Although we are in the twenty first century, Albanian society continues to preserve taboos on issues such as marriage and the status of women.
Despite any modernization that may have occurred during our recent history, it seems that the sexual freedom of women stops there where the sexual freedom of men begins.
Albanian society has traditionally been patriarchal and based on male predominance, while women were always in a more disadvantaged position. This practice of discrimination in Albania didn’t come out of the blue. On the contrary, it has its roots in the fifteenth century oral law of Lek Dukagjini. Under this code, women were considered to belong to their fathers, and later to their husbands and his family. In many cases, death awaited those women whose spouses discovered that they had had intimacy before the marriage. Marrying a woman who was not virgin was a disgraceful and shameful moment, both for her husband and her family as well.
Enver Hoxha’s communism theoretically stopped women’s subordination, but in practice it didn’t improve the situation. Virginity was conflated with morality, and quite often those who didn’t do as the Party said were accused of being sexually immoral.
The Code of Lek Dukagjini and Communism may have superficially “disappeared” in Albania, but they have cultivated the attitudes of countless generations. In rural areas of the country, without excluding the big cities, there are men who look exclusively for virgin wives, regardless of how many women these men themselves have slept with before their marriage. This is why more and more girls visit public and (mainly) private clinics which perform hymen replacement surgeries in order to throw dust in their future husbands’ eyes and make them believe that they have never been sexually active before. For many girls, this twenty minute surgery can change their lives forever.
According to gynaecologists, the girls are under pressure from family members or their men who require from them to be ‘pure’ before marriage. Regrettably, conservative families misconstrue their daughter’s sexual life with her integrity and sincerity. All the while, for some men marrying with a virgin seems to be a way of proving their virility. Marrying a virgin makes them feel stronger, but in reality this behaviour makes them weaker. They have expectations from their girlfriends to be in a state of sexual purity while many of them do as they please with other women. In addition, doctors state that there are couples who visit their clinics in order to reassure them that their wife was indeed a virgin because she didn’t bleed on their first night together. What humiliation!
It goes without saying that not every Albanian man is looking desperately for virgins. Open-minded people fortunately still exist. Moreover, many Albanians who have immigrated and have returned back have tried to adopt a more Western lifestyle, one that is more liberal and that doesn’t put too much stock into stereotypes. On the other hand, there are also immigrants who want to marry girls from their homeland and want them to be virgins. Obviously, the integration process of Albanians abroad cannot be the same success story for all.
In the Albanian countryside, especially the marginalised areas in the northern part of the country, people ontinue to abide by values, tradition, and prejudices of the Code of Lek Dukagjini (ex. revenge killings, virginity). Ignorance about gender and sexuality issues, the hypocrisy of Albanian society, as well as misinformation from mass media hasn’t helped a lot in changing people’s mentalities. As far as civil society goes, apart from some written material that cannot be read by people who are supposed to be the target group, and milking various funds, it hasn’t really suggested any tangible solution in this sensitive area.
Going back on our topic, virginity and the sexual life of each individual is a personal issue. It isn’t an illness, thus there is no reason for it to be repaired in clinics. Nobody has the authority to tell anyone when she or he has to begin her or his sexual life. We determine for ourselves when to make such a choice.
Marriages built on virginity are not marriages. Besides, virginity isn’t a sign of character. What’s far more important is personality, intelligence, companionship, soul, kindness and inner beauty.
The article was originally written in Albanian and English.
Photo credit: Fiona Osborne
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