Murder easier than divorce
TIRANA, Jun 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Qerime was just 18 when she was married to a total stranger.
In her remote village in mountainous central Albania, she did what was expected of her. She worked hard at home and gave birth to two children.
But when her husband went to Greece in search of work, Qerime found herself in charge of her life for the first time.
During the two years that her husband was absent, Qerime fell in love with her younger neighbor.
It was an affair that ended violently when her husband returned to the village.
In Albania's rural patriarchal society, a woman who leaves her husband's house to live with another man is considered dishonored and disgraced.
This was not an option for Qerime. For the young woman, murder was less appalling than facing the shame of divorce.
One day, Qerime's lover attacked her husband in a narrow street, smashing in his skull with a stone.
He was sentenced to 25 years in jail while Qerime got eight years for inciting him.
A very shy woman who barely speaks to strangers, Qerime will not talk about what happened seven years ago as she takes a break from cooking food for her fellow inmates at Tirana's women's prison.
All she thinks about now are her two children, aged 12 and nine, whose photos hang on the wall of the kitchen where she spends most of the day.
Her son and daughter now live in an orphanage under the care of a British couple, Mike and Judy.
"I have to spend another year here before joining my children," Qerime told Reuters.
ABUSED WOMEN REACT VIOLENTLY
In Albania's only prison for women 20 detainees out of 32 are serving terms for killing their husbands or lovers.
According to Leonard Prifti, the prison's psychologist, almost all are poorly-educated and come from remote areas where women are traditionally regarded as their husband's property.
Prifti said a man once told him he had left his wife on their wedding night because she had undressed herself in front of him, breaking the custom that the groom should undress his bride using force.
In rural areas, marriages are still arranged by parents and most people believe it is a husband's right to beat his wife, and that she should not complain about it.
"In their mind, divorce is simply not an option for a wrong marriage. So women there resort to violent means," Prifti said.
Despite the macho image of Albanian men, Prifti said statistics showed only two men had killed their spouses out of jealousy in the last nine years.
In contrast, adultery - or rather an attempt to conceal it - was the main reason for a woman to kill.
Prifti said one woman prisoner had betrayed her lover after being seen with him by a neighbor and helped her husband to kill him.
Scared that the news would spread, the woman told her husband that the man had tried to rape her, urging him to kill the man to preserve her honor. Both she and her husband were convicted.
"In their world it is a tragedy if word spreads and hiding reality, by any means, seems easier than open adultery," Prifti said.
VILLAGE LIFE WEARS WOMEN DOWN
Marinela Sota, a social worker, said that while Albanian society tolerated a man who betrayed or divorced his wife, a woman who dared to do the same was abandoned and "had stones thrown at her".
An Albanian proverb illustrates the situation for women whose secret liaisons are discovered: "A man can wash away shame with a glass of water, but for a woman, all the seawater is not enough."
Sota said that in the 10 years since Albania opened to the world, people's thinking had changed in the bigger cities, but not in remote areas.
"In rural areas, women are less educated, more oppressed and have few or no social relations. They have never had the possibilities of city women," Sota said.
She said village women tended to keep problems to themselves, accumulating tension over the years.
"They are not used to solving conflicts, they are not used to talking because no one has ever heard their voices," she said.
Prifti agrees. "Their environment is a desert for their souls. They can talk to no one about their loves, neither to parents, nor to a sister. Mother-daughter talk does not exist."
TEENAGE GIRLS KILLED VIOLENT PARENTS
Unlike Qerime who blindly obeyed her parents from childhood until marriage, 17-year-old Xhuma Muca rebelled against her father who beat her and her mother regularly.
She shot him at close range with a rifle as he tried to hit her.
Together with her friend, Dorina, 16, who killed her mother for abusing her, Xhuma attends courses in prison so she can study when she is released.
"What I want to do and what all other women are urging me to do is to learn from prison and not lose myself in it," Dorina said. But once she is out, integration into society will be hard.
Finding a place to live is the first hurdle for many women.
"Most of them have nowhere to return to because killing their husbands has also deprived them of a home," Sota said.