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24 May 2017

Women’s Rights Conference in Kosovo: “19 years ago, death was knocking at the door.”

For almost 20 years, medica mondiale has been working to support women who were subjected to sexualised violence during the Kosovo war. For the same length of time, the affected women have been waiting for justice. Mechthild Buchholz, Press Spokeswoman at medica mondiale, travelled together with colleagues to the “Empower Women Now” conference, where the demands for a war pension for affected women were voiced once again. A travel report.

Day 1: Arrival in Kosovo

The path to justice is long. Which is why we got up very early this morning to fly to Kosovo. “We” are Monika Hauser, Vera Haag-Arbenz, the colleague responsible for Southeastern Europe, and myself, the press spokeswoman at medica mondiale. Together with our partner organisation Medica Gjakova, in the next few days we will fight for the rights of women who were raped during the Kosovo war. They survived the violence and have now been waiting 20 years for justice. Together with Medica Gjakova we are working to ensure that the women receive a war pension and experience justice.

Day 2: Attention needs to be drawn to the war victim pension for women!

After months of preparation, this morning will see our press conference on women’s rights in Kosovo. Medica Gjakova and medica mondiale want to inform local journalists about the conference and our demands for a war pension for the survivors of sexualised wartime violence. However, just as our press conference is due to take place, the Kosovo government loses a vote of no confidence in the country’s parliament, which will now be wound up. New elections have already been announced. So this development attracts all the attention of the journalists and politicians, with no interest left for the state of women’s rights. This is very unfortunate, since the issue urgently needs media attention in order to generate the political pressure necessary to implement the new law.

Monika Hauser issues an appeal:

“The government finally needs to start conducting constructive politics! The interests of political parties should not be allowed to constantly drown out the issues of gender and women’s rights.”

Day 3: The conference as a place of solidarity

My experience of the first day of the conference is one of strong words. Almost 100 guests have accepted the invitation. Monika Hauser tells how the work began in 1999 in a camp for displaced people, with a ‘women’s tent’ offering advice for women affected by violence, and a feeling of solidarity. Next, it is the turn of the former President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, to speak. She expresses her gratitude to the survivors who were willing to share their stories:

“You are the motor of our work. We are astonished at your courage and strength. Society was not and is still not ready to listen to your painful experiences. Nonetheless, we want to encourage you to talk about them.”

Survivors need to receive the best support a society can offer: this is the message of the Austrian ambassador Gernot Pfandler in his words of greeting. “We have to respect those women who do not want to speak. But when they do, then they should receive the help they want.” Later in the day, two women take the stage. One of them is a psychosocial counsellor at Medica Gjakova, the other one her client. They read out a poem the client wrote. Before that, the counsellor shared the stories of affected women with the conference participants:

“19 years ago, death was knocking at the door. We were not allowed to cry. We were not allowed to make demands. We were not supposed to speak. Now we are beginning to speak.”

It is time! What counts: You are not alone.