Solidarity among women: Change occurs when women from politics and civil society join forces

 Solidarity among women and the journey towards decision-making positions was the central topic discussed in the meeting of Lobby for Gender Equality in Kosovo, held on 12 April in the Municipality of Suhareka, upon the invitation of Ms. Mihrije Syka, Vice Mayor of Suhareka, and Ms. Habibe Bytyqi, Human Rights Unit Coordinator and Gender Equality Officer in the Municipality of Suhareka. This meeting was attended by 70 assembly women deputies and girls from various municipalities of Kosovo, and representatives of Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) member organizations.

The attendees were given the opportunity to direct questions to the meeting hosts to get information about the women and girls’ situation in the Municipality of Suhareka and to compare and share experiences from other municipalities.
            Afterwards, Rogova took the floor and introduced the attendees to the idea of re-establishing the Kosovo Women’s Lobby.
            “This Mechanism would bring together women involved in central- and local-level politics, women from the civil society, and any professional domain,” Rogova said. “This group would have no presidency, as we aim at women’s cooperation rather than positions. In addition, we should keep in mind that the European Union (EU) has European Women’s Lobby in place, where the right to participate is granted only to women from EU member states, but it is a good idea for us, as a state aspiring to access the EU, to initiate such group in Kosovo, too, so that when EU accession takes place, this mechanism will be ready to perform a dignified representation in EU instead of being represented by incompetent people.”
            All the attendees unanimously agreed to establish this mechanism and Rogova informed that that they will soon receive detailed information, including the date of the first meeting to launch this mechanism.
            Later, during the discussion on various important topics related to women and girls in Kosovo, it was jointly decided that the Lobby for Gender Equality in Kosovo should issue a press release and keep a stance regarding the following topics:
  • A letter to MEST concerning the lack of psychologists and pedagogues in schools;
  • A letter to MEST concerning non-approval of assistance for disabled children; and
  • Joint advocacy relating to the dislocation of families from Hade Village; it was decided that the Lobby will support the protest and raise the voice at central level, too, by bringing this topic up for discussion with deputy women.
Furthermore, the meeting held in Suhareka was dedicated entirely to “Solidarity among women and journey towards decision-making positions”. During the meeting, Rogova spoke briefly about women’s activation and advocacy both individually and collectively as a civil society towards furthering their rights.
            She shared with the attendees several true events that took place over the years, in order to show that the women’s inclusion in decision-making and vital processes after the last war in Kosovo was not an easy task.
“After we returned from refugee camps, we had to push the things forward all the time. To begin with, it was the Special Representative of Secretary General of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, who treated women like objects. In October 1999, immediately after the war, Kofi Annan took the position of UN Secretary General. Kofi Annan planned a meeting with the civil society. But do you know what happened? No women was invited, although UNMIK and OSCE said that Kosovars are “a patriarchal society”. But we had an ally–Lesley Abdela. […] She wrote to women and said, “Each of you has one minute. Make sure you know what you want. One minute each.” That day, Kouchner and Everts were shocked at the sight of three powerful women–Sevdije Ahmeti, Vjosa Dobruna, and I–appearing at the door. […] Annan said, “No, no, no. I am not here to speak. I am here to listen.” Can you imagine it? Poor Kosovo’s men […]. They were told that they would only shake hands with Kofi Annan, because they were not informed of them having the right to speak. Annan said, “I am here to listen. Who wishes to take the floor? We raised our hands. Sevdije Ahmeti mentioned women’s security and Vjosa Dobruna talked about women’s economic empowerment. Afterwards, I posed the question, “Why is it that the Transitory Council, which will assist in governing Kosovo until elections, has no women members?” Annan said, “I promise that latest by three weeks, the Council will have women members.” Afterwards, men congratulated us. They told us, “Oh God! You, women, are extremely organized!” But do you know what happened afterwards? Lesley was dismissed the next day. In fact, officially speaking, it was not a dismissal, but her contract was terminated. (You may find this story and many more in the report titled: “Facts and Fables for Resolution 1325 – A collection of stories about the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in Kosovo.”).
            Furthermore, Rogova mentioned numerous successful advocacy initiatives that derived from women’s cooperation, including the establishment of the Gender Equality Plan, which then turned into the first national gender equality plan; selection of gender equality officers and establishment of other important mechanisms; establishment of Kosovo Women’s Lobby during 2002-2004, which Rogova said pushed forward many things, including election reform; protests where women demanded geographical representation from UNMIK in elections and, needless to say, gender equality. 
“Unfortunately, the Lobby was destroyed because of greed for positions,” Rogova said. “Therefore, we emphasize that neither the existing Lobby of Gender Equality, nor the Kosovo Women’s Lobby which we agreed earlier to re-establish shall have presidency or leading positions.”
Moreover, she recalled the 2012 protest for demanding justice for the survivors of sexual violence during war.
“At first, we talked to women in the Parliament so that we could do something together: we would organize the protest, and they would bring this topic forward in the Parliament. You know the power of that protest and the fact that such topic was brought up in the Parliament for the first time: the taboo wall, the wall of silence, of shame, were shattered, and the citizens started to manifest their support to the survivors.”
In addition, she said that after the successful cooperation with Assembly women deputies, they thought of starting to work at local level thus establishing Women’s Advocacy Groups, which would later turn into the Lobby for Gender Equality in Kosovo.
“There is one thing we should never lose sight of: when women join forces–there is change,” she said.
Empowered by the stories shared with them, women went on to discuss together and present advocacy activities that they had undertaken over the last months in their municipalities along with the ones they plan to undertake.
             This meeting of the Lobby for Gender Equality in Kosovo was supported by Austrian Development Agency (ADA).