Be the change you want to see in the world
By Fati Gorezi
Avni Dervishi holds a Master’s Degree in ‘Political Science-European Affairs/Politics 2001’and has studied in three European countries, in four various universities, and has been engaged to promote ‘Gender and Youth Empowerment’ in 83 countries in the world (including Europe, Asia and Africa). He has experience both from the UN (United Nations – Mission in Kosovo) and the ‘Parliament of Sweden’ for six years, where he was a member of the ‘Diplomatic Club of Parliament’. Thereafter, he worked for the ‘Carter Center’ in Nepal, and UNDP as a ‘Diaspora’ expert. His background is from communist East Europe but most of his life has been spent in Sweden. He is now invited to various countries to hold lectures on the ‘Empowerment of Women’ and the benefits this brings to the whole of society regardless of gender, age, religion or disability. His focus is on the obstacles facing women, youths, immigrants and people with disabilities and his unique approach has made him a very popular presenter.
You are Albanian by origin but you have also lived in a communist regime? How do you remember that time?
I was six years old when the communist regime jailed my older sister and my father. The reasoning behind this was that they were Albanians and they wanted something called ‘Freedom and Democracy’. The communists didn’t like people talking about freedom and democracy. At that time I remember my mother and I visiting several prisons, police stations and meeting communist political decision-makers. The way they treated my mother, because she was a woman with strong principles, became the starting point for my journey. She opposed the Yugoslavian communist anti-Albanian regime and also the patriarchal way of thinking that dominated Society at that time (around 1981). That was the time when I saw with my own eyes how discrimination against women was used as a tool to break a woman’s spirit whether a mother, wife or sister. At that time I also understood what women’s empowerment really meant and I promised to myself that as long as I live I will promote gender empowerment – and I am proud that I have followed my promise all these years. After all, it is all about finding a win-win situation for all people on planet Earth. And for all those men that haven’t woken up and understood that yet, my message is – “Wake up and face reality”.
What have been the most difficult moments of your life as a migrant man?
It must be when I got discriminated against due to my name when I was applying for a position at a state authority here in Sweden. I was given the suggestion to change my name. They didn’t care about my education and experience. Thanks to a lot of campaigns from the media however that attitude is now changing though. So I did face discrimination due to my immigrant background but I never gave up though, and I am thankfull to the media and my own confidence for that. Stereotyping and prejudgment were the most difficult issues to tackle but I speak six languages so it eventually went better than I thought.
How would you describe your life now? Who is Avni Dervishi?
Good questions 🙂 Avni is firstly, a global human being. After promoting democracy and international cooperation (mainly through Gender and Youth Empowerment in more than 80 countries so far), I must say that my life is still being written as we speak – and there are still many pages left and a lot of colour is still needed to fill those pages. I always have one small bag standing near the front door in case I have to travel to other countries while looking for opportunities to promote Gender Empowerment and international cooperation worldwide. I have a Master’s degree in Political Science (European Affairs/Politics) so I know quite a lot about diplomacy and European and global affairs.
What kept you believing in the vision of the world you wanted to create?
My own life experience and the belief that beside others, ONE person can also make a positive change in our world. I now understand how and why women are being discriminated against and also how and why young people were discriminated against. I also witnessed how people with disabilities have been discriminated against. My own brother is a deaf-mute and I have witnessed how society has discriminated against him. I have also experienced discrimination myself. So, to summarise the answer, my struggle is to unite all the powers that oppose discrimination and convince them to cooperate. This is what is still driving me to believe change is possible and to aim the vision of the world towards bringing equality to all people, regardless of our human diversity.
The main reason that keeps me going is due to what my mother always told me when I was a child – that the best religion in the world is to follow the truth that by supporting people in need – we support ourselves in deed. You help people and you will get help back when you do not expect it. It does work. During my promotion for international cooperation I’ve been to many post-conflict countries in various continents and very often my calm and open attitude has shone a light onto my path when I did not expect it at all. At one time I was in a post-war country in western Africa in order to convince them to involve women at the negotiation table just before I was due to meet the President of this country. But before that took place, and all of a sudden, our passports were seized by their authorities. But, being open minded and trusting I got them back within the same day without any bribes. I am convinced that one person can make a positive change.
You have worked in some countries helping women to become empowered. In your opinion what are the present obstacles facing women these days ?
I was, and I still am, trying to help more women in political decision-making. It is a necessity. When 50% of the inhabitants of any country are women, why shouldn’t they also form half of the political representatives in the Government at the national and local level? They should. There are several obstacles facing women these days. If nothing else the ongoing #MeToo campaign is a reminder for all men that we have to think and rethink the way we behave. We should treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. An adult woman just like an adult man and must be able to live her own life the way she wants. Gender is nothing other than something we tend to identify people by. In democracies we accept various cultures and belief systems and that is great. However, the freedom of personal choice for an adult person – how she/he lives their life with other adults or alone, should not be an issue in a democracy regardless of our backgrounds.
Another obstacle is the fact that more men should understand the benefits of having more women in decision-making positions. In fact we get better economies, more sustainable families, lower crime rates among the young, improved health for all, better social care for children and the elderly and a much stronger economy (domestic and national). When both women and men work together they both pay taxes equally. Countries become stronger with stronger individuals. We will have more money for holidays and enjoying life when we have more gender equality. And any country that can achieve this will get a much stronger role on the international stage. So one of the obstacles is the low percentage of men who understand the benefits of women’s empowerment. We men have to understand and accept these facts. It is never to late and I hope this will change soon. I was ecently introduced to a network of men called MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) based in the USA and also another one called ‘Manproject’ that aims to talk freely about differences re the male gender culture and behaviours. We men should be better at talking about our feelings and skip the prestige and pride of being a MAN. That definition of a ‘classic man’ is gone for ever. We live in 2018 now and the living circumstances are different – and so are the possibilities. So we have to update our brain hardware. By doing that men will become much more aware about the necessity of women’s empowerment.
What do you think about the political participation of women in Kosovo and Sweden? What more could be done?
Yes, much more can be done. During the six years that I worked in the Parliament of Sweden, and the years I was working for the United Nations with the government of Kosovo, as well as my work as international officer for the young liberals of Sweden (where I represented 3500 young people on the European continent) etc, I was highly involved in increasing the political participation of women in Sweden, South East Europe and rest of the world. I was invited to hold lectures on Gender Empowerment and I advocated action plans to be established at local, regional and national levels, on how to increase the number of women in politics. (The international community, mainly through OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) recommends quotas which is good). However I do think that quotas should be seen as a temporary tool in order to increase the awareness of the people that they should not discriminate against women due to their gender. In the end, it is their competence and experience that should be decisive. But until that happens quotas should be an option. This goes for Kosovo, Albania and other countries of post-communist regimes and also post-conflict as well, regardless where in the world they are. Usually they are 30%, but I think they should be at least 40%. Every single political party should have their own system that ensures that women’s participation is essential. It should be part of their party ideological education and training. They should lift the benefits of society by increasing the number of women in politics. Some countries do it anyway and the economic grown is tremendous. See how Rwanda is doing! 2018 they are expecting to have 8.7% economic growth. The political parties should have a general rule when deciding about election lists. Do they want votes? If yes, every second name should be a woman and every second a man. Simply as that.
Apart your career what else is important in your life?
Well, for me this is life and career all in one. Improving peoples’ lives through increased global cooperation and using my expertise as a Diaspora expert in order to built bridges of cooperation between the country of residence and the one of the origin. It is important in life to face challenges and learn from them. I love to mediate between people, organisations, states and other stake-holders and to find sustainable solutions for them. Another thing is that we have just one planet and it is us humans that have to save our planet – TOGETHER. Our resources are not endless. I was recently contacted by an organisation in the U.S. and another in New Zealand dealing with men involved in Gender Empowerment and I was very pleased about it. I strongly believe in cooperation and that nothing is impossible. But I am sometimes far too honest in what I say, and I know that being too honest might be an obstacle. But this is me, Avni.