Thank you for the kind introduction, Merita. I’ve had a warm welcome on my first visit to Viti/Vitina. Greetings Deputy Prime Minister Kuçi, Mayor Haliti and other distinguished guests including Supreme Court Chief Justice Hasani and Kosovo Judicial Council Chairperson Idrizi.
Like all parents, I want the best for my children — and that includes the right to own property. My son and daughter are students now, but my wife Vonda and I certainly hope they will both own property someday. Unfortunately, not all children in Kosovo, particularly daughters, have this opportunity.
That opportunity to own property is a fundamental right in a democratic society. This is true for both women and men. It is also essential for a vibrant market economy. And the effect can be dramatic For example, in the United States, women-owned businesses contribute $3 trillion to the economy and over 23 million jobs.
Yet, few women in Kosovo own property. A recent USAID survey showed only 19 percent of women in Kosovo own land – and less than 4 percent of women inherit property. Only 2 percent have a bank loan secured by property. And Kosovo’s economy is suffering because of it. As my boss, Secretary of State John Kerry said on International Women’s Day this year: “No economy will fully prosper if half its population is excluded from participating.”
It is interesting to note that the legislative framework for property rights is quite good. However, the lack of consistency in applying those laws is troubling. Women are often excluded from inheritance proceedings – or asked to renounce their inheritance. This is a serious inequality that should be openly discussed and addressed.
Over the past year, I have met with many women leaders, business owners, and civil society groups. They all raised a common concern – women face discrimination in exercising their property rights. Let’s be clear. The Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and its laws recognize equal rights for men and women.
That is why today’s event is so important. Raising awareness about property rights is the first step in making positive change. The USAID Property Rights Program is working closely with the government — and all of you — to help citizens fully exercise their property rights.
Last December, I attended the launch of the first USAID public service announcement on women’s property rights. Today, I am here to announce another set of initiatives—a campaign to spark and inform discussion of women’s property rights in local communities. Women in Kosovo clearly possess the skills and drive to help develop their country, expand businesses and create jobs – as well as serve as President. I hope you will join me in supporting positive changes that will strengthen Kosovo’s social and economic well-being.
I’d like to congratulate Mayor Haliti and his administration for their commitment to these initiatives. Thank you for hosting us today. I’d also like to acknowledge Deputy Prime Minister Kuci’s leadership and partnership, including the development of a national strategy for property rights.
Our team is working across Kosovo to support women’s economic and legal rights and to help fight crimes such as domestic violence. We need your help. Kosovo needs your help.
As President Obama said last year: “Communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons are more peaceful, are more prosperous, develop faster, and are more likely to succeed.” This statement is true for Kosovo and I look forward to working together for Kosovo’s prosperity and success.