Demonstrators attend a march to commemorate International Women's Day, in capital Pristina, Thursday, March 8, 2018. Banner in Albanian reads "Every day March 8, Resistance everyday." Women across Europe and Asia shouted their demands for respect and empowerment Thursday to mark International Women's Day, with protesters in Spain launching a 24-hour strike and crowds of demonstrators filling the streets of Manila, Seoul and New Delhi. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Can Kosovo embrace a feminism for the 99 per cent?

The feminist movement in Kosovo has experienced a revival, but it remains to be seen if it is ready to join global efforts to reinvent its politics entirely.

It is an undeniable fact that in the past few years the feminist movement in Kosovo has experienced a radical awakening: from campaigns against catcalling to marching to mark International Women’s Day, the movement has joined the public sphere forcefully, demanding rights and visibility for women and girls. This was perhaps not surprising or out of the blue – after all, protests by women’s rights activists for civil rights in Kosovo have been  well-documented since at least the 1990s.

Yet as we prepare to march in several cities around Kosovo under the motto “Time’s up” (Ka ardhë koha) to protest against the sexual abuse, harassment, and murder of women and girls, it is also a good moment to take in the strides we have made. Over ten years ago, when I was still a student, it was truly unimaginable to march among hundreds of people demanding that lives of women and girls be respected without being accused of overreacting.

The loud and colorful Pride Parades held in the past two years are also a celebratory proof of the shift we’ve experienced in our lifetime.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the feminist movement move beyond written condemnations and into the streets: over one hundred people gathered just this Wednesday to protest against the three-year prison sentence given to the man who ran over and killed two girls in Prishtina last year.  

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, hundreds protested in front of the police HQ in Prishtina after media reported that a girl from Drenas had been sexually abused by her teacher and afterwards by her case officer at the police while she was a minor. The highly publicized case, prompted more reports of sexual harassment and abuse, initiating a societal-wide debate about harassment, as well as  consent.

Hundreds of people also protested last year, after it was revealed that a man in Gjakova killed his wife, Valbona Nrecaj and their daughter; the wife had made several reports to the police to no avail. Last week  the culprit received a life sentence– the highest sentence issued to anyone for a domestic violence case in Kosovo.

Is this enough?

No, but it is a good start. Since 2017, and inspired by the Polish women’s strike over the threat to ban abortion and the Ni Una Menos (Not one more) campaign against femicide in Argentina, feminist organizations all around the globe have joined a call to mark March 8 with an International Women’s Strike. Strikes have been organized in over 50 countries during the past two years, and this year too women from all over will refuse to labor at work or at home to prove once again that ‘when women stop, the world stops.’ We are witnessing the  emergence of a truly global feminist movement, with some calling for the momentum to be turned into an international feminist movement  for the 99 percent.

In the recently published book  “Feminism for the  99%: A Manifesto,” Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser explain how the international women’s strike has managed to reclaim the political roots of International Women’s Day and used the strike to invent a new kind of politics that goes beyond identity politics and class issues.

In Kosovo too, the by now traditional Marshojme, S’festojme (We march, we don’t celebrate) has reclaimed March 8 from those who still consider it Mother’s Day and celebrate it with gifts and flowers, turning it into a call for action. For the first time this year, in addition to  blocking downtown Prishtina for a couple of hours, the march will occur simultaneously in Prizren, Ferizaj and Mitrovica.

The International Women’s Strike, as the Manifesto’s authors note, has expanded the repertoire of the strike from the withdrawal of labor, to closing down small businesses, boycotts and blockades; and even to withdrawing  “housework, sex, and smiles.” Silvia Federici’s seminal text “Wages Against Housework” came out in 1975, but to some it might still be news that much of the invisible labor done around the house comes at the expense of women’s time and energy.

But perhaps the most important thing that these strikes for March 8 have done is to turn the feminist movement back to its leftist roots, opening up an opportunity to overcome the co-optation of feminism by neoliberalism.

To do so, Arruzza, Bhattacharya and Fraser argue, we need a feminism for the 99 per cent: a feminism that “[refuses] to sacrifice the well-being of the many in order to protect the freedom of the few, it champions the needs and rights of the many—of poor and working-class women, of racialized and migrant women, of queer, trans, and disabled women, of women encouraged to see themselves as ‘middle class’ even as capital exploits them.”

Can the women in Kosovo heed this call? Let’s look at the facts: they face unemployment, discrimination at work, sexual harassment in the streets, at school, and even at the police station, as well as dismal health care if not outright abuse (most recently, a doctor in Prizren shouted at his female patient, calling her a monkey, during surgery). At home, they get beaten or murdered, and are expected silently to do house chores and reproduce.

Only 12.7  per cent of women in Kosovo are officially employed, a troubling figure that should alert us to their economic dependence. According to an OSCE survey, 55 per cent of women are dependent on the income of their partner, while 27 per cent on that of their parents.

Meanwhile, 32 per cent of Kosovar men believe that women’s primary role should be to take care of the home and cook. For minority communities the hardships pile up further: the lack of access to health care for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women is truly appalling; trans people struggle to make ends meet and despite a progressive Constitution, are not recognized by the state. Meanwhile disabled persons still lack proper access to public spaces, including education facilities, and face discrimination at school and at work.

The problem has to be faced head-on: intersectional in nature, socio-political oppression and marginalization affects women, queer people, disabled persons of different classes and ethnicities in different ways, but affects them all nevertheless. The only way to deal with it is to understand and admit our own privileges and vulnerabilities and form an alliance that crosses these lines and reinvents politics in Kosovo.

The answer won’t be a feminism that simply demands legal criminalization of gender violence; as Arruzza, Bhattacharya and Fraser note, “legal emancipation remains an empty shell if it does not include public services, social housing, and funding to ensure that women can leave domestic and workplace violence.”

It also won’t be a feminism that promotes an individualistic approach to “cracking that glass ceiling” hindering women from prospering, without dealing with the social, economic and political rights of women in a systematic way.  After all, as Bhattacharya noted recently in an interview on The Dig, “the glass ceiling is also a class ceiling”. Instead of looking at models in the northern part of the world, we need to expand our feminist movement in solidarity with organizations and movements from the global south, and not lean in into capital’s exploitation.

Perhaps we can summon up the courage and solidarity to do it, and we can start next year by organizing a general strike to mark International Women’s Day. On that day, I urge you to be creative in your strike: whether you can refuse to work together with your union or syndicate, or boycott work while sitting in an office. I urge you to refuse to clean and cook, I urge you to refuse to do emotional labor for the people around you. See what happens. The world will stop, at least for a day.

The opinions expressed in this section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

08 March 2019 - 09:34

Lura Limani

08/03/2019 - 09:34

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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.