Backpacking throughout the Balkans felt like I had really experienced a new culture and lifestyle. Truth is guys, I barely scratched the Balkans, not necessarily in how many countries I visited or how much time spent in each. Rather in day-to-day life. Specifically the mentality, especially from the perspective of a woman. One of whom is used to a very different view on the role of women. SO… what caused this?
I’ve been living in Albania since April 14th and as of now it’s July 6th so I’ll be here another 24 days. And life here in Albania truthfully gave me an exuberant amount of gratitude that I’m from NY.
Staying an empowered woman in an engrained patriarchal society is challenging.
I knew Albania was heavy on the patriarchal model, however, I was shocked in my first month here just how much it’s felt for a woman. How many times I’ve been blatantly ignored like I don’t exist when I’m with a male friend. Have my opinion not only matter but already associated with the expectation that it doesn’t exist or belong. Or repeated comments on how my look is how my husband wants it. And if they find out I’m not married at my age, it’s another layer of commentary. It sucks because after a while it starts to get to you and you’ll start thinking, why haven’t I found a husband yet?
Recently, through chatting with local friends here, I learned of a practice women participated in for more rights. Well, maybe, it’s more of a transformation….
The privileges came at a pricewww.welt.de
The practice is known as Sworn Virgins, Burnesha in Albanian. Mostly practiced in the rural areas throughout the remote North region, women had no rights, no voice, no nothing in comparison to the man. This extended to both property and lifestyle. Not to be compared with a sexual identity of sorts, this ritual is “the result of the ultraconservative definition of gender roles by a medieval code known as Kanun.” (www.europeanstorytellers.eu)
Starting in the 13th century, Northern Albania (rural) had the Kanun, an archaic code of conduct that strengthened a strictly patriarchal model of society. It was the foundation of legal and social issues within the Northern communities. This rigid, culturally-infused framework for society had women as a caretaker only, that of her kids and of the family’s house. Reasoning for women to abandon their biological gender was, autonomy, from property and business to escaping arranged marriage.
Now considered illegal, it’s trace still lingers among older generations. For example. I know a female business owner in Gjirokastër; when she needed help, a man told her that he’ll only talk business to her man. Even talking to older women, it’s fairly clear that whatever you do is to make your husband happy and that having his opinion is it. No other option. Head down. Because your potential thought on a topic has been erased before it’s been spoken aloud.
The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region…stripping off their sexuality by pledging to remain virgins was a way, in a male-dominated segregated society to engage in public life.www.nytimes.com