Blerta is the first girl in the Kosovo’s IT sector to ever win a grant to work on a computer application. Since then, she established Girls Coding Kosova in February 2014. Earlier this year, Girls Coding Kosova teamed up with Open Data Kosovo and USAID to develop #EcShlirë (meaning “walk freely” in Albanian), a mobile application for reporting sexual harassment in real time.
Sexual harassment is a reality for many young women in Kosovo, even if they don’t call it by that name.
Kosovare Sahatqija only found out about the prevalence of sexual harassment when she joined the #EcShlirë project as one of 30 girl coders. “I’d never heard the words ‘sexual harassment’ before I applied to join the coding workshop,” she explains. “It was only in developing the categories for the app that I realized how many types of encounters I have on a daily basis that can be considered sexual harassment.”
Kosovare is not alone. According to a 2014 study conducted by the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), while 64 percent of women surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetimes, less than half identified acts like touching, pinching, or pushing (43 percent) or being whistled at on the street (38 percent) as sexual harassment. Although it is difficult to find reliable statistics on sexual harassment globally, women in Kosovo experience similar rates of sexual harassment to others around the world, including the United States.
The free mobile app relies on crowdsourcing to discreetly report sexual harassment. These trends will then be shared with the authorities and advocacy groups. Since its launch in February 2016, #EcShlirë has been downloaded over 800 times and over 300 incidents of sexual harassment have been reported through the application. Another mark of success is that it has been downloaded and used outside of Kosovo, and will soon be translated into Spanish.
Blerta became involved with #EcShlirë to tackle more than just sexual harassment. “I started Girls Coding Kosova because I saw that my female classmates didn’t have the same access to opportunities for work experience as my male classmates. This project was extra special because it gave us the chance to grow professionally and help protect our peers.”
Blerta isn’t alone in her quest to get more girls involved in technology. The IPKO Foundation is also working with USAID to support projects to get girls interested in the sciences. According to Abetare Gojani, the foundation’s program director, “Women in Kosovo feel under-represented at all levels in the ICT sector and uncertain about their future careers. Therefore, we continue to invest in activities such as RobotiKS Camp, Design Challenge Exhibition, Junior Oscar because we believe that only together can we change this social paradigm, fight stereotyping, inspire, and create future role models of Women in ICT.”
It is a unique experience to work with organizations like the IPKO Foundation, Girls Code Kosova, Bone Vet Makerspace, and individuals like Blerta to recognize the importance of giving girls the tools to succeed. Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child, I am proud to celebrate the progress Kosovo has made on making life safer, more enriching, and more equal for girls.