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30 October 2014

Bringing them back into society: Medica Gjakova intensifies its support for Kosovan women

Shortly after the end of the war, medica mondiale opened an interdisciplinary women's advice centre in the southwestern part of the country. Now, with a new project designed to run for three years, medica mondiale and its partner organisation Medica Gjakova can intensify our involvement together. The aim of the project is to empower at least 1,600 women in the region in an integrated way. The first six months already saw 16 new women’s groups being set up in nine villages.

The project approach is an integrated one: individual and group psychosocial counselling, health education, gynaecological care and income-generating measures will provide support for women of different ethnic groups who have been affected by rape or other forms of sexualised violence. Mirlinda Sada, who became Director of Medica Gjakova in February this year, summarised the most important aims of their work during a visit to the medica mondiale main office in Cologne: “Our main concern at Medica Gjakova is to provide comprehensive support for the survivors of sexualised wartime violence and to bring them back into society. We ensure they receive medical care and have the opportunity to process their experiences of violence. And we make sure they are able to earn their own livelihood.” In addition to providing assistance to women directly, the organisation also carries out political human rights work and campaigns to raise awareness of the issue of violence. The aim is to exert enough influence on politicians and society to ensure that women’s lives are changed for the better in a sustainable way.

Provision of legal support for women

Provision of legal support for the women is also an important project goal. Thanks to the great efforts of the opposition party and the political advocacy activities of the Kosova Women's Network (KWN), the law on war victims was amended in February 2014, so it now includes women who experienced sexualised wartime violence. However, many survivors of rape and sexualised violence still see themselves confronted with severe problems concerning access to rehabilitation services, compensation and legal assistance. “Now it is important to put these amendments to the law into action. Above all, this means clearing up the issues still surrounding the compensations payments as quickly as possible. We think that the lives of survivors of sexualised wartime violence will improve considerably as soon as this law is enacted and the necessary funding is approved,” says Mirlinda Sada.

16 new women's groups were established

The current project was designed to continue the success of its predecessor. In this way, the first few months of the new project already saw the psychosocial counsellors at Medica Gjakova turning the previous psychosocial groups into 16 new women's groups. The benefits of being in a group like this are highly spoken of, so further groups will be set up for women who have not yet received this type of support. Once a women’s group is set up, a sensitive and professional approach is needed for dialogue with the new clients and all their family members. After all, rape and sexualised violence are still huge taboos in Kosovar society. The women affected are often isolated within their own families and unable to speak about their experiences. So it is important to find out about the family background of a new client before the counsellors from Medica Gjakova visit her prior to participation in the group.

Help for self-help by income-generating measures

In addition to the provision of psychosocial counselling for women, the women farmer’s cooperative founded in 2012, Duart e Dardanes, is also to be strengthened. Working together with the non-governmental organisation “Initiative for Kosova Communities”, which specialises in the setting up of women’s groups and income-generating measures, the project will organise further specific training. The women farmers will learn about milk production, bee-keeping, conserving vegetables, book-keeping and marketing. After their training, the members of the cooperative should be able to earn their own livelihood and compete successfully on the market.

Long-term support is necessary: The case of Hatice*

Hatice* was raped during the Kosovo war. She is receiving specialist care because she is in a very bad psychological state and has twice tried to take her own life. Her husband is not looking after her and her family often curses and insults her: here, rape is blamed on the woman and treated as a disgrace or adultery. In order to help Hatice regain her strength, her therapist encouraged her to take part in the group sessions at Medica Gjakova, but it is only when her son became an adult that he could stand up to the rest of the family and demand assistance for his mother. For the staff of Medica Gjakova, this is a typical case showing how protracted the process of supporting affected women can be.

* Name changed


Background information about the war in Kosovo

More than 15 years after the end of the war in Kosovo, the country's population is still suffering from its long-term consequences. Women are affected particularly severely, with many living in abject poverty and subject to widespread gender-based violence in their patriarchally influenced society.