“We didn’t have heaters in the houses, but we couldn’t wear gloves inside, as they weren’t appropriate,” Jahjaga said, adding that taking notes was rather difficult.

She went on to get her law degree in 2000, right after the Kosovo conflict ended. Shortly afterward, the Kosovo police was reestablished, and Jahjaga felt the call to become a police officer.

She said, against the wishes of her friends and her loved ones, she pursued becoming an officer due to her gut feeling that she should challenge societal norms.

“Being a female police officer is like being an alien,” Jahjaga said. “If you put the two right next to each other, I think people would still look more oddly at the female police officer.”

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Entering a workforce predominantly occupied by men wasn’t easy, she said.

“Girls had to act masculine in the police academy,” she explained. “I wasn’t ready to play that game just to adjust to their masculine standards.”

Jahjaga went on to challenge matters and policies related to gender norms within the Kosovo police, including making changes in dress code that allowed female officers to wear skirts. Change, though gradual, did happen, with Jahjaga explaining that 50% of police in Kosovo are women.

Jahjaga went on to become the director of police, before being picked as the non-partisan candidate for president.

“Ten years ago, the idea of a woman as the president of Kosovo was unheard of,” Jahjaga said. “Yet, here we are.”

She said that when she was first chosen as a candidate, she had to take a step back and think on the matter.

“I had doubts, and looking back, I see my gender had a role in my dilemma,” Jahjaga said. “But the main reason I had doubts is that there were no women in that position.”

She said in hindsight, she was very glad she took the position and called it the “privilege of her life.”

Jahjaga gave the audience a background on Kosovo, explaining that it’s surrounded by mountains with plenty of hiking trails, with great food as well.

“Our macchiato is making headlines around the world,” Jahjaga said. “You all should visit. That’s a presidential tip.”

Following her presidency, Jahjaga also started the Jahjaga Foundation, which aims to bring engagement and presentation to underrepresented groups in Kosovo. The website adds that it particularly focuses on women and youth.

“Kosovar women face particularly acute demands given how cultural traditions coupled with imperfect economic and educational opportunities have left them, a fundamental segment of Kosovar society, removed from full cultural, social and political participation,” reads the Jahjaga Foundation’s website.

Jahjaga explained that, after her election, she visited a classroom to ask kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.

“There were typical answers like teacher and police officer,” Jahjaga said, adding that she asked the class if anyone wanted to be president one day.

“Not me,” said one boy. “That’s a job for girls.”

Marshall Dunham can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @gnarshallfunham.