They lived as they wished happily ever after

UNDP albania
5 min readJan 17, 2022


#ChangeTheNarrative to End Violence Against Women Now

#ChangetheNarrative is UNDP’s latest campaign which took place in the context of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Children, young girls, and boys aged 12–18 came together to re-write Albanian old legends and tales with gender lenses and create new stories embedding gender equality and women’s empowerment throughout. Thus, a book called “They lived as they wished, happily ever after” came to life with the aim to challenge gender stereotypes, contribute to smashing the patriarchy, and create a more gender-equal society in Albania.

They lived as they wished happily ever after

It all began a year ago.

To mark the International Day of Women, UNDP launched a children’s book and an animated video, called “Doruntina’s Besa” inspired by the well-known Albanian legend, “Konstantin’s Besa” but re-written with gender lenses.

What does the old legend say?

In the old legend, besa or “the pledge of honor” is considered as an attribute to only boys and men. Family members decide for women and girls. They have no say in any matter. In the re-written version, women keep their promise too and are portrayed in a completely different perspective, they take on tasks performed by men and take their destiny in their own hands.

The legend says: There was a mother with 7 sons and one only daughter. One of the brothers gave Doruntina to a prince living far away. Doruntina and her mother didn’t approve of this arranged marriage, but no one listened to them. Konstantin, the brother, promised he would bring back Doruntina home one day, and in the legend, he rises from the grave to stay true to his promise-he brings her home.

In our story: Doruntina goes far away on her own will because she wanted to be with someone she loved. She gave her “Besa” and kept it, by coming back home despite the difficulties and the fact her village was far away.

The re-written legend seeks to break gender stereotypes. Through words and illustrations, children are exposed to alternative realities, such as a girl chopping wood and a boy knitting. This contributes to educating children about equality between women and men.

Doruntina’s Besa as published

Just a few examples.

  • Albanians common wish is “next time, let’s hope it is a boy!” In our story, people say “next time, let’s hope it is a girl!” because girls are wanted and loved too.
  • The father in our story says: “We are going to miss you, but your happiness stands above everything else.” This is a strong message on how boys and men should think regarding women and girls.

The animated video and the book convey the message of gender equality to children in a digestible way educating them with the noble attribute of staying true to one’s words, despite the gender.

The video and the book saw great success. “Doruntina generated debates among youth around the new concept that Doruntina’s Besa brings. The book was read widely in rooms and halls full of young people. The animated video made it through international competitions and was successfully broadcast in several parts of the world.

In response to the need to create space for each girl and boy to equally participate in initiatives that have a direct impact in changing societal patriarchal norms, we launched a call to boys and girls to participate in a Bootcamp initiative “Artistic writing through gender lenses”. The Bootcamp aimed at teaching the participants the concepts of gender equality and use their artistic writing skills to rewrite famous Albanian fairy tales, legends, stories or write brand new stories of their own to bring their perspectives on the roles of women, girls, men, and boys in the Albanian society.

Our Bootcamp brought together young boys and girls

This took months to do. The new book “They lived their lives as their wished happily ever after brings 9 amazing stories of nine women and girls that fought with dignity and who do not accept to leave their destiny in the hands of men in the family. Women portrayed in the book are smart, great leaders, and inspiring models for all women and girls in Albania and around the world.

A partnership was established with TUMO Tirana- an educational center offering teens between the ages of 12 and 18 access to skills and professionals at the intersection of design and technology. They provided illustrations for the book.

Illustrations of the book done by children of the Tumo Center in Tirana

Illustrations of the Book done by children of Tumo Center in Tirana

“They Lived Happy ever after “is a book done by children for children. Stories and illustrations express their point of view on gender-based violence and how to end it. They see themselves as part of the fight. Tomorrow they will see the world with different eyes.

During the launching of the Book in Tirana

This campaign is part of the UN Joint programme “Ending Violence Against Women in Albania” (EVAWIA), implemented by UNDP, UN Women and UNFPA in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Protection and led by UNDP with funds from the Government of Sweden.