Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 7
Issue 2
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume7/issue2/economics/art-08.html


Beryl Nicholson



Albanian society differs from the rest of Europe. It is dominated by the present form of a traditional institution, the patrilineal family, which has evolved over time. Networks of family and kin fulfil several functions undertaken elsewhere by a range of institutions. This structure limits possibilities for women, but it is also a major resource. The changes since 1990, one of the most important being land privatisation, have given rural households more autonomy and, on balance, have had an empowering effect for women, though at the cost of increasing their work and responsibility. Not all changes have been to women’s advantage. In the public sector cuts and shortages have disproportionately affected women, and their representation in political fora has greatly declined. The increased contact with other countries through work migration is a conduit for new ideas that help to improve women’s situation in the family, but innovations intended to empower women will only be successful if they t

Key words: family, kin networks, Albania, women, privatisation..


Albania is an exception in a European context. It is still predominantly rural and it has a unique social structure. Just over half the population lives in villages, fshat, consisting of groups of dwellings, hamlets or neighbourhoods (lagja) scattered around an area the size of a parish. Several villages make up a commune. In some villages one lagje is larger than the others and is the location of most formal institutions, but the most important institutions are informal ones, specifically the extended family and kin (fis). This powerful institution, the patrilineal family, is the most significant non-state social structure, and it dominates civil society.

As in the rest of the Balkans, formal institutions, such as the state, the Church and the feudal lord, were of much less significance than elsewhere in Europe. More exceptionally, village level organisations and institutions have not developed. Above all, for several centuries before Albania became independent in 1912, the state had been very weak. Thus familial social forms are stronger and perform a range of functions, which elsewhere are distributed between other social institutions. The family is, however, not a ‘traditional’ institution such as was known in earlier centuries throughout Europe, but rather the present form of that institution. As conditions around it have changed, the family has evolved and adapted in response. Its resilience is such that it has withstood the attempts to modify it in the past, as well as the upheavals of the last decade or so, in some ways weakened, but in others strengthened.

This article looks at women’s empowerment from below, from the point of view of ordinary women in South Albanian villages. The villages studied are relatively favoured. They are all located within 10 km of a town, or a main road or a railway, and they have been little affected by population decline, which is evident in more remote areas. Perhaps half the rural population lives in areas such as these [7]. Rural areas in the south are also more prosperous than in the north. They are less traditional and improvements in women’s position occur sooner.


The data for this article derive from ethnographic fieldwork for the project ‘Life in South Albanian villages from a women’s perspective’, financed by grants from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. The project began in 2000 and builds on shorter periods of field research undertaken in the same villages since 1996. The author spent a year visiting and living in villages with local people and kept an extensive and detailed diary of observations and conversations. These are the main sources of the findings reported here. They have been supplemented by further material gathered on subsequent shorter visits and use of documentary sources.


Over time, the trend of change has generally been in the direction of improving women’s position, and the degree of power and autonomy they have within the household. This was already evident in small ways a century ago [4], but progress is slow. Thus while marriages are still usually arranged (a normal practice in rural areas that many young women agree with), women are now allowed to see their future spouse before marriage and their consent to the match is sought. This development is sometimes attributed to the loosening of restrictions since 1990, but it had already begun in the 1970s, following attempts under the old regime to popularise the idea of romantic love.

The biggest structural change introduced by the former regime was to replace the practice of living in joint households, which divided after a generation or two, with a series of stem families. That is, as each brother in succession married and brought his new bride into the household, the brother who had married before him would move out and set up his own household. The last son to marry stayed in the house. Each daughter-in-law did her share of caring for elderly parents, then, except for the youngest, obtained her own household where she was no longer bidden to her mother-in-law. This change took account of the value placed on care of the older generation, while at the same time allowing many women what they wanted (though most only say so in private), their own home.


Within the family women are subordinate to men, but in this respect the family is little different from many other institutions of civil society, if not now, then in the recent past. A woman does have areas of autonomy, especially after she becomes the senior woman in the household when she moves out of her mother-in-law’s house or her mother-in-law dies. Marriage is thus a route to relative empowerment for women. Unmarried women, daughters, sisters, do not have money or property of their own, but work for the household both within it and if they work outside. Some women even feel that not being married (very few women do not marry) is a source of shame. It is still rare, in rural areas unknown, for an unmarried woman, a divorcée or a widow without children, to live independently. Much of women’s activity, invariably work, takes place in the women’s sphere [1,4] and women usually have autonomy over their work. They also assist men with their work. If a family builds a new house, for example , all its members participate in the building work irrespective of gender.

According to the Albanian Family Code, spouses are equal and have equal rights in joint property [14]. Money is considered to belong to whole family. All income, including that obtained by men, goes into the family fund, but its administration is often unequal. A wife usually manages the budget in practice, but her husband will ask how she spends money. Some men take the decisions, such as the man in a market who was selling the family cow against his wife’s wishes because he wanted the money, but some women claim they decide. Men take their pocket money, some make arbitrary expenditure, and their wives have to cope with the consequences. A wife is answerable to her husband; he is not accountable to her.

Men remind women of their subordination in other ways for which I use the term ‘petty patriarchy’. They ask their wives where they are going or where they have been. One man would not allow his wife to dye her hair. If a man arrives home when a visitor is present, his wife will stop talking and he will dominate the conversation. Men make tiny criticisms in front of guests about their wife’s cooking or how she served a meal (‘there was too little salt in the soup’). It must be emphasised that not all men behave in this way. Some older men maintain their authority without being petty, younger men, especially those who have worked abroad, have seen other ways of behaving, and hen-pecked husbands are not unknown, but significant numbers of men assert their superiority in these petty and irritating ways.

It is one of the duties of women to wear black to show that they and their family are mourning the death of a relative. Not to do so would result in gossip and harm the reputation of her family. Men, on the other hand, show no outward sign. If the person who dies is one of their own close family, women willingly wear black because they want to show their respect for that person, and after the death of a son some women go into permanent mourning. In other cases it may be a chore. The significance in the case of widows is different. Custom requires that when her husband dies a woman must wear black for the rest of her life, or until she remarries. It is a statement about their own status and a visible symbol of women’s subordination. Most women resent the imposition of being forced to wear black, the more so since they have become aware that this custom has long been abandoned in other countries. In towns, where social pressures are less strong, some younger widows are beginning to discreetly push back the boundaries by deviating slightly from the dress code, but in villages this has yet to happen.


There is, however, another aspect to women’s position. A marriage joins two families, not just two people. They become krushk, affinal kin. Marriage is virilocal, a wife moves to the home of her husband’s parents, which will in most cases be in a different village. Her sisters do the same, and their mother and her sisters did it before them, but the very strong bonds of affection between them, and their parents and brothers, persist and are maintained by mutual visiting. A woman’s visits to her parental home are referred to as visiting her mother, and relations with a teze (mother’s sister) are often closer than with a hallë (father’s sister). Men’s kin usually remain in the same village all their lives, so their networks are more restricted. Sisters-in-law (kunata) must by custom co-operate and they spend a lot of time together, but it is rare for their relationship to give access to one anothers’ networks. Men do not link women in the way that women link men. T hus, through women and their female relatives, men potentially gain access to a wider and more varied kin network than their own.

The size and gender-balance of individual women’s networks are determined by accidents of birth (and death), but until recently, for much of the twentieth century families have been large, so many are quite extensive. Some are very strong indeed, notably if there are many sisters and they have strong personalities. The institutionalising of the link between their husbands is recognised by a special term, baxhanakë. In a society where kin are trusted but others much less so, these relationships enabled by women are important assets to the family [1]. They are conduits for information and they provide contacts to individuals with a range of skills, abilities and resources. Thus, while they do not give women power, in a subtle way they give them influence, because women are useful. For women as well as men, the family and kin represent a resource as well as a constraint. It is in the networks of which it is part that a family functions as an ‘institution’ of civil society.


The most fundamental change in rural areas in the last dozen years has been the privatisation of agriculture and replacement of state farms and co-operatives by family holdings, which was largely completed by 1994. Privatisation took no account of previous ownership. The land in each village was distributed equitably according to the number of persons in each household, irrespective of gender or age. A full allocation was made to those who had worked in agriculture and a half allocation to those who had not, so all rural families got some land. Compared with other countries in Eastern Europe, privatisation was accomplished quickly and on the whole with little conflict. It has been major factor in strengthening the family by transferring an important economic role to the household. For women the effects have been both positive and negative. They have had new opportunities to empower themselves, but usually by adding to their work burden.

The average amount of land allocated to each family was just under a hectare. Title to land is in the name of zoti i shtëpisë, the senior man in the family and his wife, zonja e shtëpisë, but everyone in the family knows which parcels were allocated to which persons, and regard it as theirs. When a daughter marries and leaves the parental household, her portion of land is still considered hers. She has the right to decide how it will be disposed of, though her brother may use it meanwhile, and pay her rent. This is not how the law is supposed to be interpreted [14], but it is what the new owners find to be just. The allocation of land to all rural inhabitants blurs the divide between farm and non-farm families. While many of the latter have little enthusiasm for farm work, they often keep chickens or a pig and grow vegetables. Some have lost non-farm jobs, or have low salaries or pensions, which they supplement with agriculture. In the villages there are thus few families in w hich no adult works, or worked, in agriculture.

Privatisation presented a difficult challenge to individual families. They must somehow make a living with the land they have, but at the same time, they have become autonomous. Both men and women express satisfaction that now they work for themselves, not for others. They have mobilised the range of skills and knowledge they had learnt working in collective agriculture, on the tiny family plots and at agricultural secondary schools, and taught themselves more. More women than men had worked in collectivised agriculture [2], so they tended to have more skills, and much agricultural work falls within the women’s sphere. More men than women had off-farm jobs, in building, in industry, on the railway, as drivers and in state employment. Women’s off-farm work was more likely to be in the state sector or in the village shop (run by the co-operative or state farm).

Many off-farm jobs were lost in the early 1990s, so more men do agricultural work than before, but many have sought work abroad, leaving women with more responsibility for agriculture, and more work, than is generally recognised. The tables of the 1998 Agricultural Census do not disaggregate the labour force by gender (though it includes a category for ‘wives’) but survey evidence from 1992 showed that women did 35.7 percent of general farming activities and 56.5 percent of activities in the livestock sector. In the peak periods of spring and summer this work took up 70.2 percent and 80 percent of their time [5]. With just a few exceptions, for example in some villages men will not let women work with their sheep; the division of labour is less rigid and more pragmatic in Albania than many other societies. Women take over men’s work when an extra hand is needed, which men are less inclined to do, though some men do tasks such as milking cows by hand, which they rarely do in other societies. On balance, however, this flexibility tends to increase the work done by women.


Almost all families who received land, certainly in the more favoured areas, seek both to feed themselves and to obtain income in cash. One of the strengths of the Albanian family in the new agriculture is that in virtually all families there are young people, and they too have ownership rights, so though older people contribute to the work, very few have to manage land alone. Rural families deliberately produce a surplus or produce specifically for the market and, in many cases, sell it themselves. Probably the biggest single marketing operation in the country is the daily sale of liquid milk to consumers [11]. This trade is actually illegal and some urban dwellers tell exaggerated tales of the supposed lack of hygiene of the producers and poor condition of their cows. However, most women who produce and sell do their best to produce responsibly by keeping their cows clean and having regular veterinary checks. They have kept town dwellers supplied with fresh food for over a decade and they make a major contribution to their family incomes. Women also grow herbs and green vegetables, some of them on land they have cleared themselves for the purpose, which they sell in urban markets, though prices are kept low by competition from imports from the EU. In some areas they specialise in rearing turkeys to sell at New Year. These small enterprises on a holding are recognised as being the work of the person responsible, often a woman, though the income, like all income, goes to the household fund, not to the person who does the work.


Urban women have set up small businesses, becoming hairdressers or dressmakers, running small shops or selling from market stalls. Some urban women also sell at the larger rural weekly markets, but only a few rural women trade in this way, and they tend to sell at smaller markets and make little money. Some do dressmaking at home, trim neighbours' hair, sell ice cream around the village (which men also do), or sell everyday items, such as coffee, soft drinks and cigarettes, from a small table by their gate. In larger villages a few run shops with their husbands [12], some of the former shopkeepers who bought their businesses when they were privatised are women, a few work in bars or cafes, or sell snacks to children outside a school. Otherwise, opportunities for non-farm micro-businesses run by women are few in rural areas.

Undoubtedly the opportunities and the pressures of the past decade, notably the imperative of earning an income under difficult circumstances, have tended to empower women. A village woman who sells milk in a nearby town explained that her husband would have preferred that she did not do it, but she, though shy about selling in the street, persuaded him they needed the income, and that argument was decisive. The emigration of many men to seek work has also given women more responsibility [12], and allowed them more autonomy. In this respect the south differs from the north, where work migration was less common in the past, and a woman is still left in the care of another man if her husband goes abroad to work [3]. Emigration in general, and the stream of new ideas that comes to almost every family with the constant back and forth movement of migrants and their eventual return [10], is itself, as in the past [4], a source of change. Albanian men are seeing for the first time how women are tr eated in other societies, and this is influencing their behaviour too.


Outside the family, women’s lives and their opportunities for empowerment are affected by several non-family structures. These include commercial organisations, shops, animal traders, etc., they have dealings with, which will not be discussed, a small and not very important new group of civil society institutions, NGOs, and various departments of the state and state run enterprises, notably the education system, the health service, and public utilities.


It is a common complaints that educational provision has declined since the overthrow of the old regime. Some school types, such as evening agricultural schools for adults (women as well as men) no longer exist. Much has been made of children being kept at home from (the obligatory primary) school to work or because some villages lack their own schools, and the consequent illiteracy, which, especially for girls, is a problem in the north.

In rural areas in the south it is at secondary level (Shkolla e mesme) that girls are most disadvantaged. Participation by boys has largely been maintained, but in some villages fewer, in some no, girls attend school beyond the obligatory eighth class. One reason for the decline is the cost for families who get little of their income in cash. One woman estimated (though exaggerating slightly) that sending her son to a vocational school, where he had to board, would cost her husband’s entire income (he works in an oil refinery and she, with his help, works their land). The position has been made worse by the closure of rural secondary schools, due to a shortage of teachers, who have left to emigrate or get better paid jobs [14], and a decline in student numbers, as the first effects of declining family sizes become apparent. As well as being unable to afford the increased travel costs incurred by attending urban schools, some parents, alarmed by tales of drugs and unruly behaviour, ar e reluctant to let their daughters go to, or stay in, towns. Specialist schools in larger towns that take girl boarders keep a strict watch on them. The most many young rural women can hope to do is a ‘course’ in hairdressing or dressmaking, that is, work as an apprentice (a system that empowers urban women with appropriate skills), in a town where they have relatives to stay with.

In tertiary education there is an apparently contradictory trend. Women increasingly outnumber men [14], due in part to the emigration of young men of student age. The possibility of studying by correspondence, intended to enable teachers and others without qualifications to obtain them while continuing to work, has benefited women in villages, especially those with young families. It is an important means of empowering women who would not otherwise benefit from tertiary education. Only 1.2 percent of rural women aged 20 and over have received higher education, compared with 11.3 percent in towns. The corresponding rates for men are 2.5 percent and 16.2 percent [8].

Health services

Like education, health services have suffered decline, but there have also been innovations. Doctors given posts in rural areas now sometimes refuse to take them up. Some medical personnel have emigrated (though some have returned). They are very badly paid, and it is not uncommon to pay backhanders for medical treatment; there is a generally known scale of tariffs. Hospitals and village health centres, many of which were damaged at the time of regime change, have been repaired and improved, usually by international aid agencies, but they are not found in smaller villages. Probably the most valuable service in rural areas is the system of ambulatory nurses, infermiere në lagja, usually women, who are responsible for a small group of villages and usually know their patients well. They play an important role in looking after women and young children, and training courses have given them new skills, such as in family planning. Abortion was legalised in 1991 and was initially used as an alternative to contraception, which, though available since 1992, was expensive at first [2]. By 2001 there were 114 family planning centres, but most are in towns, so for rural women the infermiere në lagja are an important source of information. Even this familiar and trusted service works alongside informal structures [2]. Advice from the local nurse is used in conjunction with the experience of, say, a sister, and if they differ, the latter is given greater weight.

There is a lack of information and education on fatal conditions such as breast and cervical cancer [14], and many women present too late. Some doctors, many of whom are women, would like to initiate screening, but, especially outside Tirana, their access to information sources is poor, they have little knowledge of experience elsewhere and thus how to go about it (personal communication). Women tend to see solutions to health problems as purely medical. There is some awareness of the importance of diet and lifestyle, some messages have been clearly conveyed in the past, but not nearly enough. Some rural women could help themselves more. They habitually sit on the ground while watching animals then complain about their rheumatism, though they know it is caused by damp. There is also a legacy of poor health from years of working in poor conditions and living in damp houses. Many people, both men and women, suffer from hypertension, probably due in part to the heavy use of salt as a preservat ive when no one but the party elite had refrigerators.


Electricity supplies are unreliable everywhere, but especially in rural areas, and this affects women more than men because it hampers so much of their work. They need to see to animals in the early morning and to cook throughout the day. As more people, especially in towns, have bought electrical appliances, supplies have got less adequate. On most days in winter power is cut off at least once, sometimes for several hours. In villages that have a water supply, it is usually only available at certain times, so women have to fill up containers with the day’s supply. When there is no electricity water pumps do not work so there is no water. In the hills, some villages rely on wells, so women (and children and a few men) carry the water or transport it by donkey, usually uphill. In all villages poor water supply makes women’s lives unnecessarily difficult, especially in winter when the ground turns to mud, and they constantly have to wash their children’s clothes.


In common with other countries in Eastern Europe, the proportion of political representatives who are women has gone down, in Albania to 5.7 percent. A quota system is under discussion to improve this level. There has been some opposition to women in politics, a residual conservatism, though it is not universal. When women organised a campaign to support women candidates in 1996 election, some women were subjected to violence [6]. This lack of representation is not due to a lack of interest among women. They discuss politics among themselves, though in a partisan way, take a full part in family discussions, and assist at election time with tasks such as publicising meetings. In the early years of democracy they seemed to think it was necessary to wear their political allegiances like a badge. However, Albanian politics is very confrontational, and politicians are seen as corrupt. Politics lacks credibility, both men and women complain that ‘the government does nothing’, so they do not see p olitics as a way to solve problems. Therefore women (and many men) are often ambivalent about becoming politically active [6].

However, in most governments there are on average two women ministers, and three or four deputy ministers and women are quite numerous in senior public positions (the Director General of the National Statistics Office, the head of the Rural Development Fund, etc.), which seems to cause no surprise. This is perhaps a legacy of the old system, when it was normal for many women to do ‘men’s’ jobs, which established a kind of equality that has been carried over into the new system, but it seems to have had little effect on women’s situation in general.

The ministerial body currently charged with looking after women’s affairs is the Equality Committee, Komiteti për Mundësi të Barabarta, at the Department of Labour, which has a strongly committed staff of just nine. Its tasks include the implementation of government policies on women and family issues; the co-ordination of activities for the promotion of equality; the proposal of new legislation; and the support and co-ordination of NGOs’ activities in the field of women and family rights [6,14]. Their influence is strengthened by the importance attached to equality by international bodies and initiatives such as the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. The Albanian government aims to join the EU, and perhaps accedes to requests for its policies to conform to European standards more readily than otherwise might be the case. International organisations have also been willing to support some of the committee’s activities.


During the communist era the official women’s organisation, the Union of Albanian Women, a GONGO (governmentally organised non-governmental organisation), funded mainly by the state [6], had a branch in every village. It ceased to function when the institutions of that state collapsed. Since then, in Tirana, several women’s organisations have been founded and over time some NGOs, most located in a small area close to the offices of international organisations. This pattern continued for several years [14]. The concentration in the capital is beginning to weaken, but of the 70 women’s NGOs currently listed on the Equality Committee’s web-site [9], half have addresses in Tirana. At any one time only a small proportion are genuinely active [13]. The recurrence of the same names suggests an overlap of personnel, and there is cooperation between the most active groups [6], so the number of people who are active is not large. Almost all the rest of the NGOs are in provincial towns. In rural areas there are very few indeed and they have limited spheres of activity [13,14]. In practice, rural NGOs that are active are those promoted by international development organisations as part of their work.

The Tirana-based NGOs have nonetheless had some influence in the rest of the country, including rural areas. They have taken up issues and helped to get them widely discussed. These include family violence [14], the existence of which was previously not acknowledged, drug and alcohol abuse and family planning [6]. Some international organisations run seminars for rural women, where they discuss these and similar issues. Though only a few women can take part, potentially that which is discussed circulates further through informal networks. Many village women are eager for knowledge and new ideas. However, a major problem for rural women, one which urban based international organisations, especially their non-Albanian speaking staff, fail to understand, is the degree of disparagement and discrimination shown to them by urban women, especially in Tirana. The achievements of rural women tend to be played down, even by women prominent in women’s organisations. Urban women in general are unintere sted in rural women and in having contact with them. Most foreigners come from urban societies with small rural populations, so they rarely appreciate that the scale of rural problems is much larger when the rural population is the majority.

Many civil society actors in Albania are not Albanians and the ideas they introduce are often misunderstood. Many Albanians, especially women, still have little or no experience of the world outside. Punitive visa regimes, which have got worse since the implementation of the Schengen accord (exacerbated by corruption in certain consulates), make it exceedingly difficult for all except an elite few and those with foreign contacts to visit even neighbouring countries [10]. Hence their understanding of the wider world, and alternatives that might be accessible to them, are, at best, only partial. Rural women have learnt a lot by piecing together what they hear from different sources, such as their emigrant relatives and television, but there inevitably remain many misconceptions about the West. Westerners are at best only partly aware of this. As a consequence, Albanians and foreigners talk past one another, or Albanians learn the new words and pretend to understand so as not to be thought stu pid or impolite.

Albanians, even more than other East Europeans who were less isolated, have the impression that the West has always been as it is (or they imagine it) now, and that NGOs have always been important, and not just a current fashion. The western models presented to they are idealised representations, but they assume they reflect western realities. Therefore they have unrealistic expectations of what they might achieve when they try to imitate them [13]. From their experience in GONGOs they know how to set up semi-formal organisations, but the step to initiating practical activities has been problematic [2]. Funding is a major problem. Almost all of it comes from western donors, which puts those outside Tirana (except those promoted by a Western agency), and lacking language skills and self-confidence, at a severe disadvantage. It seems to Albanians that all western NGOs get funding, because they never see those who do not, so they despair at their own financial difficulties. Having taken at fac e value the rhetoric that they must find ‘other sources’ of finance for the longer term, and unaware that many western NGOs simply make themselves agents of governments, they blame their own shortcomings for finding none [6]. They struggle to manage with short term and insecure finance and negotiate the changing strategies of donor organisations (or their governments), while trying to sustain their programmes. They are aware that with their limited resources they do not come close to fulfilling needs, yet they cling to a belief that they should be developing a large and powerful movement. What is held out as a means for empowering ordinary citizens, among them women, in fact empowers only the strongest and most successful organisations. Not only are the rest not empowered; those who do not get resources and cannot do what they set out to do, feel disempowered.


Empowering women presents a rather different challenge in Albania from countries where there is a more varied array of civil society institutions. The dominant institution, the family, is not amenable to the kinds of measures, which could be adopted in formal institutions. Direct interventions, such as laws on behaviour within the family, can effect change, but past experience shows that these will only be successful if they are generally accepted, or at least not opposed, by the population, men as well as women. In the family, change and empowerment happen as the result of the penetration of ideas rather than direct interventions. Ideas empower women to find their own solutions to problems they face, taking account of their priorities and their situation. They also make other actors aware that change is necessary. Empowering women within the family inevitably brings change in the institution itself and leads to change in other areas of society.

The strength of the institution of the family also has important implications for the further development of civil society. It might appear to be an obstacle to the development of new institutions, but that need not be so. Institutions of the state and commercial entities of all kinds can co-exist with the family because interrelations between the two are bounded; they are based on, respectively, citizens’ entitlements or a commercial contract. Civil society organisations that require participation and commitment are a different matter. Imported foreign models that have been modified to fit into Albanian social structure, such as savings associations (some led by women) that restrict their membership to kin, that is people who trust one another, can be successful. However, attempts by outsiders (e.g. the World Bank) to impose village level organisations, such as water users’ associations, charged with the task of administering the village’s irrigation system, which took no account of the co nflicting loyalties that prevented anyone accepting a leading position, have been spectacular failures. Failed organisations empower no one, indeed they may do the opposite.

The way civil society develops depends on what already exists. Where informal institutions are well established other civil society institutions must take account of this context [13] and develop alongside them. To be accepted, non-family institutions must not conflict with the obligations of the family and kin group, and they need to offer benefits that the latter cannot, but in such a way as to articulate with it. The composition of the sources of human capital need not be the same everywhere. The components of civil society and their interactions can differ widely yet ultimately lead to similar results, but by different routes. Western experience, and western labelling of institutions as traditional or modern, is just one possible variant. In societies such as Albania, where informal institutions are a major and trusted resource, it is often through their mediation, perhaps only in that way that developments initiated in formal institutions can be successful.


  1. Backer, Berit 1983. Mother, sister, daughter, wife - the pillars of the traditional Albanian patriarchal society, in Bo Utas, ed., Women in Islamic societies. London: Curzon:48-65.

  2. Corrin, Chris 1992. Gender issues and women’s organisations in Albania. A report prepared for Oxfam (mimeo).

  3. DeSoto, Hermine, Peter Gordon, Ilir Gedeshi and Zamira Sinoimeri 2002. Poverty in Albania. A Qualitative Assessment. Technical Paper No. 520. Washington, DC: World Bank. www.worldbank.org/.

  4. Elezi, Ismet 2002. E drejta zakonore e Labërisë (Customary law in Labëria). Tiranë: Toena.

  5. FAO 1995. Rural employment problems in Albania. Rome: FAO (mimeo).

  6. Fico, Delina 1999. Women’s groups: the Albanian case, The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 15(1):30-40.

  7. Instituti i Statistikës 2000. Registrimi i përgjithshem i njësive ekonomike bujqësore 1-30 Qershor 1998 (General census of agricultural holdings 1-30 June 1998). Tiranë: Instat.

  8. Instituti i Statistikës 2004. Popullsia e Shqipërisë 2001 (Population of Albania 2001). Tiranë: Instat.

  9. Komiteti ‘Gruaja dhe familja’ 1999. Platforma e qeverisë shqiptare për gruan. Konventa mbi eleminimin e të gjitha formave të diskriminimit të gruas (The Albanian Governmental Platform for Woman (1999 – 2001) and The Convention on Elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women). Tiranë: Komiteti ‘Gruaja dhe familja’. http://www.cwf.gov.al/site/page.shtml(link: Programme for Gender Equality).

  10. Nicholson, Beryl 2002. The wrong end of the telescope: Economic migrants, immigration policy, and how it looks from Albania. The Political Quarterly 73(4):436-444.

  11. Nicholson, Beryl 2003. From cow to customer: Informal marketing of milk in Albania. Anthropology of East Europe Review 21(1):149-158. http://condor.depaul.edu/%7Errotenbe/aeer/V21n1/Nicholson.pdf

  12. Nicholson, Beryl 2004. The tractor, the shop and the filling station: Work migration as self-help development in Albania, Europe-Asia Studies 56(6):877-890.

  13. Sampson, Steven 1996. The social life of projects: Importing civil society to Albania, in Chris Hann and Elizabeth Dunn, ed., Civil society: Challenging Western models. London: Routledge:121-142.
  14. UNDP 1999. Albanian National Women Report 1999. Tiranë:UNDP. http://www.undp.org.al/?elib,392

Beryl Nicholsonz
12 Lavender Gardens
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 3DE
United Kingdom (UK)
e-mail: beryl1@research32.freeserve.co.uk

Responses to this article, comments are invited and should be submitted within three months of the publication of the article. If accepted for publication, they will be published in the chapter headed ‘Discussions’ in each series and hyperlinked to the article.