This chapter analyses the experiences of young women from various villages and cities across Albania who migrated to Tirana to study. Here, ‘on their own’ refers to singleFootnote 1 women who moved to and lived in Tirana by themselves while their parents and siblings stayed in their city or village of origin. Upon their graduation, which had happened within at least three years at the time of the research in 2012, they did not return to their native communities. Below, I introduce briefly the eight young women who migrated to Tirana to study.

Eriola is a 28-year-old native of Pogradec, a town in eastern Albania. She migrated to Tirana in 2002 to study political science and has completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In 2012, she worked for a private television station in Tirana and lived in a rented apartment with two other young, internal migrant women in Komuna e Parisit. At the time of the research, Eriola’s parents resided in Pogradec. She is an only child.

Kiara is a 27-year-old native of the city of Fier, in southern coastal Albania. She migrated to Tirana in 2003. Kiara holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology and another bachelor’s degree in economics. In 2012, she worked for an NGO providing psychological counselling and research. Kiara rented a small studio apartment in Komuna e Parisit. While at university, she lived in public university housing, and after completing her studies and finding a job, she rented a small studio apartment by herself. Kiara’s parents resided in Fier, with her younger brother, who has been ill since childhood and cannot walk.

Olisa is a 28-year-old native of Fier. She migrated to Tirana in 2002 and obtained a bachelor’s in political sciences and a master’s in gender studies. At the time of the interview, she worked in a call centre in Tirana and lived in a small, rented studio apartment in Don Bosko. In 2012, Olisa’s parents and older brother, with his wife and young child, lived in Fier. Olisa’s brother had migrated to Greece for work and returned a few years before 2012.

Iris is an only child and a 27-year-old native of Librazhd, a small town in the central-eastern part of the country. She migrated to Tirana in 2004, where she completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in law. As of 2012, she worked as a journalist in a private television station, where she first began work as a secretary. Iris lived in Don Bosko, sharing a rented apartment with a young internal migrant woman from Pogradec. At the time of the research, Iris’s father resided in Librazhd, and her mother had passed away soon after Iris ‘finished her bachelor studies in law.

Erida is a 30-year-old native of Lezhë, a town in northern coastal Albania. Erida migrated to Tirana in 2000, and she completed a bachelor in social work and master’s in political sciences. After working on a temporary contract as a social worker in an institution for orphan children, she worked in a call centre. She lived in a small, rented studio apartment in Don Bosko in 2012. At the time of the research, Erida’s parents resided in Lezhë. She had two sisters, 13 and 11 years older than her, who were married and lived in Shkoder and Lezhë. Both had graduated just at the beginning of the 90s.

Alba is 28 years old and an only child from Rrëshen, a small town in northern Albania. In 2002, Alba migrated to Tirana and completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science. In 2012, she worked as a consultant for a think-tank in Tirana and lived in a small, rented studio in Don Bosko. Alba recounts that before coming to Don Bosko, she rented an apartment with two other young internal migrants, in another area of city.

Erjona is 26 years old and from a village in the district of Gjirokastër, in southern Albania. Erjona migrated to Tirana in 2005 and obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s in law. As of 2012, she worked as an assistant in a law firm and lived in a small studio apartment in Komuna e Parisit. At the time of the research, Erjona’s parents and younger sister still lived in their village in Gjirokastër, running a small agritourism initiative. Her younger sister was very passionate about the family’s agritourism business and wanted to be involved in running it on a daily basis.

Marjola is 26 years old and an only child from Fier. She migrated to Tirana in 2004 and earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in information technology (IT). In 2012, she worked as an IT specialist in a project office and lived in a small, rented studio apartment in Komuna e Parisit. At the time of her interview, Marjola’s parents resided in Fier but were thinking about moving to Vlorë and starting a business in the tourism sector, according to Marjola.

6.1 The Pre-migration Phase—Rationalising Migration

While education provided the main motivation behind the reason women migrated, as this chapter shows, it was by far not the only cause. I examine these young women’s decisions to migrate, taking into account their broader social relations to their family and relatives.

6.1.1 Education as a Platform for Migration

This section explores the reasons and motivations informing these young women’s move to Tirana. First, the belief that a university degree would provide better job opportunities emerged as a significant motivator in all the interviews. People see bachelor and master degrees as an advantageous qualification in securing better white-collar jobs. University studies were becoming an increasingly attractive means to obtain economic security, especially for women who were disadvantaged in the labour market compared to men (INSTAT, 2012). As Erida states:

You know, they say that a university diploma for a young woman is an open window to a job. I am not sure if this is true, but without a university diploma, it is certain that it is more difficult to find a job. … And I wanted to have a good job, but just to be precise—not in Lezhë. That is why I wanted to go to university in Tirana.

Still, the benefit of obtaining a university diploma was not limited to its indispensability in finding a good job; for some women, it was also an important marker of self-achievement, as highlighted in Iris’s story:

I cannot imagine myself without a university diploma. What could I do without a degree? No job, nothing. I would be a failure. … That is why I decided, together with my family, to attend the University of Tirana and later, maybe somewhere abroad.

“Education in Tirana” or “education abroad” seem to be the code words used by these women to express their desire for higher education. Indeed, succeeding in their career by having a university degree is a proper motivation to move to Tirana.

Second, migration in and of itself is also a sound and solid motivation. Some of the young women interviewed come from cities where there are no universities, making the decision to move elsewhere obvious. However, for them, the desire for higher education is combined with the desire to move to Tirana more specifically, which is the biggest city in Albania. Kiara, for example, says she wanted to have a university degree, but at the same time, she “always” wanted to leave her small city and go to Tirana. Marjola describes a similar situation:

He [my father] was saying that it might be better to go to the University in Vlora, Footnote 2 as it was close to Fier, and he had relatives and friends in Vlora, who could help me if I was in need. But I didn’t want to go to Vlora because it resembled Fier a little. In Tirana, it was different. … I told my mother that it was not worth going to Vlora at all. Vlora was like Fier, with no opportunities at all, and I would have all the relatives and friends of my father looking over me worse than in Fier. And also, the purpose of these studies was to find an excellent job in Tirana, not just to go from one city to another.

Marjola’s story shows the intersection of the desire to migrate in order to improve one’s chances to getting a better job, with the desire to live in a big city farther away from home.

Marjola’s words bring to the forefront the third motivation that behind many young women’s desire to migrate to Tirana: escaping the social control exercised by relatives and kinship over women specifically in their attempt to enforce gender norms in the native home. As a reason, it often takes centre stage in the narratives of these women. Social control here refers to attempts by one or more individuals to manipulate and direct the behaviour of another person or persons (Gibbs, 1981). In their narratives, the women often lamented this social pressure they experienced in their native homes. For instance, multiple women talk about how people in their hometown would frequently comment about what they saw as the women’s inappropriate clothing or behaviour. As Kiara states:

They would gossip if they saw me with a boy, even a classmate and if possible, they would immediately tell this to my parents.’

Similarly, Iris says:

What was there to do in Librazhd? It’s such a small city where nothing ever happens. My life in Librazhd was confined to school and home. …it was so suffocating. Even if I had the permission to do something else, I could not, because you have nothing to choose from in Librazhd. The only entertainment was to go to Pogradec in summer with your parents. Thus, the only thing I was doing was watching TV, all the telenovelas, and getting good grades in school so I could come to Tirana.

Iris’s answer identifies a fourth reason women migrate, one that is related to the need to escape, but this time not simply from the social control exercised by family members, but from the lack of activities and the boredom associated with their native towns and villages where, the women say, nothing ever happens. Since the political upheaval 1991, the underdeveloped cultural and artistic infrastructure for young people in Albania has attracted very little attention by the appropriate institutions. Only a few cities have movie theatres, and they are non-existent in most of the country. A handful of public or private libraries exist outside Tirana. The coastal towns that cater to tourists boast few cultural activities during or outside of summer.

Television is the leading form of entertainment for women and girls, while men spend their leisure time drinking coffee in the numerous city bars and various sports and games parlours (Danaj et al., 2008). Since television is women’s primary source of information, their desires are shaped by the imaginaries displayed there. On numerous Albanian television stations, Tirana has an air of brightness. It is the epitome of modernity, boasting well-dressed, fashionable young women and men, high-rise buildings, nightlife, cinemas and festivals. Tirana contrasts sharply with the small cities and villages where these young women live and where, according to the interviewees, TV was the main cultural activity. Tirana contrasts with the ‘suffocating’ community and kinship pressure they felt and the lack of activities in their hometowns. It, therefore, can be assumed that, as in international migration (Kim, 2012; Mai, 2004), the media play an essential role in offering a bright image of Tirana as a destination that was very different from their hometowns, as these women express. Discussing the international migration of Albanian youth to Italy, Mai (2004) stresses that television provides information about potential destinations, in particular about ‘alternative’, more ‘modern’ ‘lifestyles’ that are ‘independent from parents’ (Mai, 2004, 14, 18). Focusing on female international student migration, Kim (2012) reveals how the media drive these migratory projects by generating imaginaries of alternative Western lifestyles and work.

6.1.2 Parents’ Role in the Decision to Migrate to Tirana

When it comes to the decision to move to Tirana, the parents’ and the women’s desires converged. The interviews show that there were no substantial disagreements between the parties on this point. Indeed, for some women, it wasn’t only their wishes but also their parents’ desires that drove them to leave, as the women’s parents imagine they will have more opportunities in Tirana than their cities or villages of origin. Olisa talks about her experience:

My parents, especially my father, wanted me to go away to the city, to have other opportunities in life. He is still pushing me to find a way to go abroad, for a master’s or something, and not to come back. That is why I am continuing to apply to find a master programme abroad, even though I have already obtained an MA degree, and now I have a job.

Eriola also states that she decided to pursue her university studies Tirana with the total agreement with her parents. Kiara concurs:

It was a mutual desire, my parents’ and mine. … My parents have always encouraged me, even before coming to Tirana, to take classes in foreign language or take other courses. It was my parents’ drive, combined, for sure, with my desire. I could not imagine myself without academic development.

There is a lot of value placed on education in Albania, an attitude forged since the early years of the communist regime through campaigns supporting education for all, especially girls and women, and through the construction of schools throughout the country. Even after the fall of the communist regime, the value of education persisted as a means to achieve social mobility. Parents’ desire for their children to obtain better educational and job opportunities triggers their children’s migration, both sons and daughters (Ekonomi et al., 2004). In the same line, the interviews reveal that parents see their daughters’ education in Tirana as an opportunity for further professional development, as well as for independence.

Parents are not only willing to let their daughters go to Tirana to study at the university to have better and “other opportunities in life,” as Olisa noted. They supported them financially as well as protecting them from adverse reactions in places of origin. Parental support is much needed because, as Kalaja (2014) observes, it is unusual for young women to migrate on their own to Tirana. Parents play a significant role when faced with gossip about their daughters’ migrating on their own. The interviews show that, paradoxically, it is not within the family that social control materializes; instead, the close nuclear family plays the role of a shield against kinship/community reactions and gossip. According to Drotbohm (2010), gossip is not “just talk” but a powerful tool for exercising social control. Kiara’s experience supports this point of view:

My family has never impeded my education and advancement. The relatives yes, but not my family... But I did not feel the pressure of my relatives because my parents protected me. They told me that they had many issues with the broader kin regarding my education, the various classes I was taking before coming to Tirana, or my plans to advance in my career rather than planning to have a family and a kind mother-in-law. My mother told me later how my relatives were gossiping or criticizing my parents for the freedom I had.

Parents use various strategies and tactics when faced with gossip about their daughters’ moving and living alone. Eriola describes how her mother handled it:

I remember my mother told the neighbours that we have some relatives in Tirana, and I was going to stay with them. It was a lie because we had no relatives, and I stayed in the dormitory. But she was concerned with what the neighbours would say, and so she just invented this story to be left in peace by their gossip.

Eriola’s mother’s tactic was to invent a set of so that the reactions of their kin and neighbours would not affect negatively Eriola’s migration to Tirana. At the same time, her mother took great care to destabilise neither relations nor gender expectations within the community.

These situations defy the stereotypical, clear-cut distinction between modern children and traditional parents. In this regard, Moujoud’s (2011) analysis of the discourse surrounding migration and age shows that parents, mostly mothers, are often portrayed as ‘guardians of tradition’ opposed to young migrant women. Although Moujoud (2011) conducted her research in another context than mine, her analysis helps uncover this often-stereotypical opposition of tradition versus modernity. My interviewees’ parents were their daughters’ primary protectors against traditional social practices. In these cases, we can hardly portray the role of parents as ‘traditional’ or ‘backward.’ Similar narratives also emerge from Turkish migration. Erel (2009) shows that parents often valued and encouraged the education of young Turkish women.

6.1.3 Transiting to Tirana, with Parents’ Support

Despite the ever-growing number of students, Tirana suffers from a lack of dormitories or residencies for students. The private universities rarely offer residencies, and the main dormitory is within the City of Students, which is associated with the State University of Tirana. Thus, the accommodation is quite an important moment for the process of moving to Tirana. Many of those who study at the State University aim to find a place at the City of Students’ dormitory because it is the cheapest and the most affordable option. Those who attend private universities mostly live in shared, rented houses in some specific neighbourhoods of Tirana such as Komuna e Parisit or Don Bosko. The process of sharing a rented apartment is also discussed and negotiated with parents so that they can be sure that their daughters are living in a safe place, with ‘good persons’ coming from ‘good families’ as Erjona says. The conditions in the public dormitory are subpar, lacking electricity or heating, etc. Nevertheless, due to the very modest financial standing of their families, the dormitory is a very convenient place for many of them. Kiara and Eriola illustrate this:

Kiara: During my University studies, money was in short supply because of some family issues. So, the alternative was to go to the dormitory because it was less expensive. I was lucky to have some excellent roommates who became good friends. But that period was very difficult, the life in the dormitory was very difficult: Miserable conditions, a tiny room, no space for personal hygiene, no privacy at all. The conditions were not conducive of studying there.

Eriola narrates a similar situation:

The worst thing in the dormitory was the lack of electricity and water. It was hard to read and study with the power turned on and off. We could not even have a proper shower without water and electricity. But as long as I was not working, my parents could not provide more money, so I had to endure the few years until I finished school.

Parents are considerably more worried if their daughters live in rental apartments, compared to those living in the dormitory, as Erjona says. She says that her mother was very anxious until they met with her roommate, who was also from her native city. Olisa describes a similar situation:

Olisa: My parents were often coming to Tirana: To bring food, to check if I was eating well, if the apartment was tidy, if my two roommates were excellent and we were not having problems with each other, and this kind of stuff. My mother was visiting more often. They were worried because we were three girls living alone, and they were worried. But, in the neighbourhood, the majority of people around were students sharing apartments so, it was not only us.

The anxiety that surrounds the girls who live in shared apartments could be explained by the fact that the dormitory is considered a public infrastructure, with hundreds of other young women and men, with rules to follow, with guards at the doors, etc. Thus, there might be imagined a degree of institutional control and security compared to privately rented apartments. In reality, the interviews report that there were no such rules or safety.

Iris says:

with a little money, you could provide access to anyone wishing to enter the dormitory. I mean a man could come in our female-only dormitory, so it’s not that we had that much of a security. If I had the financial means I would not have stayed there; I’d have rented an apartment.

In this group, there seems to be no clear correlation between social and wealth standing of parents, the choice of the university (whether public or private) and accommodation choice. During the time period in which these women studied, the number of private universities was still low. Hence, no exhaustive conclusion can be made about such correlation. Not all students in private universities are coming from wealthy families; there are many young women and men who come from modest economic backgrounds (e.g., parents that have worked as teachers and received a low to average salary have saved for a long time to pay their daughters’ studies as shown here). Nevertheless, it might also be said that children of the wealthiest families in general study in private universities in Albania, or in universities abroad. It’s worth recalling here the findings of Danaj, Festy, et al. (2005) about no visible correlation between parents’ and children’ education, but the existence of inequalities based on region and wealth conditions. These inequalities have been amplified with the increase of the State University tuition fees that fueled a series of strong protest during December 2018Footnote 3.

6.2 Life in Tirana

The first section highlighted one significant finding, among others: education is seen not only as a means for a better career but also a substantial value mobilised by these young women to migrate to Tirana in a more socially acceptable way. Education is also a platform mobilised by the women to escape from the social control exercised by their community and kinship in their hometowns.

This second one expands on the paradox embodying these women’s situation in Tirana: in the city, they experience less social control by family and community, but at the same time, they face highly gendered and sexualised prejudices and constraints that arise from the same mechanisms as those they escaped and that put them in new forms of precarity and dependency.

6.2.1 Anonymity as Freedom

Anonymity is a way to get away from social control. ‘The fewer people know you, the freer you are’, as the ability of others to impose specific gender norms and roles onto these women is likely or at least, less harmful. Tirana is a large, growing city with new communities being created as people come from all corners of the country. In this setting, people barely know each other, and this provides an anonymity that young migrant women appreciate. Anonymous, they feel less pressured and controlled, as illustrated by Erida’s story:

When I came to Tirana, I remember that I started to dress differently. This was not the case in the beginning, but after some months, I began to look at other girls here and the ‘clothing stores. It was suddenly possible to wear a miniskirt or stretch jeans, which I could not wear in Lezhë. I added blond highlights to my hair as it was the fashion at that time to dye your hair like that. … At first, I could not go to Lezhë dressed as I did in Tirana, and when I went back home, I got back into my old clothes [laughs]. Now it is different as it looks like things are changing a little in Lezhë too, and people don’t give you weird looks because of your clothes.

In the same vein, Erjona adds:

I hate to cook. Yes, now I know a little how to cook, small things, but in general, I hate it. When I was in Gjirokastër, my mother tried all the time to teach me how to cook, how to prepare desserts, how to prepare dough to make byrek, and all these traditional meals, which I like to eat but not to cook. But it was like an obligation to know these things, and I had had enough. I wanted to read instead, and I remember that I was always angry when I had to learn how to cook. … Here, I don’t cook. I can buy byrek if I want to, but in general, it’s toasts and salads.

Young women who migrated to Tirana began to engage in new social activities, with things like going out to bars and nightclubs being particularly noteworthy, given how radically different these experiences were from life in the interviewees’ city or village of origin. For example, Marjola says that in Tirana, she goes out to have coffee by herself. She did not do that commonly in her city of origin as people would look at her and judge her; but in Tirana, where she knows few people, she does not care if they will look at her or not. These young migrant women appreciate this dimension of life in Tirana and prefer the liberating anonymity and indifference (Simmel [1903] 2002) of the big city compared to their places of origin, where people know each other. Migrants to the big city find that the physical distance separates them from the ‘prying eyes of the community’ (Kihato, 2009, 86). Alba adds:

Fortunately, in Tirana, you don’t know a lot of people, and like this, you are less controlled, and you can live without this damn fear about she saw me doing this, he saw me doing that.

Similarly, Kiara says that in Tirana, one can get lost in a crowd, which provides the crux of the freedom Tirana offers compared to her hometown.

The streets in Albania, as Musaraj (2009) aptly notes, carry ambivalent connotations. The interviewees often present walking the streets of Tirana without knowing people as much-appreciated anonymity and freedom. In contrast, the streets of their hometowns represent the place where social control is exerted at full force. For instance, the coffee shop in their hometowns is a ‘forbidden’ space for these young women, especially those coming from towns and villages. Appropriating such a ‘forbidden’ space in Tirana appears to give the young women a greater sense of freedom than in their places of origin.

6.2.2 The Other Side of the Paradox: New Gendered and Sexualised Prejudices and Constraints

A paradox manifests quickly after these young women arrive in Tirana. As these cases show, even in Tirana, they face gendered and sexualised prejudices as women living on their own, far from their families, is perceived as transgressing the borders of accepted femininity. Moving from the provinces and living alone in Tirana makes them vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination from non-migrants and other migrants alike. From the perspective of those living in Tirana, almost all other cities of the country are considered the provinces. Thus, when young migrant women arrive in Tirana, their behaviour is often perceived as that of people ‘liberated from chains’, to use a local expression whose negative connotations implies a certain lack of restraint in women’s behaviour and choices. This view complements the many prejudices against young female students moving on their own to Tirana, or ‘konviktoret’ (‘dormitory girls’) as they are often called. Iris illustrates this point:

As dormitory residents, we were all seen as whores. It is mostly older men and other people who think so. You must know this expression ‘dormitory girls’. It means that these girls have all the worst qualities of the world, they are all whores, and they just want to get money from married men. We were and still are considered women who ruin marriages and families. That is not true, but even if it was, what about these good men who were betraying their wives with younger women and also paying them? But, as we all know, men are always good people, and we are the whores.

Kiara says that these prejudicial views against them are hold only by non-migrants, but also by other internal migrants, primarily those who migrated with their families. The stigmatising labels such as ‘dormitory girls’, ‘girls from the cities’ and ‘the whores from the cities’ all have the same meaning: they construct an image of young girls with no morals, who lead a life that is unacceptable by any established moral norms. They are widely believed to engage in sexual relations for money and to have ‘destroyed married couples’ through their relationships with married men. They can get away with unacceptable behaviour as they live far from their families who would usually exert control over them.

There seems to be no such stereotyping of young male students. In Kiara’s words:

That was the most disturbing thing. People think we do evil things while away from our families. I think of these as stupid stereotypes and as stereotypes only about girls as boys could do whatever they want, and no one would judge them. To the contrary, they would be congratulated.

The lives of male students who moved to Tirana appear to be extensions of their lives in their cities of origin and are not marked by the radical change that the young women encountered. Young men were allowed to pursue activities in public by themselves in their hometowns and continue to do so when in Tirana. They were allowed to have relationships with girls and were not judged for them, and this continues in Tirana. In contrast, young women encounter an environment that is very different from their previous lives in their native homes. In Tirana, they are freer, as they say, to do things they could not do in their cities of origin. They may have a nightlife, establish relationships with younger men or older men and go to bars, for instance. Mobilising One’s Erotic Capital

Often, young people who migrate to Tirana for educational purposes do not return to their hometown. Young migrant women invest as much as possible in their education and training (e.g., pursuing post-graduate degrees and graduating from two faculties to increase their employment chances) to find well-paid jobs in Tirana and, as they say, perhaps to leave the country. To achieve these objectives, they try to mobilise all possible resources, primarily their social networks. That is quite paradoxical: they appreciate the anonymity Tirana offers as they know very few people, but they also need to develop and maintain social networks to find a good job. As mentioned in Chap. 4, most Albanians find jobs through informal connections, not institutionalised channels. The nepotism required to access the labour market affects both men and women. They must establish and nurture relationships to find and keep jobs. Accordingly, most of the women interviewed report finding employment through their friends’ network. Others found work in their field of study with the assistance of their professors. For instance, Kiara says that after she held several temporary jobs, a professor in the psychology department helped her secure work with an NGO providing psychological research and counselling. Erjona recounts a similar set-up. During her studies, she had the opportunity to work as an intern at her professor’s law firm. She still works there.

A specific strategy is mobilising one’s erotic capital (Hakim, 2010) to establish new social relations and achieve one’s plans and objectives. As Marjola says:

I was in a relationship with an older man, much older. It’s not the end of the world. I know that people in my close family would die if they knew, but to be honest, I am so far away from home, and in few months, I’m going even farther away and will probably never return. Why care so much about what people say? This happened during my time as a student. I was lost, and I did not want to return home. Having a relationship with this man and all the niceties that he was providing for me was a kind of work [laughs]. … It’s impossible to find a job in Tirana the ‘right’ way. Everybody knows this. You need to have high-level connections and have some security. … He helped me to find a reasonable job, in an office. I’ve worked two years there, but I’ll be leaving soon as I’ve got a scholarship for a master’s in Germany. I did it; I succeeded.

Here, we can refer to Hakim’s definition of erotic capital (i.e., beauty, sexual attractiveness, flirtations, social presentation and sexuality) (2010, 512). It is a handy concept for understanding sexual relationships and social processes in public and private spheres of the individualised and sexualised cultures of modern, twenty-first-century societies. Hakim (2010) notes that like social capital - the resources, material or otherwise, that accrue to an individual or a group by possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, 119) - erotic capital can be an important, hidden factor improving success in employment. The mobilisation of sexuality has been analysed mostly in the context of international migration. For example, investigating the case of Chinese migrants in Paris, Levy and Lieber (2009) show that Chinese migrant women turn sexuality into a resource that allows them to achieve their objectives. Financial Uncertainties and Precarious Jobs

Additionally, the interviews show that these young migrant women tend to find jobs that are unrelated to their studies and are more precarious (i.e., lack collective contracts and employment protection and characterised by a generalised, permanent state of insecurity) (Bourdieu, 1998; Fredman, 2004). For instance, Erida, who has a master’s in political sciences, works as a unit supervisor in a call centre:

I still work for the call centre. It’s not well paid, and the work is quite tricky. It’s not a regular workplace where you go, and you can have some friendly relations with your co-workers. We are afraid of being fired or fearful that someone will badmouth to the supervising manager. They may fire you right away, with no explanation and nobody cares to verify if you were guilty or not. But this is the best employment I could find, as opposed to becoming a salesperson.

Find a job and an income that will allow them to continue living in Tirana after graduation becomes an essential objective for these young women. Consequently, they accept uncertain positions without social insurance as long as they bring in money. Taking low paid jobs and living in constant fear and uncertainty embodies what Bourdieu (1998) calls precarité, a generalised and permanent state of insecurity aimed at forcing workers into submission and acceptance of exploitation. The young women discuss how they lack regular work contracts, and most do not pay social insurance and lack employment protection.

Furthermore, being a woman and one who migrated on her own brings additional difficulties in the workplace, particularly with regards to forming professional relationships with superiors and male colleagues. Eriola summarises many of the challenges these women encounter while accessing the labour market:

Now I work for a private TV station. It’s very tiring and frustrating as we don’t get regular salaries. It pays well; there are no contracts, no contributions. But it’s so difficult to find a job in Tirana, so you have to get used to this market. And the main problem is not the salary or the contract: it’s the attitudes of men who are in higher positions or those of other male colleagues who treat you like a piece of garbage. And they are less educated than me. It goes like this: ‘yes, you girls from the provinces, you have no morals. That is why you are working here’. ‘Don’t put on weight because you’ll get fired’. … OMG, I always wish to say to them: ‘shut up, people, just worry about your job and your life’. But I don’t say anything. I just play this role of the stupid girl, and that’s all. I’m not staying there forever; it’s just a temporary job. I can cover my rent and other expenses, and this is just enough.

Stigmatisation as migrants along gendered lines—branded as girls from the provinces, with no morals, ready to do everything to keep their jobs, advance their careers or earn more money—recurs throughout these young women’s lives in Tirana. Sexual objectification, or equating a woman’s worth with her bodily appearance and sexual function (Szymanski et al., 2011, 6), characterises much of their situation. Several of the women interviewed mention how they have to stay thin and good-looking not to lose their jobs.

These pressures contribute to their paradoxical situation in Tirana, where new freedoms and new gender constraints intersect. Ultimately, it appears that these young women migrants have remained in the same gender order (i.e., unequal hierarchical positions and gender norms, roles and expectations for men and women) but a different constellation of gender constraints. Sexual harassment further exemplifies this dynamic. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment, which seems to happen mostly in the workplace, was a concern for several participants. Kiara describes are her experience:

Sexual harassment happened daily. You had to be very strong to endure this. … The supervisor harassed me for about a month and a half. He gave up as he saw that it was not going anywhere. … He was profiting from our situation as he knew that we were students and needy of these jobs, so he considered himself to have the right to do this.

Kiara shows that she is aware of sexual harassment and the factors that put her in a vulnerable situation, in particular, her financial dependency and status as a female migrant on her own. Sexual harassment happens not only in small informal businesses but also in those considered to be more prestigious. Olisa says that she had to quit her job as a secretary for a newspaper due to the harassment:

One day, the director of the newspaper where I was working started with this kind of words such as, ‘You are so pretty. Your hair is like this. Your eyes are like that’, etc. In the beginning, I was only smiling and, to be sincere, appreciating all these beautiful words. But this carried on with comments about my body, and he kept me in the office when everyone else left. It was then that I realised what was happening.

Olisa adds that the day after she once refused to travel with her boss, he warned her that if she would not travel with him, then she was not right for the job. She says that it was then that she quit her job.

When faced with sexual harassment, these young women feel unprotected and do not know where to report it. Iris describes precisely this situation:

Once I had to quit my job as the owner of the shop was trying to persuade me to sleep with him. I didn’t know what to do. I told him several times that I was not that kind of girl. But at a specific moment, he made it clear that I had to sleep with him if I wanted the job. I, therefore, left the job as I had no other choice. I could not complain to anyone about what was happening, so I just left the job.

Sexual harassment in the workplace ‘undercuts woman’s potential for social equality in two interpenetrated ways: by using her employment position to coerce her sexually, while using her sexual position to coerce her economically’ (MacKinnon, 1979, 7). MacKinnon’s definition of sexual harassment (i.e., the unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in a relationship of unequal power) emphasises the exploitation of women’s need to find or keep a job. Often, migrant women face sexual harassment due to their particularly precarious position, as they might need a job more than a non-migrant. Single women and single mothers are the group that are most vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace. And when they come from another city or village, this vulnerability increases. Life in Tirana is challenging and very expensive, and these young women give their best to secure employment, which often puts them in very unpleasant situations, especially sexual harassment.

According to the interviews and Kocaqi (2013), young migrant women in Tirana living on their own are subjected to sexual harassment more frequently than those living with their families. These interviews also show examples demonstrating that sexual harassment does not preclude the agency of these young women, as Erel (2007) also shows in her research on migrant women in Germany. Instead, these young women try to make use of their available resources, primarily their social networks, to carry on with achieving their goals.

6.2.3 Marriage and Family Formation — Discourses and Practices

This section focuses on the views of these young women, who were single at the time of the research, about marriage. It is important not only to analyse these views, but also to scrutinise the practices they deploy to postpone family formation while focusing on self-achievement and improving their career options.

Regarding family formation, since the interviews were conducted in 2012, I do not know what their practices actually wound up being and how their situation evolved. At this point, I may only analyse what they discussed, bearing in mind that sometimes their discourse may be influenced and biased by social desirability (Callegaro, 2008).

The young women interviewed for this chapter share a common perception that marriage would hinder their professional ambitions. They maintain that marriage and career advancement are mutually exclusive. Getting married would mean they would lose the “freedom” they had at the time, which for them meant living alone far from the control and scrutiny of their families and relatives. Eriola thinks that if she got married, she would lose control over her life. She adds that she doesn’t want to become a servant obeying her husband’s orders. The imaginary of marriage and family formation represents, for these women, a hierarchical gender regime with women in a subordinated position. Kiara also illustrates this by saying, “Finding a husband, getting married, having children and living in harmony with a mother in law; this has never been part of my plans and my priorities”.

Although some of these women, when talking about their families, describe their parents as being more or less equal in their roles within the household, they express a profound feeling of regret for their mothers. The women describe their mothers as having endured a lot of pressure from the community or relatives, and having had to give up on their own dreams at certain points in their lives. In their answers, they demonstrate strong reactions against the gender dynamics that are present in their parents’ relationship; relations they don’t wish to replicate for themselves. Their ideas on marriage are informed by the everyday experiences of their parents and the family relationships they have witnessed. Marjola and Alba illustrate this situation:

Marjola: I don’t want to become like my mother. Not that I have anything against my father because he has been always working hard for us, but my mom too she worked and at the same time she dealt with housework. And she has had to endure a tense relationship with my father’s relatives who have never loved my mother. But she never stopped supporting them in order not to spoil the relationship with my dad. I don’t want to tolerate this all the time, but I remain silent about it.

Alba: I remember my aunts always visiting my house to check if my mother had bought a new dress or something new for the house. They would then gossip all the time behind her back. My parents knew of this, but I don’t remember them discussing this, at least I’m not been aware of it. […] My mother told me once that she had been among the best students in engineering, but she didn’t continue with her studies because she got engaged, and she had to prepare for marriage and everything. I am sure that my father’s family has put its “nose” in this, by pressuring her to abandon her studies. And probably my dad urged her too, and maybe that is why he insists so much that I don’t return to Rrëshen.

One possible way of escaping marriage is to stay in Tirana and live alone, these women state. Another option appears to be that of “leaving to marry a foreigner” as Iris says, because, “for sure then I will live with him and not with all his relatives, and I know that a foreigner is respectful and will respect my own freedom”. In this imaginary, marrying a foreign man means having a more equal relationship, one in which other family members do not interfere. Eriola says she knows that abroad, relationships are formed differently. She says, “I have friends abroad, and you see that men there are different, more respectful, they help with housework, they take care of children”. She also says that she would prefer not to marry in Albania, and find somebody abroad who would allow her to have her job and lead her own life. On the one hand stands the image of the unequal gender relations experienced within the own family, and on the other, there is the idealised imaginary of the foreign partner which research has shown may be a deception (Riaño & Baghdadi, 2007). This idealised imaginary about abroad appear to reproduce the dichotomist discourse “tradition”/ “modernity” where modernity is associated with the destination place. For these women, first this was Tirana, and now it is the “abroad”.

It is important to raise the question of what informs these narratives the women have formed about foreign partners being better and more respectful than Albanian partners, and specifically Albanian men. Unfortunately, I do not have enough material from these narratives to be able to answer adequately. I might hypothesise that it may be related to the general perception that life elsewhere, outside Albania’s borders, is better than anything found within the country. These imaginary narratives may be the results of Albanian youth having had access to foreign TV channels and foreign programmes (as mentioned above).

Postponing Marriage

While it is true that national data does not show significant changes in the marriage rate when comparing communist and post-communist periods, a slight and tentative transformation of the more significant patterns of family formation in Albania may be seen in the increase of the average age at the time of marriage. The interviews confirm this trend. We might formulate the hypothesis that internal educated migrant women are quite active actors in the transformation of this process:

Kiara: Girls know that if they return to their native home one thing is for sure: they will get married to someone their parents picked out, they will have two to three babies, as much as their husbands want because they don’t have any control anymore, they will have a job, or maybe not, and that will be their life; they will be subordinated. And, knowing their fate in the small cities, girls choose to postpone this process. If they don’t find ways to stay in Tirana, at least they try to delay the return as much as possible.

The imagery of marriage as a process that leads to women losing control over their lives is one of the reasons why these young women decide not return to their native homes. It is interesting to look at their practices in the process that I call “marriage postponement,” which appears to be a strategy in itself whose aim is to preserve women’s current autonomy.

Alba says: Each time I go to Rrëshen, there is this question of marrying, and my aunts propose to me lists of young men ready to be married […] I remember one time, quite recently, that they even had prepared an “random” meeting with one guy that they had picked out. My father was not informed about this, and I told him. We had an extended discussion on marriage, him and me, and it looked like he agreed with me that finally now that I have found a good job, and I am trying to find a scholarship abroad, it is not really the time to marry in Rrëshen. To be honest, since that discussion I’ve gotten no more propositions. I imagine he must have talked with his sisters.

One tactic that Alba used to turn the situation to her advantage is by talking to her father, whom she considers her ally in her project of investing in education and career. Facing pressure from her kin to get married, she bypasses them by working out the situation with her father. Kiara also says that she has already openly discussed the issue of marriage with her father. She says that it happened when her aunts had inquired about her marriage plans. She decided to talk to her father to clarify that she had no plans to get married. She says that the father told her that he wanted her only to succeed at her job and in her life and that she could decide about the rest of her life herself. Young people in Albania consider the father to be the head of the household (Çela et al., 2012). This may bring about situations where he takes arbitrary decisions, which results in the unequal gender relations women identify within the family, a configuration that these young women are trying to escape from. At the same time, they use the tactic of instrumentalising this role of the father “as the head of the household” to reach their goals, given that if the father agrees to their decision, nobody else will oppose them. They try to win the father over for their cause.

Another practice towards postponing marriage and avoiding discussions on the topic, is to not treat it seriously for as long as it is possible. This was the case for Olisa and Eriola:

Olisa: Getting married is still an issue, because I am 28 years old and thus in the prime time for marriage. I may even be late. My parents try to bring up the issue often, and I understand because they need to be reassured that after attending school I will have a good husband, and I will settle down. It’s still perturbing every time because I have to find justifications, I make jokes, such as “look at this famous actress, she had her child when she was 50 years old," etc., etc., to avoid concrete discussions about this.

During the communist period marriages under the age of 18 were legally prohibited. Nevertheless, marriages after reaching the age of 25 years old were not as common. Expressions such as “a woman who is past her marriageable age,” etc., were used for those women in their 30s who were not yet married. This upper limit of the age when a woman can get married also depends on the education level. For example, those studying at the university level having a higher threshold. This perspective regarding the age at marriage may also be seen in Eriola’s words. Eriola says that she jokes around with her mother regarding marriage as her mother too was considered past her “marriageable age” when she married. She adds:

Eriola: I joke with my mom because she is just driving me crazy all the time about marriage and children. […] But I don’t get angry about this because we’re not going to solve anything. Every time she brings this up, I start joking that she was older than her friends when she got married, so let’s wait until I turn 30 and then talk again about this (laughs).

There were even women who deployed a more explicit approach, as Marjola did:

Marjola: I have told them [my parents] that I was not going to stay in Tirana, but that I would find a way to go study abroad. Maybe I could find someone abroad too. The idea of me going abroad is very important to them, so now we’re concentrating on this and are no longer talking about engagement and marriage.

Focusing on a career and preserving her independence are also key to Kiara’s plans for her future: “I don’t want to depend on my husband. I want to have my job, to be good at it”. Similarly, Kalaja (2014) explains that young women are aware that as soon as they go back to their native home, the pressure from their kinship and their mother to get married and “settle” will be very strong. She adds that we are well aware of expressions such as “your age of marriage will soon be over, you need to settle”. On the other hand, as Kalaja (2014) argues, marriage would reduce or lose the investment that these young women have made in their education because they would very soon be in charge of caring for their children and household, and thus would become disconnected from the aspirations of finding a good job that is appropriate to their education.

Postponing marriage may be seen as another example of these women’s transgression of the boundaries of accepted femininity in Albania, manifested in this case through marriage as the hegemonic form of family formation. Marriage is considered by these women as an obstacle to their career advancement and as an institution that would make them lose the “freedom” they have newly acquired. Marriage and family formation are for them the epitome of a hierarchical gender regime, which puts women in a subordinated position, from which they have escaped by migrating to Tirana.

6.2.4 Tirana as a ‘Jumping Board’ to the Future

Many women who migrate for educational purposes do not return to their native cities or villages. The scope of this research does not allow assessing how their situation will evolve in the future, what will happen to them if they return to their place of origin or whether they will migrate abroad or continue to live in Tirana. Here, I focus on their plans and reasons behind their choice not to return to their native homes. Iris reports her feelings about returning to her hometown by recounting her best friend’s story:

My best friend at university went back to Librazhd. The pressure of the family was too high. They could not support her financially because of economic difficulties. She could not finding a job and had nothing to live off. … Maybe she was right to go back; I don’t know. But she told me once that she has now a boyfriend. They meet in secret, meaning that the family doesn’t know about this guy. My God, it scares me to go back again to hiding things and to fear getting out of the house and lying to do so. I am not sure I could do this.

Some women return for varied reasons. Iris says her best friend faced financial difficulties and found it impossible to get a job. But Iris also emphasises the distance she feels from life in her native city. The other interviewees also say that returning to their place of origin is out of the question.

Erjona: What is the solution? Return to the village? Erase everything I’ve sacrificed? … The choice is between either bearing this disgusting environment here or to go back to what I despise. I escaped that many years ago.

Kiara: Going back to my city has never been an alternative for me.

Tirana is not ‘a field of flowers’, if I may use an Albanian expression referring to having a comfortable, beautiful life. A big city like Tirana offers anonymity and opportunities that allow young women to experience new things and face new difficulties, while at the same time enabling them to explore their abilities and potential. The interviewees’ narratives highlight the challenges and constraints they faced in Tirana with regards to their financial situation, job insecurity and gender and sexualised prejudices, stigmatisation and harassment. Reflecting on their life in Tirana, though, they contrast the possibilities of Tirana with the impossibilities of their hometowns. It seems that this constant comparison with their previous situation helps them manage the contradictions they encounter. Iris says:

I am happy to be here. The things I’ve experienced here, I could have never had them in my city of origin. It’s not easy as you are all by yourself, and we’re human. We need to be with people that we love and that love us back. But this is life. You have to make some sacrifices on the one hand to gain something else on the other hand. ... So, I believe I should be here for the moment. There is no going back for sure, but there is also no permanently staying here in Tirana either.

With regards to their plans for the future, there is a frequent and recurring wish to go abroad. As Kiara declares:

Living in Tirana is a transitory phase. I have always considered this time to be a temporary phase before going abroad. I’ve always wanted to go overseas.

Tirana is ‘a transitory phase’. The city does not seem to be the young women’s final destination. They see it as a jumping board, another step on their journey to go abroad. Olisa also specifies that she continuously looked for new educational opportunities abroad to leave Tirana and settle somewhere else. In this case, we see that student migration is part of a broader life migration strategy, as emphasised by Findlay et al. (2012). Marjola had already applied and been accepted to a master’s programme in Germany. As she made it clear throughout her interview, migrating abroad had always been her primary objective.

Although these interviews conducted in 2012 do not provide information on how the participants’ situations evolved or whether they succeeded in their goals to go abroad, based on their plans for the future, migration appears as a strategy in and of itself (Dahinden, 2009). Tirana is only a step in a grand migration journey. At the time of the research, all of the interviewees had already applied to study abroad. By the time of the writing of this chapter, two of them likely had already left Albania.

6.3 Conclusions—Discussing the Findings

Here, I observed the experiences of single migrant women who moved to Tirana on their own for educational purposes. In what follows, I give some general concluding reflections and then follow with three key findings.

I begin with a general reflection on the meaning of ‘moving on their own’. As a term, women moving on their own covers varying realities, as well explained by Schmoll (2006) in the case of Tunisian female migrants. Here, on their own refers to single women who moved to and lived in Tirana to attend university while their parents and siblings remained in their native home. However, women migrating on their own are not entirely alone as they are taken in by various relational networks that support them during migration, as explained later. Additionally, it is not very socially acceptable for young women to move on their own. The interviewed young women mobilise various tactics and strategies to face the stigma against them for migrating on their own. Below, I discuss this further in combination with the three key findings from the interviews.

First, the interviews show female student migrants embrace education not only as a strategy for a better career but also as a rationale for migrating to Tirana. Migrating for education also allows them to escape from gender constraints and the lack of opportunities in their hometowns. Since the communist era, education has been a significant value for Albanian families across parents of different educational levels (Danaj et al., 2005). This value appears to be highly gendered, and young women exploit it as a tool and resource for migration: migrating as students is more acceptable for single women. According to the interviews, and as also stressed by Vullnetari (2009) and Kalaja (2014), emigration by young women on their own is less gossiped about and more readily accepted by the kin and the community in the hometown when it is for educational purposes. This acceptance would hardly happen if the daughter were leaving on her own for work purposes, for instance. Parents consider their daughters’ education to be an investment in a better career and social mobility, as well as a more acceptable way to migrate given the social control exerted by the community. The young women thus strategically mobilise the value placed upon education as necessary and accepted among Albanian families as a resource to achieve their migration projects. The interviews show that internal migration to Tirana may also serve as an early phase in step-wise migration. Young women sometimes first migrate internally to obtain education and skills and later migrate to other international destinations to gain more and better opportunities, as also reported by King and Skeldon (2010). To accomplish migration projects, the women rely heavily on parental support, not only to cover their financial expenses but to protect them from the reactions and gossip of the community. Even when an individual migrates alone, the family left behind still play a significant role, especially in those cultures where the family exercises influence over their daughters and sons even in adulthood.

Education is not the only motivation for moving to Tirana; these women’s interviews show that internal migration is a double escape. Women escape from the social control and the gender norms of their hometowns, which constitute a driving factor. Migration as an escape from the dominant gender constraints and customs in the place of origin is stressed by other researchers, such as Kihato (2009) in the case of women’s migration to Johannesburg, and Erel (2009) in the experiences of Turkish migrant women. Women’s migration often provides an escape from the patriarchal structures in their hometown (Kofman et al., 2000). At the same time, the interviews reveal that women desire to escape from the lack of opportunities in their cities and villages of origin to Tirana, which appears to them to be the land of opportunities. This imaginary attracts them toward Tirana and reinforces their drive to migrate from their hometowns.

The second key finding expands upon the paradox of these women’s situations in Tirana: The capital city offers liberating anonymity and autonomy compared to their places of origin. However, this freeing lack of social control in Tirana is accompanied by new gender constraints and difficulties that arise from the same mechanisms as those they escaped. The situation leaves young women in new forms of precarity and dependency.

On the one hand, the young women much appreciate their escape from the social control of their hometowns and the new freedom gained by moving to a city where they know very few, if any, people. According to the interviews, anonymity frees one from social control. The fewer people know you, the participants maintain, the freer you are as the control of others over you, primarily through gender norms and roles, diminishes. Participants describe the release from the close surveillance of family and friends and the lack of need to report one’s choices and movements to anyone else as an outstanding achievement. In Tirana, they experience anonymity and indifference, similarly to what Simmel ([1903] 2002) analyses in his influential work on the city and mental life.

On the other hand, from the interviews, it appears that this liberating dimension of Tirana comes at a price. The women’s paradoxical situation quickly becomes apparent upon their arrival in Tirana. As their cases show, they face gendered and sexualised prejudices as living on their own, far from their families, is perceived to transgress the borders of accepted femininity. Furthermore, sexual objectification and sexual harassment are prevalent in the workplace, and young migrant women living on their own are more vulnerable to these practices than women living with their families. Young migrant women can be coerced into having unwanted sexual relations due to their economic vulnerability. Their experiences confirm the sexual harassment framework proposed by MacKinnon (1979), according to which workplace sexual harassment arises from and reinforces a labour market characterised by sex segregation and the sexual objectification of women.

Paradoxically, while appreciating the liberating anonymity, these women need to rely heavily on well-developed social networks, especially when accessing the labour market. The interviewees mobilise various types of capital, including erotic or sexual capital, to enter the workforce. In the notion of erotic or sexual capital, sexuality is transformed into a resource to achieve one’s objectives, as discussed in Levy and Lieber’s (2009) work on Chinese migrants in Paris. The mobilisation of erotic capital illustrates how these women enter new gender configurations that might be different than those dominant in their hometowns but have the same underlying mechanisms of unequal gender relations.

In the third and final key finding, the interviewees articulate the gendered geographical imaginaries that shape their migration projects. They demonstrate Appadurai’s (1996) suggestion that the imaginary is a powerful force driving human action. Imaginaries about Tirana as a place bursting with opportunities and freedom and lacking the social control of gender norms entice these women to migrate there. The imaginary positions Tirana as a site where women may achieve individual freedoms unavailable in their hometowns. Nevertheless, the educated women migrants discussed in this chapter consider living in Tirana to be a transitional phase and express their desire to continue their migration project abroad. Their interviews reveal a chain of geographical imaginaries in which internal migration is insufficient by itself and entangled with international migration projects. As the participants express, the idea of moving abroad is deeply related to opposition to marriage and the contrasting ideal of the foreign husband, constructed based on media representations and other emigrants’ stories.

Importantly, these cases illustrate the role of gender in shaping geographical imaginaries and consequently, migratory projects. For example, Riano (2015) analyses how the imaginaries of equality of Europe inform Latin American women’s migration projects, influencing their decisions on how and where to migrate. Similarly, the interviewees in this chapter ground their imaginaries on the persistent opposition of tradition and modernity. Tradition refers to the hometown, and modernity first to the imagined life in Tirana and then to that abroad. Regarding their experience in Tirana, the interviews show that the presumed opposition of tradition and modernity cannot be supported, as evidenced by the women’s paradoxical situation in their new city. This paradoxical situation drives them toward further gendered geographical imaginaries and gendered idealisation of abroad.