REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOSOVO, MADAM ATIFETE JAHJAGA AT BARNARD COLLEGE FORUMIt is a pleasure to be here with you this evening to discuss the importance of women leaders and the impact that the engagement of women in public service has, and to share with you my experience as the first female President of the Republic of Kosovo and the only woman President so far in the Western Balkans.
Honorable President Spar,
Honorable Madam Harman, Madam de Alwis, Madam Pais, Madam Pandith
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you this evening to discuss the importance of women leaders and the impact that the engagement of women in public service has, and to share with you my experience as the first female President of the Republic of Kosovo and the only woman President so far in the Western Balkans.
I was chosen as the President of Kosovo last year amid an unpredictable political crisis that the country was facing. The Constitutional Court had just ruled that the current presidents election had not respected the rules of procedure and political parties were back at the negotiating table to find the suitable candidate that would unite them and the citizens of Kosovo. I was approached to be that candidate. It was a daunting task because unlike my predecessors and most of the Presidents in the world, I never ran for office or envisaged myself in politics.
But what set me aside was my commitment to service that many had come to know in Kosovo.
In the year 2000, just months after the war had ended in Kosovo that left the country devastated and in need to be rebuilt from scratch, I joined the new Kosovo police force. I joined the police because I had lived all my life in search of freedom and rule of law amid the repression and discrimination that characterized most of my generations experience of growing up in Kosovo. My familys too. My father was born in a prison because his mother, a dissident, was arrested for standing against a regime that robbed us of the right to exercise our freedoms and failed to respect the most basic human rights.
In a country in ruins as Kosovo was in 1999 building a police force was key as the rule of law is the underlying principle for a sustainable development of the country. It was our chance for the first time in Kosovos history, to build a force that was democratic, inclusive and offered security. A police force that would serve all, regardless of the ethnic background, gender or belief. A force that would guarantee the freedom of each and everyone and create the conditions for every citizen of Kosovo to unleash their full potential, without discrimination, without prejudice, with a fair chance and equal opportunities. To secure prosperity, which relies so much on the rule of law, and as does our ambition for the future to join the European Union.
That is why the building of Kosovo Police as the countrys most respected institution was imperative in the restoration of rule of law in Kosovo. And I am proud to say that the police force that I helped establish is exactly that today.
It is the same commitment to service and to the people of Kosovo, who I have the honor of representing that motivated me to take on the responsibility _ and the challenge _ of becoming the President of the Republic of Kosovo.
On daily basis, my challenges are the same as the challenges of any President.
Inside Kosovo, I work hard to be the unifying leader that I pledged to become when I was voted in office and I seek to spearhead and support reforms that are necessary for the countrys further progress.
Outside Kosovo, like this week in New York, I seek to represent the new Kosovo to leaders that have gathered here for the UN General Assembly, a country that grows in peace with the support of this wonderful country and its international friends.
But, being the first woman President of the region and representing a new generation of leaders, I have an added responsibility I want to inspire especially young women of the region to join public service, to be involved and to contribute to the rebuilding of their societies and the region as a whole.
Why is this important and necessary?
For one, women are very good at building bridges. In a country that has experienced a conflict that damaged the bonds that hold the fabric of the society, women have shown tremendous will _ and ability _ to weave communities back together.
So often women are the easiest targets in conflicts and they are hardest hit by loss that wars bring about. They are also the most affected by poverty and lack of opportunities and this holds true regardless of whether they live in Kosovo, Liberia or Syria. As such, because they can relate to each other, they are more willing to cooperate to create opportunities for themselves and others.
They have shown persistence when seeking change and staying true to principles; they have shown courage and have not flinched in their fight for more justice and more freedom. But most importantly, they have shown willingness to move on and not repeat the sufferings of the past. They have shown determination to stop the vicious cycle of violence and hatred.
From the victims of war, that have suffered all the consequences, women have become the leading example in the society. They are the bearer of security for the whole society. Women are the foundation of the society as they guarantee the prosperity for all.
And they are the true agents of change.
I do not want to divide women and men because the responsibility for all the developments falls on the two genders equally. In my country, and other countries going through transition, the challenges are huge and never easy.
In my case, I have decided to confront these challenges because I believe in securing a better future for the citizens of my country and for the next generation. Therefore I am leading the efforts in the fight against corruption with the determination to win it.
When involved in politics or civic leadership, women help create an inclusive society and a more meaningful democracy, because they represent at least 50 percent of the population that is often excluded from decision-making. Their presence in parliaments and governments helps produce more balanced policies that address the needs of every citizen.
And ultimately this is why your work whether at the Woodrow Wilson Center or the Women in Public Service Project is so crucial.
In addition to creating a platform through which we share experiences and best practices around the globe, the concrete commitment of this initiative to globally increase the number of women in leadership positions to 50 percent by 2050 will result in more balanced policies, in a better addressing of needs and more inclusive societies that will consequently bring more stability and prosperity to our communities and countries.
As Secretary Clinton, who is such an inspiration to all of us, said just a few months ago you are more likely to succeed if you widen the circle to include a broader range of expertise, experience, and ideas This is not just about fairness; it is about expanding the pool of talented people to help tackle our biggest problems.
Now, whether the increased participation of women is achieved through quotas or is a result of campaigns that raise awareness that investment in women is a guaranteed investment in our future will not be that relevant. Once fulfilled, this goal of increased participation of women across the board will become a leading example of how we can create a critical mass for a positive change on a global level by inspiring women to act in their local communities. Therefore, I commend Secretary Clinton and leaders of sister colleges for such an inspirational vision.
Its fulfillment will be a gift of this generation of women to the emerging young women leaders, who will hopefully thrive in an era of fewer glass ceilings and more equality.
To you, young women leaders, I say never give up. Because no matter how difficult your path has been or is about to be, by participating in public service you have taken it upon yourself to expand bonds and create new partnerships, to become mentors and coaches to one another. To become role models. To show solidarity and to find courage. To change other peoples lives and to work for the general good.
And I can assure you that there is nothing more rewarding than that.