Saudi Arabia, a male-dominated country, is changing slowly. One example of its cautious new openness is the 2012 movie Wadjda, Saudi Arabia's first feature film, by its first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour.
My country, the Balkan republic of Kosovo, more than 90% Muslim, is likewise male-controlled and also appears to be changing.
That impression, however, is created by Kosovo having a woman president, Atifete Jahjaga, and is false.
President Atifete Jahjaga does not belong in the same category as Wadjda, the female protagonist of the Saudi film. We need a Wadjda for our country – both a female with the spirit of the cinema character, and a movie like it. We need many Wadjdas.
A promotional poster for the film Wadjda (left), and Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga.
In Wadjda, the film-maker tells the story of a 10-year old girl in a world where women exist to bear children, satisfy sexual demands, and serve food. Wadjda, living in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, makes an immense effort to purchase a bicycle, like the one owned by a neighborhood boy. She is warned that girls should not ride bicycles, reflecting Saudi Wahhabi doctrine. Still, Wadjda's mother, using money she saved for a red dress, buys her the bicycle. At the end Wadjda rides toward the highway, another Saudi male preserve.
Wadjda got what she desired, without complaining about being a woman.
I want a Wadjda for Kosovo.
My country is full of women who want their rights, and are intelligent and educated, but who fail. They hold to a mindset that declares, "I am a women, unequal, wronged, and must be given rights."
Kosovo is a European country, and the obstacles to women's equality present in the Balkans are seldom comparable to those in the Saudi kingdom. Polygamy is rare in Kosovo, civil divorce is a guaranteed right, women are represented widely in the professions – President Atifete Jahjaga was a police commander – and all religions have freedom.
But Kosovo, with a movie industry that is not restricted by the so-called "moral" and religious requirements of Saudi reality, also needs films that will expose the dark aspects of life in the republic – where the male leader caste decides the future of the country alone, ignoring or manipulating nearly all women, government officials, and religious leaders. They act as if unrestrained by law or custom – spreading corruption in private and public life, through intimidation, counting on habitual assent to injustice.
Kosovo shares one social problem with Saudi Arabia. That is the infiltration of radical Islam through the top clerical apparatus in the Balkan lands. The Wadjdas of Kosovo need to defy those who would, in the name of Islam, impose foreign habits on them. The story of victimized moderate Muslim clerics and intellectuals, removed from their congregations, dismissed from teaching positions, physically attacked, and otherwise abused, remains to be told.
As a Kosovo citizen, I owe allegiance to the female head of our state, President Atifete Jahjaga, nicknamed "Zarf-tifete," or "Envelope-tifete." Her position was gained two years ago, in April 2011, when her name was presented to the Kosovo government in an envelope, by the former U.S. ambassador to Kosovo from 2009 to 2012, Christopher Dell, who was an Obama appointee. Jahjaga was an unknown – when she became president there was only one picture of her in Google Images.
Atifete Jahjaga did not seek her post as president, the way Wadjda fought for her bicycle. Atifete Jahjaga risked nothing. She appears above party politics.
It would be bad enough if my very small country had only one Atifete Jahjaga, that is, only one person whose high position represented tokenism and reward without real merit. Unfortunately, the majority of women in Kosovo's public life are like her. She is supported by American diplomats and local personalities pushing and grabbing for others' positions: in business, in politics, in criminal operations, as silent partners.
President Atifete Jahjaga presents merely a positive image of Kosovo. It is a country with more than 90% of its 1.8 million people Muslim, a country with an Islamic majority but a female president.
Wadjda's director, Haifaa Al-Mansour, dedicated years of work to her product. She was forced into compromises, changing the script.
My country, Kosovo, with its Muslim identity, needs strong women in public life, who dare to do things forbidden in the name of Islam but which Islam does not prohibit.
Saudi Arabia is changing. Wadjda, a film that offered a realistic depiction of the opening-up of Saudi society, gained the support of Saudi King Abdullah. Some have criticized the film for showing Wadjda's mother buying the bicycle instead of the young girl herself.
I want a Wadjda for my country, in addition to women like President Atifete Jahjaga.
I have sisters and female friends. I would like to be a brother or friend to a female president, but to a president who has reached her position as Wadjda got her bicycle – because she deserved it.
Visar Duriqi is a young Kosovar Albanian who has become prominent as an investigative journalist exposing the penetration of radical Islam, and other social problems, in the Balkan republic. He is a Kosovo correspondent of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.