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Opinion

For the Women of Kosovo the War Has Not Ended 

Foto: Erkin Keçi - AA

The recent national headlines on the murder of two women in the span of five days in Kosovo have shocked the nation’s consciousness. This has become a recurring shock therapy for Kosovo’s society as cases of gendered domestic violence and femicide have been soaring annually in the country. 

What has also been shocking has been the sheer paradox that has engulfed Kosovo’s state institutions in the wake of these events. The abdication of responsibility and inaction by Kosovo’s state structures on this topic has been hugely disappointing, while the same state structures have been associated with an air of performative feminism. President Vjosa Osmani declared April 17, 2024 as a day of national mourning “in remembrance of all the women and girls murdered in Kosovo as a result of gender-based violence”. The announcement came in light of another display of the lack of institutional protection for women against gender-based violence. 

Only from January to March 2024, 573 women have been recorded as survivors of domestic violence in Kosovo according to the Republic of Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice. In the past year, 2120 women reported being subjected to domestic violence in their households. These numbers are estimated to not even represent the full reality of the domestic violence epidemic in Kosovo. Kosovo’s rates of femicides are a national emergency – only from the period from 2010 to 2020 there have been 73 cases of femicide in Kosovo. However, members of parliament have openly cast doubts on the very reality of the femicide phenomenon in the country. Ganimete Musliu, a member of parliament denied the existence of femicide in Kosovo while stating that the parliamentary debates carry the risk of portraying Kosovo’s society as femicidal in the eyes of outsiders.

Somewhat paradoxically, state institutions have been readily available however to perform feminism for the foreign public in the backs of women ‘at home’. What remains peculiar for Kosovo’s society is the performative pride in women’s achievement - especially when women display their skills, perseverance, and talent for the gaze of international others and to forward the state’s strategic interest. 

For example, this was strikingly obvious following the wave of celebration at the institutional level of the Special Mention as National Presentation award of Doruntina Kastrati and Eremira Krasniqi’s “Echoing Silences of Metal and Skin” at the 60th Venice Biennale, which aimed to problematize feminized labour and work inequalities in Kosovo. The duo aimed to highlight the experience of women at the margins through their sculptural installation. While Kosovo’s institutions applauded such a worthy societal critique, the state has neglected the calls of women and feminist organizations to address the security and well-being of women.

Another performative encounter arises with the organisation of the Women, Peace, and Security Forum where Kosovo’s institutions are poised to play a significant role in advancing the feminist take on peace and conflict, despite being a relatively small country. At the forum’s entrance, feminist activists protesting the inaction of state institutions regarding femicides in Kosovo were met by police forces who considered them as a risk to security and conveyed that the activists were damaging the image of Kosovo in the eyes of the internationals.

Among other factors, the foundations of the femicide emergency in Kosovo stem from the systematic erasure of women in every aspect of Kosovo’s society, long before the onset of physical violence. Kosovo’s state structures are complicit in erasing women, exploiting their labor while simultaneously performing feminism for international observers. Women in Kosovo are symbolically annihilated through exclusion from public spaces, media representation, narratives on national liberation, memorials, and storytelling of the nation’s formation and evolution.

If you were to open a history book detailing Kosovo's formal education curriculum and found yourself constantly questioning “Where are the women?” then perhaps you would begin to grasp the severity of femicide epidemic that Kosovo faces. Narratives such as “Bac, na zbardhen cikat ftyren” (Sir, our girls have made us proud) which are mainstreamed in institutional communication display the paradoxical erasure of women against the backdrop of the violence inflicted upon their bodies in Kosovo.

Public institutions, as the bearer of duties for citizens, have chosen to overlook the contributions of women in Kosovo’s active and peaceful resistance movements, for instance. How many young people in Kosovo are aware of the feminist protests such as “Bread for Drenica” which were spearheaded by women? The state has decided to diminish the role of women by neglecting to erect statues, name streets, and build museums commemorating the mass activism of women as women, and then mothers, daughters, and sisters in the struggle for the state of Kosovo. Who recognises the name Zahide Geci Jashari? It is through these acts of erasure that the state marginalizes women’s agency deeming it unworthy of remembrance or celebration. The underlying issue here is that it portrays women as lacking agency, relegating them to mere recipients of their circumstances: thus, omitting their experiences as fighters, survivors, and advocates.

In the aftermath of these events, one may recall the feminist teachings on the greyness of peace for women - for the women of Kosovo, the war has not ended. Feminist activists and scholars have been at the forefront in challenging traditional notions of war and peace, highlighting how the patriarchal gender structure subjects women to economic, cultural, political, and physical violence in their daily lives during times of ‘peace.’ Feminist scholarship consistently underscores the gendered experiences of war: women navigate the systematic patriarchy within state structures during national liberation, thus bearing a dual burden. However, the roles that women occupy in the struggle for freedom and liberation through their roles - as activists, aids, doctors, soldiers, and fighters - quickly dissipate as the gender structure reverts to systemic oppression after the war. The case of Kosovo is no exception of these trends. The state-building process in Kosovo – similar to other post-conflict countries - has been gender-blind and mired in patriarchal state negligence. 

Kosovo’s institutions want to showcase that a small country can make big strides in global diplomacy - the Women, Peace and Security Forum was a prime example of this conviction. However, if Kosovo aims to lead feminist transformation concerning women’s security, it must first look within. Kosovo institutions must stop their complicity in erasing women’s experiences and subjectivities and acknowledge that for the women of Kosovo, the war has not ended.

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