Women’s Rights in Kosovo – Iliriana F

Iliriana Fteja is an aspiring writer with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from DePaul University, with a passion for International Law and Human Rights. Currently taking a gap year and working for USA Today – Gannett, you can follow her on twitter to keep up with her opinions and political views.


Featured image: ‘Thinking of You’ by Alketa Xhafa Mripa, a 2015 exhibition of 5,000 dresses and skirts which were hung up Prishtina stadium to remember the women of Kosovo who suffered sexual violence as a result of war.

Women’s Rights in Kosovo

Kosovo is a nation that is no stranger to fighting for rights. On February 17th, 2008 Kosovo’s Parliament declared their independence from Serbia, Kosovo’s long time oppressors (Anastasakis). Domestic politics in this small Balkan country have been placed on the backburner as the nation focuses on obtaining recognition as a sovereign state, often ignoring other issues that surface (Anastasakis). Kosovo faces an uphill battle overcoming its dark past and creating a better future for its citizens. A key issue the country has had to tackle is addressing the rape victims during the Kosovo War. Around 20,000 women were raped during the war in Kosovo but the politics of the nation has refused to acknowledge these victims and their rights (Peci).  Women in Kosovo have been advocating for their equality in government institutions and in society but haven’t successfully overcome many of the stereotypes and stigmas that are common in the region.

In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the United States, aimed to target one man, rather than a nation; that man was Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the former Yugoslavia who was responsible for the heinous oppression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo (Daalder and O’Hanlon). Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Yugoslavia in 1987, his campaign was to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of the ethnic Albanians, despite them making up a majority of the region’s population (Daalder and O’Hanlon). As previously applied in Bosnia, Milosevic continued the use of raping women as a tool of war (Smith). “These are not occasional incidents committed by a few crazy men,” said Regan Ralph, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. “Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo, and it should be punished as such. The men who committed these terrible crimes must be brought to justice” (Serb Gang-Rapes).

The Serbian Army exploited Albanians’ patriarchal society against them and would rape Albanian daughters in front of their fathers and make husbands watch as soldiers gang-raped their wives, all as tactics to dehumanize, exert power and inflict humiliation (Smith). In ethnic Albanian society women were seen as the property of men, while husbands and fathers were protectors of their women. Serbians took this quality away from Albanian men, impregnating many women and leaving them with children “born of violence” (Smith). Furthermore, warlords in Kosovo sustained a culture where women and drugs were traded simultaneously acculturating a society where women were used as means to an end (Wolfgram). Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign against Albanians in Kosovo called for humanitarian intervention from NATO and, after 50 years, NATO went to war in hopes of bringing Milosevic back to the negotiating table for Kosovo’s autonomy within the Former Yugoslavia (Daalder and O’Hanlon).  

Women in Kosovo have been left to deal with the social stigmas that have been enforced in society after the war. Vlora Citaku, the ambassador of Kosovo to the U.S., has attempted to address the fact that “there are 20,000 raped women in Kosovo and yet no one has been punished [for these crimes]” (Peci). It was not until 2011 that laws were introduced to handle the rights of war victims, mainly providing a monetary stipend for proven survivors (Peci). However, the lack of acknowledgment of the need to penalize perpetrators leaves behind a sense of humiliation for the victims of rape. Unfortunately, domestic violence and gender inequality is a global phenomenon and Kosovo is no exception, which creates a bigger burden for the rape victims of Kosovo (Farnsworth, et. al).

A case that has come to light on the current state of Kosovo’s society is the incident of Zejnepe Bytyci-Berisha, a victim of domestic violence who had approached police for help in Kosovo before she was allegedly stabbed to death by her own husband (Farnsworth, et. al). Berisha’s case shed light into the lack of progress that has been made in Kosovar society and policies, as representatives of Kosovo institutions often gossiped that her tragedy was a result of her angering her husband. Rumors included that she had “spoken to another man on the phone,” or that “she lacked morals,” thus angering her husband (Farnsworth, et. al). The reality in Kosovo is that politics has its back on the war crimes that occurred in the ’90s, especially those of the women who were raped. Attitudes and stigmas are an apparent issue in a society where excuses are used to justify the perpetrator’s actions and the victims are not the main concern.

The Kosova Women’s Network was formed to conduct research, release reports, and educate all citizens on how to approach the issues of domestic violence. Laws and policies in Kosovo have been legislated to respond to domestic violence, the issue lies with its applicability (Farnsworth, et al). “Compounding the problem has been the government, which has been slow to address the issue of rape victims” (Zejneli). Often rape survivors report that they have been hesitant to reveal their rape to their spouses as most will blame them of “shaming their families” and reject them (Zejneli). Data conducted by the Kosova Women’s Network has suggested that attitudes of domestic violence do not favor women as 21.1% of Kosovars have agreed that there are certain circumstances where it is okay for a husband to hit his wife, this number has gone up since 2008 (Farnsworth et. al).

Serbians living in Kosovo are less likely to consider “shaming a spouse’s family member/swearing at a family member” as domestic violence than ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, as they are very likely to acknowledge this as psychological and domestic violence (Farnsworth, et. al). The attitude held by Albanian respondents over Serbian respondents is a reflection of the “family name” and patriarchal society that Serbs used against ethnic Albanians during the war. Respondents determined causes of domestic violence to occur because of unemployment (67.2%), alcohol (52.3% of male respondents), and “trauma from the war in Kosovo” (33.7%). Attitudes towards rape between a married couple showed that 63.7% of Kosovars believe that it is not a form of violence (Farnsworth, et. al). A look into public perceptions of domestic violence held by Kosovo’s constituents’ is vital for political figures to raise awareness and create effective legislation.
The notion of separate spheres divides gender roles, providing men with more power in almost all aspects of life: politics, economics, public life and limiting women to “private” domestic spheres. Patriarchy exists in these societies as men control almost all spheres over women and use their power over their female counterparts (Farnsworth, et. al).  As the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states:

Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. (Farnswoth, et. al)

Placing women in roles of social power constructs an empowering environment where they can advocate for women’s rights and efficiently decrease acts of domestic violence (Farnsworth, et. al). Women and men must share, or equally distribute, power in diverse spheres. Reports of domestic violence given to institutions cannot be taken as completely accurate due to the low rate of reports around the world, often referred to as a “dark number” (Farnsworth, et al). The “dark number” reflects the number of women in the shadows that have refrained from speaking out about the act inflicted on them. The theory of placing a woman in a powerful position is that the it can alter the perception of rape survivors from feeling humiliated to becoming more inclined to speaking about the horrific act.

Politics in Kosovo tends to be personal and is often applied in this way (Anastasakis). This holds true for institutions influenced by the government and their representatives, such as police officers. Laws in Kosovo are in place to protect, prevent, and punish perpetrators of domestic violence but enforcers of the laws are held back by their own perceptions of domestic violence. Police officers have often turned to “blaming the victim” with claims that “women should know their duties in the family” or that they have “done something wrong” (Farnsworth, et. al). Police officers often believe domestic violence should be reported if there is a “real” issue and “not just a slap” (Farnsworth, et. al). These statements made by mostly male police officers is an indication of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the laws in Kosovo.

As complicated as the political theories can get about the application of Kosovo’s politics being purely based on personal tensions, Former President Atifete Jahjaga stirred up the status quo in the small newborn country. In 2011, Kosovo’s parliament elected their first female president, Atifete Jahjaga, who, prior to her election was the Deputy General Director of the Police of Kosovo (Farnsveden, et. al). The citizens of Kosovo, were, and still remain, skeptical of the government and their distrust was intensifying (Plesch). Constituents were longing for a change and Christopher Dell, the former U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, believed a law enforcer, rather than a lawmaker, would bring change to Kosovo (Plesch). With the help of Dell campaigning for Jahjaga, the three leading political parties came to a consensus to nominate her as the first presidential candidate without a political affiliation (Plesch). Throughout her presidency, Atifete Jahjaga’s purpose in office was  to address the societal stigmas that surround rape victims (Plesch). In an interview from Al Jazeera, Jahjaga expressed in disbelief “[h]ow did we allow, as a people, to keep this as a taboo theme and how could we stigmatize them for over 10 years at that time?” (Plesch).

During the course of her tenure, President Atifete Jahjaga kept with the trend of “firsts.” As the first woman president of Kosovo and the first president that had no party affiliation, she was also the first president in the country to create rights for the wartime rape victims in the country (Plesch). The National Council for the Survivors of Sexual Violence was established in March of 2014, headed by Jahjaga herself (Plesch). The Council’s goal is to fight for legal amendments and raise awareness in hopes of eliminating the stereotypes (Plesch). Critics reprimanded Jahjaga for prioritizing wartime rape victims over Kosovo’s integration into the European Union, over the liberalization of visas for citizens to travel freely, and over Kosovo’s attempt to join the United Nations (Plesch).

However, according to Jahjaga, efforts towards economic growth and prosperity could not be achieved in Kosovo when over 20,000 women were reliving the war every day, when their perpetrators were not punished, and when they did not believe in justice (Plesch). In hope of guaranteeing democracy in Kosovo, the former President helped to organize ‘Thinking of You,’ an art installation that hung up 5,000 skirts and dresses to air out Kosovo’s “dirty laundry” in honor of rape victims in Kosovo. The main objective of hanging skirts and dresses on the anniversary of the NATO bombing is not only a tribute to women but for society to recognize and accept these women as martyrs (Plesch).

Despite the former President’s efforts to promote social gender equality in Kosovo, the stigma towards women is still apparent. In Kosovo, one preferential way of expression is through political graffiti. In Pristina, the capital city, a spate of street artwork was found mocking the nation’s former leader (Popova). The graffiti displayed former President Jahjaga in a racy police uniform, leaving little to the imagination, and written around it was “Help Me, Hikmet,” referencing one of her assistants (Popova). Although the city repainted over the graffiti with phrases such as: “With the President,” and “Against sexism,” the political caricature would resurface almost overnight (Popova). The Kosova Women’s Network was one of the many organizations quick to condemn the street art, the KWN believed the “thugs” should be chastised as they represent the lack of progress in Kosovo promoting misogyny (Popova). The President was careful to respond as she did not want to allow the so-called artists to humiliate her but to make it clear these actions are clearly not excusable (Popova). The illustrations of the President raise about whether female representation in the highest level of the political sector helped Kosovo evolve towards gender equality.

The constitution in Kosovo does have outlined clauses, policies, and legislation to advance gender equality, such as the Law on Gender Equality (LGE). Gender equality is protected by the state but the clauses are included for the state to abide by international human rights conventions as they precede the domestic legislation in Kosovo (Farnsveden, et. al). The international human rights conventions that influence Kosovo’s policies are: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Farnsveden, et. al). The objective of the LGE is that both men and women must hold 40 percent of the decision-making positions at all levels (Farnsveden, et. al). Although legislation exists, the lack of implementation by the government and its institutions is based on the gender inequality in the state.

Women continue to stay underrepresented in Kosovo in contrast to the legislation that has been placed. Since Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, the nation has had five presidents (two standing, one resigned), four of which were men and one female (Farnsveden, et. al). Jahjaga’s presidency in Kosovo, was not only seen as a positive impact in this infant country but also unprecedented in many developing nations globally (Farnsveden, et. al). During Jahjaga’s presidency little girls could see her on television and feel influenced that they one day can become president too (Farnsveden, et. al).

However, the vision held by little girls from 2011 to 2016 is more than likely to die out with the lack of female representation in the state (Farnsveden, et. al). Kosovo is established as a parliamentary republic, a government where the president is the head of state but the prime minister is in charge of the assembly, a position held by 6 males, none of which have been female (Farnsveden, et. al). Out of the assembly’s 120 seats women only hold 40, about 33 percent of representation. Additionally, women are underrepresented in ministry positions, percentage rates being 0 percent in higher value levels of the ministry for examples, foreign affairs and finance – to as low as 25 percent in lower levels of ministry – for example, agriculture and security forces – (Farnsveden, et. al)

Numbers at the municipal level are relatively reciprocal to the national level, meaning that representation is low (Farnsveden, et. al). Women only lead 4.4 percent of all directorates in Kosovo and only have had one woman as mayor in the nation (Farnsveden, et. al). Furthermore, women are not addressed after municipal elections and are usually confronted just prior to the elections as a method of securing their votes (Farnsveden, et. al). Political parties have exerted minimal effort towards placing women in campaigns but have demonstratied little effort in any attempts to place women in leading positions, justifying these methods by claiming the difficulty of integrating women into their political culture and their “inner circle” (Farnsveden, et. al). All major parties in the assembly offer a form of 20 percent of female representation in their parties, however, women bemoan that parties offer limited power and little to no financing towards women’s electoral candidate campaigns (Farnsveden, et. al). A shared belief among 32 percent of women is that “political parties do not give opportunities to women” and that there is no democratic process in the way men make their decisions (Farnsveden, et. al).

As of 2015, the Public Sector in Kosovo employed 70,326 citizens, 38 percent were women (Farnsveden, et. al). Public administration has placed women in 9.5 percent of high decision making positions and women have often been subjected to discrimination in the hiring and firing process (Farnsveden, et. al). Education levels among women are a rising epidemic in Kosovo, and globally, unfortunately, securing more positions in Kosovo has no correlation with the rising education levels as women are still underrepresented (Farnsveden, et. al). Consequences of the sad levels of representation of women in Kosovo’s national, municipal, and public sectors has led to little influence on the budgeting aspect for women’s organizations (Farnsveden, et. al). As a result of female underrepresentation, institutions demonstrate a dearth of knowledge in advocating for gender equality, providing services to women, educating employees on sexual harassment, and on hiring more women (Farnsveden, et. al).

The challenges women face in Kosovo can often be discouraging. The key to assimilating the population towards gender equality lies in female representation at all levels. It is the government in Kosovo’s duty to ensure that laws and mechanisms in place towards gender equality are implemented through proper leadership and funding. In order to ensure proper execution of Kosovo’s constitutional laws and clauses, the government has to appropriate adequate financial support for implementing its laws and provide funds for strengthening existing mechanisms and educational programs (Farnsveden, et. al). Political parties must fulfill their promises on providing women with opportunities to hold financial positions that impact the budget so it can be directed towards gender equality.

European integration is vital to politicians in Kosovo and for developing their country. Joining the European Union is the primary goal set by the Prime Minister and President. Fortunately, the European Union is a critical actor in promoting gender equality and also one of the world’s top policy promoters for frame-working gender mainstreaming (Spehar). As Kosovo embarks down the road towards membership in the EU, institutions are pressured to strengthen gender equality and require proper implementation of the LGE and other constitutional clauses (Farnsveden, et. al). Organizations such as the Kosova Women’s Network will be encouraged to provide more data and research on gender equality in Kosovo, requiring more funding and resources from the government, in order to meet EU standards (Farnsveden, et. al).

Conforming their society to fit into European integration will also provide proper elimination of gender stereotypes. Kosovo has had high levels of selective abortions of women in their primarily patriarchal culture that continues to practice primogeniture inheritance (Farnsworth, et. al). Traditions in Kosovo have held that the first-born male is entitled to be the only heir to the family, despite the inheritance laws in Kosovo that provide equal distribution of family inheritance (Farnsveden, et. al). Inheritance laws must be properly implemented in order to rid patriarchy, ensure gender equality, and encourage women to take these issues to court rather than feel as if they are shaming their family name (Farnsveden, et. al). Citizens of Kosovo should embrace the European Union as their opportunity for equal rights of their family’s property. The concern among primogeniture inheritance not only affects women but other men in the family. Primogeniture inheritance specifies that the first male born is the heir to the family, ignoring female siblings altogether and also ignoring younger male siblings (Farnsveden, et. al).

Only recognized by 114 members of the United Nations, Kosovo has a lot of battles that need to be fought. Citizens can often justify putting gender equality to the side as the country strives towards worldwide recognition, economic prosperity, joining the European Union and becoming a member of the United Nations (Anastasakis). Kosovo has experienced a lot of hardship from their Serbian oppressors who still claim Kosovo as their providence (Anastasakis). The ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians in the ‘90s has still not been overcome and the women have not seen justice for the crimes directed against them. The people of Kosovo have ignored the war crimes in attempt to develop their country, not realizing that it has sustained an imbalance of gender equality.

The first female President of Kosovo attempted to sway citizens to see their women as martyrs of their country, as it is vital to acknowledge and accept them if Kosovo wants to achieve any of the nation’s other goals that have been prioritized. The women of Kosovo are vital contributors in helping to to achieve the nation’s goals. The higher levels of female representation in all sectors of Kosovo will help eliminate stereotypes against women, patriarchy in their culture, and provide better education for constituents to understand domestic violence and the proper execution of Kosovo’s constitutional laws (Farnsworth, et. al).

Gender inequality is not an issue only prominent in Kosovo. The remnants of patriarchy still have an effect in countries around the world. However, the cohort survivors of Kosovo’s war should not provide the Serbs with the satisfaction that their war crimes have successfully dehumanized ethnic Albanian women and embarrassed the ethnic Albanian men. Women have been pushing for proper allocation of funds towards gender research, scholarships for women, educational institutions, and female candidates’ campaigns, for Kosovo to take these steps forward to achieving European integration. Methods of placing women in financial positions or ministry positions will influence the budgets that currently put women’s issues last for funding (Farnsworth, et. al). In order for the Republic of Kosovo to overcome its many hurdles, they have to acknowledge their dark past to ensure a bright future for their country that both women and men have fought long and hard for.


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