She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
linked with our presentation NGOs and Groups working for Albania.
Linked also to the presentation of NGO’s Protest for Women’s Rights in Albania.
She says: “Another world is possible!”
Sevim Arbana – Albania
She works for the Group ‘Useful to Albanian Women’ (UAW); and for the ‘Woman Bridge for Peace and Understanding’.
Sevim Arbana, born 1951, was one of the first activists of the democratic movement in Albania and the founder of the organization Useful to Albanian Women (UAW). She is also a human rights activist who supports groups in need and was a founder of the peace movement, Woman Bridge for Peace and Understanding, in the Balkans.
Sevim Arbana was born in Tirana, Albania on 28 September 1951. She is married and has two children. In 1939, her father joined the Liberation Army fighting against the Nazi-Fascists. Just after the capitulation of the Fascists in 1943, he joined the Legality Party, which was considered to be anti-communist. Two years after the birth of Sevim Arbana, her father was arrested as an “enemy of the state” and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Arbana family suffered for many years not only from poverty but also from political persecution by the Government. Sevim Arbana was raised with the fear of her political background that led to constant persecution. She was turned down for study at the School of Arts in Tirana. Only after her second request, and waiting one year, was she allowed to study Albanian literature and language.
The transition period from communism to democracy found Sevim Arbana as one of the first activists of the democratic movement. She was one of the first 300 people to sign a petition for the formation of a democratic party and was a figure in the democratic movement “The end of the Albanian Siberia.” During these years of fragile democracy, her dreams became stronger as well as her reason to live and to try everyday. Another world is possible! This was the motto that would guide her in the years to come.
In July 1991, in the first conference of the Democratic League of Albanian Women (DLAW), Sevim Arbana was elected vice president of this League. The idea of DLAW was to be a non-governmental organization (NGO) with principals for a democratic development of the society.
In August 1991, Sevim Arbana led the first group from Albania to go illegally to Kosovo to represent and speak in the first meeting of the Forum of Albanian Kosovo Women. In this forum she was “booed out” and her ideas of a non-political Albanian women’s movement were not well accepted by the crowd. Sevim’s group was arrested by the Serbian Militia, ordered to leave Kosovo within twenty-four hours, and forbidden to enter Kosovo for 10 years.
Sevim left DLAW and, in February 1993, together with people of similar opinions and interests she founded a new non-political, non-profit organization: Useful to Albanian Women (UAW). The movement that she started was euphoric, idealistic, and willing to fight not only for the ideas and dreams they represented but also for the way they adapted to the Albanian reality. She would always speak passionately on what she and her group wanted to bring to Albania: the rights of women such as jobs, a future for women and their children, nonviolence and more women in leadership positions. During meetings, conferences, seminars, she would be simple but passionate in her idea that these women could change that reality. It was a “learning by doing” process, and this had a great impact in the groups that she was supporting.
Many of her activities as the president of UAW, are against domestic violence. It was her idea to include men for the first time in the struggle against domestic violence against women. Under her leadership, many important projects were initiated that later on would influence Albanian society. Some of these projects are: a rehabilitation center for street children with professional training and economic help; a campaign against trafficking of Albanian girls and women; and the first Women’s Club in Albania. During these years she was also a human rights activist who supported groups in need, such as marginalized women, poor and homeless children, and elderly people. She was viewed as a leader who contributed in the development of the society by opposing political affiliations that only brought destruction to the country and the people.
In 1997, she was elected president of the NGO Forum, the first umbrella NGO in the country. As such, she led the movement for peace and development. The building of a greenhouse by a women’s NGO was her idea, and this idea brought a great message of peace in time of war. The flowers were donated and given as gifts at many concerts and activities as well as to the President of Albania at the time.
During the Kosovo war her organization helped 3800 Kosovo Albanians with food, shelter and other humanitarian aid, and showed that women know how to combine devotion and professionalism, simplicity and sincerity in all their actions.
Sevim Arbana and her organization are also known for their contribution to dealing with the problem of blood feuds in Albanian society. She and her group decided to visit and talk to families who were most affected. The plan was to begin by treating children because they are the pillar of the future society. They organized TV spots for the prevention of this problem and talked to and educated children. The Albanian society and foreigners recognized this as an effective attempt in the prevention of blood revenge and for the sensitization of society.
At the same time, these were the first bridges of work between the Government and NGOs. Right after the end of the Kosovo war, and after long cooperation with feminist groups, especially in the Balkans, Sevim Arbana, with Women in Black and her friend Zorana Papic, initiated a peaceful movement “Woman-Bridge for Peace and Understanding” in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania, with different ethnic groups. Working together and united, the different women’s groups became closer. They all know and understand that women in the Balkans have the same profile: they are violated, they are poor, were raped, have no voice, and yet they are tolerant and have many ideas and the passion to fight for changes.
In 2000, Sevim Arbana received the award on Human Rights from the Republic of France, from the President, Lionel Jospen, for the project “The Blood Feud – this great drama which kills the Albanian childhood.” The Center for the Street Children, FERILASSES, another result of the work and engagement of Sevim Arbana, is today seen as one of the best programs and is well known not only in Albania but in all the Balkans.
Since 2002, Sevim Arbana has been president of the National Council of Albanian Women which includes twenty women’s NGOs, and is also the leader of the Unesco Council of Women.
Other activities include many peaceful demonstrations such as on 8 March, International Women’s Day, with slogans on women’s rights, brochures thrown from helicopters, and a parade with cars and speakers which launched a strong message that women should more than ever fight for their rights. She is member of different national, international, and European networks. The Albanian media has covered her work in the women’s movement and her pioneering ideas, such as in the documentary, Albanian Heroes, which shows the lives of simple people who have contributed to the development process. Right now she is also the executive director of the Women’s Competence and Culture House, which had started as a simple women’s club but later on turned out to be a place for creating new projects and discussing issues that affect women and youth: corruption, participation in decision making, and on rights and legal issues.
On the During the Euromed Civil Forum (Luxembourg, 1-3 April 2005) she explains: “Albania and many of the Mediterranean countries are more or less facing the same level of problems concerning women’s rights. For example, the poverty of women in Albania is similar to the poverty of women in Morocco or Tunisia. The most interesting thing for me during this Civil Forum is to know more about the women’s situation in the Mediterranean countries”. And “In Albania, the NGO sector started after 1990. We didn’t have any idea about how to organize the NGO’s, we just wanted something different from the political parties. For me, it has been a “learning by doing”- experience. And in fact, civil society has played a big role during these 15 years of democratisation in Albania”. During the Euromed Civil Forum, Sevin Arbana has participated in the workshop on women’s rights. And she has built many useful contacts to women’s organizations in the Arab region. “We are not members of the Euromed Civil Forum, but we would like to be members of this network. I think it is very important to find out how we can work in solidarity and by this give women a strong voice in both Europe and the Mediterranean countries, “ she underlines.
Neither the Government, Nor the Society Offers Prospects to the Returnees;
wikipedia about Albanians;
EIDHR, a 123 page pdf text of the EU-micro project compendium 2001;
in Italian: Provincia Venecia.