If gynaecological check-ups present problems for most Kosovar women, deaf women face additional challenges. They must overcome widespread negative stereotypes about women visiting gynaecologists, especially male doctors, as well as explain their health problems to gynaecologists using sign language. Even then, deaf women cannot understand gynaecologists’ diagnoses or instructions for treatment without assistance from an interpreter.
The Association of the Deaf in Prizren sought to address this challenge by involving sign language interpreters in accompanying deaf women to gynaecologists. Their initiative, supported by the Kosovo Women’s Fund (€1,312), assisted five women in leaving their homes independent of family members, some for the first time. Further, more than 25 young women learned techniques for overcoming the challenges they face in their everyday lives.
The gynaecological visits revealed that one deaf woman had health issues. Through this visit, she was able to identify the issue early on. Regular visits to the gynaecologist, with the Association’s assistance, enabled her to treat this issue and heal quickly.
Further, through this initiative, the Association advocated successfully for the Municipal Officer for Gender Equality and the Health Directorate to institutionalize sign language services. Soon after, the Municipality hired an interpreter who now provides interpretation services at the Municipal Assembly and within the Health Directorate twice per week.
However, reaching these achievements was not easy. During this initiative, women faced a series of challenges, including discrimination by male colleagues within their own Association. Therefore, an additional outcome of this initiative was that deaf women decided to found the Association of Deaf Women in Prizren in July 2013. The new Association aims to empower deaf women and attend to the unique challenges that they face because they are women.
“I wanted them to have more space, since this space wasn’t provided in the other NGO so far,” said Krenare Ajdini, an interpreter who supported women in founding the new Association.
Krenare found her beginnings as a women’s rights activist while working as a sign language interpreter during Kosovo Women’s Network meetings. She attended her first such meeting in 2012 as an interpreter for the Association of Deaf People. “During this meeting I learnt a lot of new information about NGOs and their work,” she said. “When I saw the possibilities that the network offers women, I decided to start a new NGO for deaf women.”
Krenare admits that creating a new organization is no easy task: compiling a statute, forming a board, and other administrative issues. However, “KWN staff were always there to help me with documents, procedures, and any other issue,” she said.
“So far, I am really satisfied with the interest and cooperation shown by our NGO members,” Krenare said. “Together we’re working on finding ways to fund our ideas. In this way we will be able to empower deaf women in our municipality.”