"Women in Kosovo: Contested Terrains"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Mon Aug 30 05:45:22 MDT 1999

Julie Mertus wrote in "Women in Kosovo: Contested Terrains," _Gender and
Politics in the Western Balkans: Women and Society in Yugoslavia and the
Yugoslav Successor States_, ed. Sabrina P. Ramet (University Park, PA: Penn
State UP, 1999):

*****   For a long time, many Kosovar Albanian women have quietly confessed
their doubts that all problems can be blamed on the Serbs.  "If we compare
ourselves to other women's lives here in Europe, we are not living at all,"
a school teacher in Urosevac stated, adding "an independent Kosova isn't
going to change all that."  Only recently have a small but growing group of
women dared to speak publicly.  In a widely circulated interview, Sevdije
Ahmeti, co-director of the Center for Women and the Protection of Children,
declared: "It is our duty to change the mentality, to get out of the
stagnation that has captured us [women]."  Although a handful of Albanian
women's groups now exist in Kosovo, those who have publicly attempted to
reexamine and redefine women's gender roles in Kosovar society have risked
being harshly criticized by their own community as undermining the Albanian
national struggle.  For example, Xheri, a young woman journalist, found
herself lambasted by the mainstream Albanian press for writing an article
about Albanian prostitutes.  Her mistake?  The prostitutes had testified
frankly about the poor family conditions that had led some of them to the
streets.  "How can she waste time tearing down our families when we are
under occupation?" older Albanian journalists responded.

Regardless of the strong social disapprobation, some Albanian women seek to
reshape "Albanian Woman" to fit their definition of woman....[A] literacy
and women's rights group, Motrat Qiriazi...had been formed over six years
ago and then abandoned due to political pressures....Fearing that Motrat
Qiriazi had been neglecting the nation at the expense of other aims,
Albanian political leaders had dissuaded women from attending their
workshops.  By the time I found them, the group had already worked out a
different relationship between gender and nation....

My friend [a local Albanian teacher] stands in front of the men [whose
approval she needs to keep meeting with "their women" for
consciousness-raising sessions], questioning them: "Who takes care of your
sons?" then answering for them: "Your women." "And how can they help them
with their lessons if they cannot read?  If they have no knowledge?
Education of girls and women is good for the whole [Albanian] nation," she
proclaims, "How can we advance as a nation without the advancement of
women?" ...Nationalism becomes a powerful legitimizing force for organizing
women as [Albanian] women [and mothers].  (174-6)

[Julie Mertus is a visiting associate professor at Ohio Northern University
and a fellow in the Law and Religion Project, Emory University.  Formerly
Counsel to Helsinki Watch (focusing on the former Yugoslavia), Mertus is
the author of _National Truth --  Re(membering) Kosovo: The Building of
Serbian and Albanian Nationalisms_ (U of CA P, 1998), _Open Wounds: Human
Rights Abuses in Kosovo_ (Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, 1994), etc.]



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