Women march in Prishtina on January 21. | Photo: BIRN.

The Trumps in our midst

The Women’s March in Prishtina proved what Albanian feminists knew a long time ago: the fight for women’s rights never was or will be won alone.

In 2017 I hope we don’t still need to debate whether women are equal to men in Kosovo. All available data clearly shows that women are less educated, less employed, less politically represented and experience significantly more violence than men.

Low income women, Roma women, and women who experienced wartime rape have been significantly neglected. Our girls still get married against their will. Abortion is still an issue of morality and shame. Giving birth in Kosovo sometimes results in death. Maternity leave is considered a luxury. Sexual harassment is seen as a joke. Women and girls are raped, beaten and killed. This is our Kosovo.

In these circumstances, columnists such as Kimete Berisha and Dafina Demaku wonder what sense it makes for Albanian women to participate in the Women’s March. Maybe a little information on why people marched in Prishtina is necessary. The Women’s March is an inclusive movement of American feminists and was organized as a reaction against the sexist, racist, homophobic and hate-inciting language used by President Trump (for more on his verified misogyny, I invite you to read this column by Shqipe Gjocaj).

The Women’s March expanded beyond America’s borders and its meaning also expanded, transforming into a global march against all types of discrimination and the denial of women’s rights all over the world. More than 600 such marches were organized organically in 75 countries, including Kosovo. It was a historic march with global participation, a good reminder that feminism is alive and needed everywhere.

A few days after the march, Demaku asked where are the anti-patriarchy protests in Kosovo, while Berisha reminded us that “it’s not up to us” to protest Trump’s agenda. Demaku surprisingly said that it wasn’t a “women’s” march but just a “march.” Berisha said that women who “habitually” protest against gender-based violence are divorced women and lesbians. I have not heard more ridiculous comments in a while.

We should keep in mind that the American government and programs such as USAID take on projects that promote equal inheritance amongst women and men. I wonder, without the pressure of external factors such as USAID, how much goodwill does the Kosovo “suck me” government have to push for this issue? (In 2015, Kosovo Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli told a female MP from the opposition to “suck him off” during a parliamentary session, using a crude and vulgar term in Albanian.)

Second, one of President Trump’s first executive decisions denies funding to organizations that promote or offer abortion as part of family planning outside of the US. What effect could this decision have in Kosovo, where abortion is still seen as murder and not as a medical decision? And let’s be honest, what kind of message is given to our Kadri Veselis in power when President Trump gleefully declares that when you’re rich, you can “grab them [women] by the pussy”?

I am raising these questions because our tiny Kosovo is part of the world, and without the resources, funding and solidarity that comes from outside and within, our feminist movement would have ended a long time ago. It’s important to remember our first feminists, such as Urani Rumbo, Parashqevi Qiriazi and Sevasti Qiriazi, were educated outside of the Balkans and brought to Albania what they had seen abroad. These early feminists, believe it or not, participated in historic meetings such as Paris Peace Conference and the Manastir Congress, they worked with women and girls in extremely isolated villages, lobbied for their agenda with progressive statesmen in the first Albanian governments and created friendships and lines of communication with feminist women in the West. Simply put, they did their work as Albanians and as participants in this world, fully aware that no progressive movement was won alone. These are histories that we don’t learn and therefore don’t know.

Unfortunately, we might know even less about the present. Protests against domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexist language in the Assembly, the neglect of women raped during the war, the murder of women by their partners, the abuse of girls due to issues of “honor” and the meaningless celebration of International Women’s Day, have occurred and occur regularly in Kosovo – for those who seek them out. The fight for equal inheritance, maternity leave, equal pay, access to sexual education, police and prosecutorial accountability, for physical safety and for basic rights – this fight is happening in Kosovo, with work that isn’t recognized and isn’t seen. People like Demaku and Berisha aren’t interested in knowing or participating in the blood and sweat that this fight requires.

The valuable work of the feminist movement in Kosovo is nearly invisible, except in cases when five minutes after a woman is killed, people self righteously ask “Where are the feminists?” I value our feminist movement, because our feminist women and men have historically made it possible for Berisha, Demaku, and I to claim space in the media, schools and institutions. Every day, our feminists resist little Trumps, be they men or women. And every act of solidarity reminds us that we’re not alone, and reminds us that all this underestimated work and effort, when it finally materializes, is translated into strength.

27 January 2017 - 09:38

Hana Marku

27/01/2017 - 09:38

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.