TLP-SP Scholars Take Fight For Gender Equality to Dartmouth College
Besnik Leka beamed, speaking about his work.
“It’s been four years now…it’s a job where every single day I wake up in the morning falling more in love with what I do.”
As project coordinator for CARE International Balkans, Leka oversees the implementation of numerous programs in the region aimed at elevating social and economic inclusion. The Young Man Initiative, for example, encourages increased gender equality by engaging young men on topics in gender and violence prevention.
“Some men or boys think that when I talk to them I’m trying to take the power out of them…but nobody ever went to them and spoke to them about this issue,” he said. The Initiative campaign challenges traditional ideas about manhood and masculinity with slogans like ‘Be a man, and feel free to fall in love’ while also encouraging engagement at home in areas like the kitchen.
So far, it has seen unprecedented success. “It’s equally important to empower women as it is to emancipate and educate men to be promoters of gender equality,” Leka said, detailing plans for another program that will engage fathers and fathers-to-be.Besnik Leka stands on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, New Hampshire, USA. Photo courtesy Besnik Leka.
But he is not the only one championing gender equality in Kosovo.Leka’s counterpart, Mrs. Teuta Sahatqija, is a Member of Parliament (MP) who focuses on issues like economics and energy. But she is better known for her fight for women’s empowerment, which brought about a gender quota in Kosovo’s parliament. She currently works on legislation for increased inheritance and loan borrowing rights for women.
Together, Leka and Sahatqija plan to reach different audiences to broaden the gender landscape in Kosovo, a traditionally patriarchal society that—like many countries—still struggles to stem domestic violence and increase opportunities for women and girls.
The activist and MP were brought together by the Transformational Leadership Program – Scholarships and Partnerships (TLP-SP), a project supported by USAID and World Learning. Among several other objectives, the project aims to equip Kosovo leaders to advance development in society and industry.
Last month, the duo began professional studies at Dartmouth College in the United States with TLP-SP scholarships, inaugurating the College’s Graduate Certificate Programin Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studiesfor master’s students.
“For me, it’s very important to see how gender and sexuality is treated at the academic level,” said Sahatqija. “And being a politician, I am very much interested to see how politics can foster gender equality in education, in health, in heritage, and other areas.”
Likewise, Leka welcomes the academic experience to broaden his impact. “I believe that if you are involved in field work you really understand the issue from its roots,” he said. “And it’s important to me to be a good resource person. If I have an experience I will be able to share it, so it will be more beneficial for my community and my target groups.”MPTeuta Sahatqija spoke at Kosovo'sWeek of Women event last year. Photo courtesy Teuta Sahatqija.
Dartmouth’s program offers Leka and Sahatqija the perfect venue in which to study the dynamic topic. Annabel Martín, professor and director of the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth (GRID), describes the interdisciplinary nature of gender study.
“One of the legs upon which any discussion or serious conversation or study of social justice stands on is that of gender,” she said. “Gender is at the crossroads of issues of class, issues of race, ethnicity, language, national origin.”
Dartmouth’s roots in Kosovo actually go deeper than TLP-SP. Their long-standing relationship began at the close of the Kosovo War in 1999 with an ongoing medical student exchange program and has grown to include work with American University in Kosovo (AUK), Kosovo’s Action for Mothers and Children, a gender study and research center at University of Prishtina (UP), visiting scholars, and a new collaboration between Dartmouth’s Hitchcock Medical Center and the University of Prishtina.
In addition to the scholarship component of TLP-SP, the partnerships project also counts Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business as one of its official program partners. Tuck has partnered with the UP’s Faculty of Economics to help drive development in the country’s higher education system in accordance with TLP-SP’s long-term goals to improve Kosovo’s most urgent needs.
Dartmouth’s Assistant Provost for Academic Initiatives, Laurel Stavis, said Dartmouth is looking forward to hosting Leka and Sahatqija and to increased involvement in Kosovo.
“For a very young country, Kosovo developed a very progressive constitution, and the fact that there is a gender quota for the parliament is a very forward-looking move on Kosovo’s part,” she said. “Teuta has been instrumental in this process, and it will be a great privilege to have her on campus as well as to have Besnik who is doing such groundbreaking work.”
Leka and Sahatqija are equally optimistic about their homeland’s future, and they plan to continue working together when they return to Kosovo in November.
“The good thing is that there is improvement,” said Sahatqija. “Kosovo has a very young and vibrant population…changes here come much faster”.