Carnations and “women’s” gifts – this is how March 8 could be summed up from one angle. From the other – today, women across Kosovo will march against femicide. In another podcast for www.kosovotrustbuilding.com we talked with activist Mirishahe Syla about International Women’s Day, the position of women in Kosovo, and the problems they face. Listen to the podcast below.
“In an ideal world, if everyone in the world were equal, we wouldn’t have to have a special day for women or men… But since we don’t live in an ideal world, but in this patriarchal world, I think March 8 is very important, especially when it comes to some kind of reminder of where we are today and where we come from, so it is important to take part in the march, because we are not yet where we want to be. The theme for this year, unfortunately, will again be femicide. Because this is a problem that still exists in Kosovo. In our society, women are killed by men because of the simple fact that they are women,” Syla said.
“I think that’s why it’s important to march and protest, because we are still facing the basic question that we are not safe to live in this society because of our gender identity or because we are still not safe in our houses where we should be safest, on the street, at school, and at work, everywhere”.
She highlighted that the obligation of institutions is to protect women and that violence against women is normalized both in society and in institutions.
“Not to protect women as a special social class that needs a special kind of protection, but the state should protect every individual and provide them with a free and safe life. And that does not happen with women… If we do not ensure that women live in peace, because we do not live in peace, as long as you know that you can be the next victim and that there will be no state to protect you, and as long as women do not feel safe and happy and cannot really realize their potential in this society, I think we understand that this society was not created for us. We are part of it, we cannot deny it, so we must benefit from everything that happens in society,” she added.
Syla sees another problem in not respecting women’s economic rights.
“Let’s start with the fact that women cannot enjoy the right to inheritance. I think you see here that women are not considered equal members of the family, and then it affects society as a whole, and then the institutions… And we know that with economic rights there
are other benefits that come with it, improvement of the social status…” – our interlocutor explained.
Our conversation inevitably touched on patriarchy.
“Generally speaking, the first challenge of all feminist thinking and activism is to actually name the problem, something that was largely considered normal, and that is patriarchy. Whether women know how patriarchy actually affects their lives, I can’t say, because most often they do not even recognize it as such, because it is presented as a normal way of life, and the reasons why it is presented as a normal way of life has a lot to do with history and who wrote it and who presented it and who studied history”, said Syla, recalling at the same time religion, but also the influence of social rules that were previously respected.
That is why she emphasizes the importance of unlearning which, she adds, is a difficult process:
“We have only 13-14% of women who still work in the public sphere and receive salaries and then you have an even smaller number of women – 3-4% – who have an inheritance, which is one of the main ways in Kosovo, in our society, to get access to economic resources. So most women here who don’t have access to economic resources, they don’t have any independence, they depend on someone, they have to unlearn something and that’s very difficult.”
“So they don’t even know how much patriarchy affects their lives. And it’s not because of their individual thinking or anything else. It’s more about what has been ‘served’ to them, how they grew up and how they were brought up. And also, there are the constant clashes of generations,” she said.
Apart from those ingrained in society – there is also the problem of non-enforcement of the law.
“Institutions as a reflection of society do not think about implementing their own laws when it comes to gender equality, especially gender-based violence, which is still one of the biggest crimes against women, because in our laws gender-based violence, violence against women in general, it is considered a crime. All forms of violence are considered a crime, physical, sexual, emotional, economic violence; in 2019 we even had this as part of our criminal law, which was a new development,” she explained.
However, many acts remain unpunished.
Syla explains that due to the attitude of institutions towards this problem, it is difficult for women to report violence at all, not only because they may not have information on how to
report it, but also because they do not trust institutions, which is why they rethink reporting it especially if they are married and have children:
“And because most of them live in their husbands’ houses, because women in Kosovo do not own houses. Only 17% of all properties in Kosovo are owned by women. And most of them they buy it in some way, which is not the case with men who just inherited their property”.
“Then you have about 1,000 to 1,500 cases of domestic violence reported every year in Kosovo. And then you see the number of people arrested – usually 400-500. So not even 50% of those men are arrested. Imagine, a woman doesn’t think she has either 50 percent of chances, because probably nothing will happen. And imagine a woman reporting violence and then having to live in the same place again,” our interlocutor said.
“All we are asking for is the basic thing, and that is for the institutions to be responsible and just do their job, to actually implement those laws,” she added.
Education, economic rights, political rights – these are the things that would help women to have a society with woman’s perspective and to further develop it from the woman’s perspective:
“That we have policies that are actually designed the way we see the world and that way we can enjoy our rights, which is the most basic thing.”