"Women in Kosovo: Contested Terrains"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Mon Aug 30 04:45:22 PDT 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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