There is Most Certainly a Future for Every Child in Kosovo Who is Born a Girl - Global Women Club Kosovo - september 2019
Anita’s generous invitation to be with you in Prishtina took me back in time, to exactly 20 years ago.
It was the time when, after leaving the dictatorship behind once and for all and finally tearing down the wall that for half a century had kept them segregated from Europe and the world at large, Albania and its people faced a mind-boggling chaos of completely new hardships and challenges. While the country was grappling with its trauma of 1997 and the aftermath, in 1998 disconcerting news was coming from Kosovo.
Back then, my generation knew Kosovo mostly from the books, some occasional meetings with people of this country or from the stories told by our grandparents of the Kosovars settling in Tirana before the war. In the meantime, in my mind, I had this vision of the Kosovar woman associated with Shote Galica and her legend, and with the iconic Nexhmije Pagarusha.
The image of the former came from a history book, a black-and-white photo showing her standing by her husband in front of the camera, from the famous bronze statue by Kristaq Rama and the colours of several paintings dedicated to her. At times, she appeared omnipotent, fighting for two, and at others, angelic, ethereal under the night sky, watching her husband’s body going down into an abyss, so that his death were kept a secret; I then fathomed her at the tail of a convoy of fighters, numb, with a distant look, perhaps watching the battlefield or perhaps trying to see for the last time the edge of the abyss where her husband’s body was laid to rest, and she took over the mission of his immortality.
The second was a vision from a TV screen, in black and white – a stark contrast with the former – her weapon being her mesmerizing voice, going straight to the heart of everyone who was captured by her grace as a living monument of a woman that exuded the elegance and the intensity of the most wonderful human feelings. But that was not all of it. She had this aura of someone coming “from abroad”, as we used to refer back in the time to all those special personalities from a world we did not belong to, or from “Europe,” as we would say later on, when the continent became the epitome of everything we Albanians wanted to be and have.
I met with Kosovo in person in April 1999. One morning, the TV screen poured in Tirana and all the history, legends, wars, stories and gloomy news turned into terrorized women and children who entered our homes. The doors throughout Tirana were open wide and the pictures of the heroes, the black-and-white TV images, the stories told by grandparents, the books of Rexhep Qose, the poems of Ali Podrime, the wisdom of Ibrahim Rugova, the scarce contacts we had with the people from that place until then came back as a different country; a physical country that showed itself to us through its painful wound that was known, but never so palpable and shockingly touching; a country that spoke the same language with different sounds entering our daily life with the eyes of women and children which spoke volumes about everything we were never told from birth.
Tirana back then was not what it is today, neither was Albania.
I recall that morning we went to this place we called “the pools”, without anyone asking or telling us to do so. I was with a handful of my colleagues, but many others were on their way. It was there, at “the pools” were the main largest group the displaced people had gathered, a lively testimony of everything we had known, read or heard about, but never seen with our own eyes. The feeling that took us there was quite natural, an urge from inside to meet people, who although complete strangers, were ours.
I will never forget that we ourselves were overwhelmed, almost numb as if a family tragedy had fallen upon us. We wanted to help with what we could and when we talked to them looking to find out their more specific needs or what they missed the most, the recurring answers were “freedom” - coming by older children - and “home”, by the women!
Today, 20 years from that time, I would not dare tell you what is going right or wrong in Kosovo, neither would I want to school you, as we say, on what Kosovo women and men should or should not do. But I have always found those two words, “freedom” and “home”, to be the greatest vision for the young Kosovo and, perhaps, the most suitable definition of the Albanian woman beyond geographic boundaries.
In the course of my work and also due to a special sensitivity I have carried with me from that morning, I have read an abundance of information, studies, opinions and stories about the state of the woman in Kosovo. It is a mosaic that combines together the grim colours of the past, with some of them deeply rooted in the foundations of the houses, the impressive efforts that have produced inspiring examples of courage, wisdom and dedication of girls and women, and new obstacles, of a different type, of a time that has soothed the throbbing wound of that morning, but has also opened new wounds and exacerbated others, older than the occupation and barbarity of foreigners against freedom and the common home that is Kosovo.
I think we can affirm without hesitation that the post-1990s’ history in Albania and Kosovo, and even in other areas where Albanians have been living for centuries, showed that the battle for women did not end with the fight for freedom and democracy and that home did not become a space where all women could freely breathe.
The excruciating truth of the sexual abuse of thousands of girls and women during the war was not followed by justice for them, although everything was exposed in the daylight. Neither did it put an end to the domestic abuse of women, a phenomenon that although acknowledged by all, still remains inadequately tackled in our area.
I am humbled and respect the courage and contribution of Vasfije Krasniqi. It is a contribution not only for every girl who fell victim to sexual abuse during the war, but also for every girl and woman suffering domestic violence or any other type of gender-fuelled abuse and discrimination.
I find that no one better than women could fight to ensure freedom at home and rid the common home of the fences raised by the emerging times and the lingering ghosts of the past.
The example of President Jahjaga, of some graceful women in words and manners who have served as ministers, members of parliament or important ambassadors of Kosovo, does not simply speak of a group of women, but it is rather telling of an extraordinary potential that has not yet been tapped into sufficiently both when it comes to the Kosovan woman and Kosovo itself.
Majlinda Krasniqi, Dua Lipa, Rita Ora and other stars that Kosovo has given to the great international stages are not merely the stories of some exceptional girls, but of a tremendous potential that requires dedication and development.
Albania and Kosovo have already decided their future fate as part of the European family and within such prospects they have included gender equality as a non-negotiable value of the European family. That makes us part of the concerted efforts with other European countries for better education, employment, welfare and representation of girls and women. On the other hand, it holds us responsible to use special strength and efforts in facing the particular past that the we, Albanian women, and our entire nation have had to endure.
Only a few days ago, I read in the news that three high-school girls from Tirana had been awarded the first prize in the world pitch held by Technovation, an organization based in San Francisco, California, for their use of technology to find solutions to real community problems. The girls participated with an app that helps abused women in the Albanian society, offering a menu of telephone numbers and advice, so that these women are able to find a solution for their sensitive situations.
This is exceptional news, not simply because three young girls are so talented in engineering that they get worldwide recognition, but also because it shows that younger women have the sensitivity to put their skills at the service of a cause, such as that of women support and empowerment.
It will certainly take time. It will be challenging, there is no doubt. But, in a country where freedom and home are no longer at risk of being extinguished, there is most certainly a future for every child who is born a girl.