Insights from Kosovo’s First Woman Mayor on Career and Leadership

MimozaMs. Mimoza Kusari-Lila, Mayor of the Municipality of Gjakova since 2013, is the first and only woman to be elected to the position of mayor in Kosovo to date. She previously served for over two years as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry in the Government of Kosovo. In a society where gender inequality still prevents many women from actively participating in public life, Ms. Kusari-Lila represents a shift towards equality and embodies many characteristics of progressive leadership and decision-making. The mayor shared her story with Leadarise and gave her insights on career and leadership.

On Inspiration
Ms. Kusari-Lila derives her inspiration from the belief that politics is about improving people’s lives. She stated that, following the conflict in Kosovo, people lost trust in political decision-making. She is adamant that her political model will regain the peoples’ trust.
“We still have a long way to go to win peace as a country in terms of building sustainable peace where all people feel equal, not only in terms of ethnic background, colour or sexual orientation… All in all, I think that the complexity of peace-building made me enter into politics by believing that a more pragmatic approach, a down-to-earth approach and a less greedy approach will actually make people want to change their country, not only for their own good but for the good of others.”

Mimoza is also inspired by politicians, regardless of their gender, that have made history through achieving positive changes in their respective societies. “I don’t look only to successful women; I look to successful men as well. [Success in overcoming] challenges to decision-making is not necessarily linked to the gender [of a person]. It is also linked to their character… I never looked at myself in walking that path [and thought], ‘okay, I’m a woman and I should be doing [things a certain way]’. I think that I would then tremble or be much weaker. [Instead], I always looked to people who make tremendous changes [for inspiration].”

On being elected as the first woman mayor in Kosovo
“For me personally, when you say it, when you announce it, it always gives me a certain pride and boost in energy. On the other side, it is very challenging.”

The challenges of being a mayor are true for both women and men. As the frontline figure of authority for local communities, mayors face a variety of problems that may or may not be within their power to resolve. However, Mimoza believes that her election as mayor will ensure that other women are more persuasive candidates in elections to come. Ms. Kursari-Lila also believes that her election brought about small but meaningful results in the Municipality of Gjakova.
“We were declared the most transparent municipality in Kosovo [in 2014], which for me was a great success because you can tell that there is a new approach [in] running the municipality [by a person] who feels that they have to share with other people.”

On the challenges for women in politics
Ms. Kusari-Lila thinks that women’s individual characteristics and expectations play an important role in whether they will face challenges in male-dominated career fields. She gave an anecdote from her childhood: “Even when I was a little kid I very much behaved like a boy. I was tough and like a protector to my older sister. So, it has something to do with the character of the person, but also with expectations. I never expected someone to open the door for me or say that ‘oh you are a woman, and so you are more fragile and someone should take care of you’.

However, Mimoza recognizes that, even if one is raised in a family who is in favour of gender equality, society does not always allow women to enjoy opportunities equally with men. She highlighted her experiences with the media and the public in this regard.
“You see, it is very rare that our media call [male] ministers or mayors by their first names. But they don’t hesitate to call women mayors or ministers by their first names or another name. It is a much easier approach to get access to you, to say bad things about you and to call you names because they know that you are ‘just’ a woman. That’s their perception… I keep fighting and I definitely never give up but I see that if someone would be weaker or more fragile, [they could] get harmed… In the end, it’s not that they call you by your first name; it’s that they take you for granted. And that’s what sort of eats you inside. You know, ‘why do they think that you’re weaker?’ [But] as a patriarchal society, it’s enough that they voted for you! It’s going to take time for them to accept you as equal with everyone else.”

Although Ms. Kusari-Lila is an experienced politician and seasoned in progressing through a male-dominated field of work, the gender gap also reveals itself to Mimoza in other ways.
“I am used to being in public life now for quite a long time and I am usually not aware of the fact that I am the only woman in meetings and so on. But when I look at the photograph of the Association of the Municipalities of Kosovo for example and you see all men and just one woman, it hits you to actually see it. [Then you say], ‘wow, we definitely need to make a change in this!’ So that shows that society as a whole needs to make bolder steps forward [in gender equality] in local politics.”

Mimoza also talked about the difficulties women face from their political parties. Municipal Assemblies have a 30% quota for the participation for women. Although this ensures that one third of members of the assemblies are women, research in Kosovo suggests that the number would be greatly lower without these quotas. Ms. Kusari-Lila described the potential reasons for this: “In general, why there are not as many women nominated to run for local elections is due to the political parties’ politics. Political parties have a system in which they want to have their more influential people [as candidates] who they believe will serve the party well and cut deals in the name of the party. These [individuals] are normally men, because women do not normally cut deals, stay at late night or do things in such non-institutional ways. I think it’s due to the functioning of the rule of law and the whole system in Kosovo because men tend to be those who are in executive power.”
Ms. Kusari-Lila believes that these unequal and unfavorable practices are beginning to change in Kosovo and will improve over time as more women actively participate in politics.

On the characteristics of a good leader
Ms. Kusari-Lila’s checklist on what makes a good leader:
1. Clear Objectives: Have a clear goal that serves the good of many people, not just the leader or a select group of individuals.
2. Good communication skills: Develop skills that allow you to share your vision with the people and inspire their belief in you.
3. Authority: Act with enough authority and confidence that, even when others are unsure, their trust in you as a leader will encourage them to follow your path.
4. Compassion: “Feel for other people. Feel when people are suffering and in pain. Be able to understand everyone’s position” and make informed decisions accordingly.
5. Keeping the faith: Even when things around you seem to fall apart, “recharge your energy and vision.” Mimoza stated,
“I think that the saying ‘there is always tomorrow’ serves a purpose. There are days when everything falls apart and when you are completely broken… [But] I think you get energized by believing that… you want to do good for more people and that is why you shouldn’t quit.”

On advice for young women career enthusiasts
“My advice would be first of all, truly believe in what you are doing and everything that will come along with it, be that in public life or private life. It has to come as a package. So you cannot pursue your career and pretend that nothing else exists, or just have your family and not have your career. I don’t believe in that. One person should be fulfilled in personal achievement and also have the [support of] your family and people who love you. I truly believe that every woman who wants to achieve can do that. You just have to find the right measure of doing everything. [That is] the trickiest part, to know when is enough for work, when is good for family and that things will not always go according to plan. Life brings unexpected things… but then, take it as it comes and know that there is always tomorrow.”

On her goals as Mayor of Gjakova
“I want to be able to eliminate most of the existential problems of the population in Gjakova, meaning dealing with situations such as access to drinking water, water-waste treatment, environmental issues and access to services. Those are the ones that give me the highest burden and it’s really terrible to be running a municipality in the 21st century and have about 40% of villages without access to drinking water.”
In addition to this primary goal, Ms. Kusari-Lila aims to boost economic development and promote cultural heritage in the Municipality of Gjakova. “I believe that by the time that my first mandate is over, I will be able to talk about the successes that have finally been  nnnnachieved after so many years of a lack of development in our municipality.”

It is evident that Ms. Kusari-Lila is a determined, decisive and charismatic individual whose dedication to politics is certain to bring positive change to the Municipality of Gjakova and inspire other women in Kosovo to pursue their desired careers.

Article and photograph by: Nicola Brassil

This article was originally published on

NicolaNicola holds a MA in Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the University of Essex. Her academic work is specialised in the area of women’s human rights. Since completing her studies, Nicola spent over one year in Kosovo working for a number of local civil society organisations and international organisations, including UN Women, the Kosovar Gender Studies Center and EULEX Kosovo. In these roles, she has primarily conducted research on various gender equality issues, project development and communcation.

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