“My father said ‘No, I don’t want my daughter to undergo surgery, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her just because of the leg operation. However, I insisted, I was convinced that I had to stay in Belgrade, at the hospital, and have my leg operated on, four times in a row. That is exactly what happened, of course, with my insistence. I stayed alone in the hospital for 1 year and succeeded.
These were the words of Drita Vukshinaj, and everything had happened after many struggles that she had encountered in a patriarchal mentality that did not allow her to treat her leg. She had fallen from a tree at the age of six. The injury and leg problems plagued her throughout her life. Initially, doctors in Kosovo had told her that the leg needed to be amputated.
Nevertheless, Drita Vukshinaj, at the age of 10, as a strong and spirited girl activist, took the initiative to undergo surgery in Belgrade, although her father opposed it, while her mother, who had supported her at that age, had left her on her own as she had passed away.
Moreover, today, on Tuesday, we will remember Drita, an indefatigable woman, a long-standing activist for women’s and human rights, who became a powerful voice particularly for people with disabilities. She set herself the goal of empowering and advancing the rights of people with disabilities and succeeded. All this came about because Drita herself had a disability. The challenges she faced pushed her to devote her life to fighting for the rights of other women with disabilities.
People with disabilities were excluded from society, but particularly in the period from 1989 to 2000, during which Drita never stopped organizing a series of activities, including courses against illiteracy, sewing courses, and many other activities, always carrying them out voluntarily. She was part of the team for registering people with disabilities in 78 villages in Prizren, a city where she also came from. This happened when Drita realized that there was an association called “Hendikos” that dealt with protection of PWDs’ rights.
Drita was always there for people with disabilities. She made door-to-door visits to women with disabilities who had been confined to their neighborhoods for their entire lives and enabled them to see Kosovo.
“I remember the year 2000 when I had a one-day trip all over Kosovo. I met a woman in her 50s and when we arrived in Prizren, after we had visited Pristina, Peja, Deçan, Prekaz and finally arrived in Prizren, her words were: ‘Even if I die now, I don’t want anything else, because I have never seen anything in my life except my neighborhood.”
In the course of her ongoing activism, Drita a woman who was tireless in her efforts felt that the voice of women with disabilities was not being heard enough. Thus, in 2012, she founded the organization “Shpresa dhe Ndërtesa”, a non-governmental organization that helped people with disabilities to integrate into society.
She has also been involved in initiatives aimed at promoting interethnic dialogue and reconciliation in the Balkans, through her work with the Balkan Network for Local Democracy and the European Women’s Lobby.
As recognition for her contributions to promoting human rights and social justice, Vukshinaj has received many awards and honors, including the US International Women of Courage Award in 2019. Drita Vukshinaj was known for her work in promoting human rights, women’s rights and social justice not only in Kosovo but also in the Balkan region.
Through her organization, she was a member of the Kosovo Women’s Network, and the KWN staff had the honor and pleasure of having a member like Drita Vukshinaj.
She enabled many women with disabilities to engage in activism through the Network. Those who knew Drita will always remember her as a courageous and determined woman who worked tirelessly to create space and opportunities for other women for their rights, including her own.
Drita Vukshinaj was born on March 10, 1954 and passed away on March 9, 2016 in Prizren, her hometown.