Elizabeth Zherka

University of Washington, Jackson School of International Studies

Gender Equality in Kosovo: An Examination of 'Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit' through a Feminist Lens

The “Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit” is a code that embodies the deep and firm beliefs of the Albanian people, showing their “uncompromising morality” with a system “based on justice, honor, and respect for oneself and others” (Kanun xix). This set of customary laws was created in the Middle Ages and was used in Albanian settlements. It has been recorded that this particular code was followed widely in “the mountains of Lezhë, in Dukagjin, in Skodër, in Gjakovë, in Kosovë, and even among the Albanian populations of parts of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia” (Gjeçov xvii). It was not until the late 19th century that this text was recorded in written form; until that time it had been sung and kept alive in folklore and legend. This code was used to govern all aspects of clan life and superseded religious and state laws, even into the 20th century. Kanun is significant because modern traditions in Northern Albania, and most of Kosovo, are steeped in its tenets. In some of the more remote parts of Kosovo, Kanun remains the law above all others. In this essay I examine the twelve books of Kanun through a feminist lens so as to begin to develop better understanding of the origins of today’s gender inequalities in Kosovo. In particular, I explore the small portion of Kanun which permits women to choose, or be chosen by their parents, to become men; these women are called ‘sworn virgins’.

Kanun is a unique and valuable text as it offers us a window through which we can both examine the past and better understand the present in regards to gender inequalities. Kosovar women have had, by law, a long history of exclusion from the public sphere. Unlike other patriarchal societies in which the woman has power, rights and specific responsibilities in the home, this is not the case under Kanun. Women, by law, cannot even develop their own power, or autonomy, within the household. Kanun reifies the identity of a woman being in a state of perpetual childhood, belonging first to her parents and then her husband. The legacy of Kanun lives on in remote areas of Kosovo and its cities through tradition, ceremony and paradigm norms surrounding gender roles.

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