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07 December 2017

“She is a staunch feminist.”

Twenty-five years ago, the historian Gabi Mischkowski received a telephone call from a “crazy doctor” offering to help her support women caught up in the Bosnian war. That call marked the beginning of the story of medica mondiale, the women’s rights organisation.

“Never before has the issue of rape caused such a public stir in Germany,” wrote Gabi Mischkowski on December 7, 1992, on the legendary page 10 of the daily newspaper, taz. Although war has involved sexualised violence throughout human history, it was the conflict in former Yugoslavia that first saw sustained public outrage on the issue. “The mass rapes committed against Bosnian women were suddenly a matter for public debate, with extensive reporting by the [German current affairs weekly] Stern, [the TV broadcaster] ZDF and many others,” remembers Mischkowski, who at the time was running the women’s anti-war initiative Scheherazade. She recalls how appalled she was at the overwhelmingly voyeuristic portrayals and instrumentalisation of the raped women. So she penned a newspaper comment column. 

Monika Hauser reaches for the telephone

After the newspaper came out, Gabi Mischkowski’s telephone kept ringing. Many women agreed with her, others rang with ideas for actions – some of them wild. She remembers one phone call particularly well: “I thought, ‘What a crazy doctor!’ – she wanted to drive with me straight down to the refugee camps in Zagreb.” The caller was a 33-year-old trainee gynaecologist named Monika Hauser. She wanted to do something immediately for the affected women. “I had been upset for days after reading what was going on in Bosnia,” recalls the gynaecologist. In spite of her scepticism, Gabi Mischkowski arranged transport to Zagreb for the young doctor.

“She is a staunch feminist.”

One week later, Gabi Mischkowski and Monika Hauser met in a café in Zagreb. “After half an hour it was obvious we wanted the same things. I now knew that she was not crazy, she knew what she wanted, and she is a staunch feminist,” says the historian as she describes the start of a cooperation which is still ongoing today. Monika Hauser stayed a few more days in Zagreb, met women’s rights campaigners and organisations, visited refugee camps and spoke with Bosnian survivors. Then she took the night train back to Germany. That was mid-December 1992 and she had something new in her luggage: a vision of a feminist project which would bring together gynaecological and psychological support – ‘body and soul’. Everything happened very quickly after that: Gabi Mischkowski, Monika Hauser and Klaus-Peter Klauner (now her husband) met in an Italian restaurant in Cologne’s Zülpicher Straße to draft the first project outline in order to secure funding for their ideas. “Back then I had no idea about project management, but I knew I simply had to do something.”

Women’s rights in wartime Bosnia

Eventually, on December 29, Monika Hauser set off for Zenica, a small town in Central Bosnia, 30 kilometres from the frontline. In the midst of war, she found female specialists who desperately wanted to do something to help the raped women and girls. Together, in spite of the warzone around them, they were able to establish a women’s centre. At the time there were no organisations or initiatives offering gynaecological and psychological support together. Monika Hauser and the courageous local Bosnian women were pioneers. Back in Cologne, Gabi Mischkowski continued to support their work until the end of the war.

medica mondiale 25 years later

Once a month there is “whole team meeting” at the Cologne offices of medica mondiale. As more than 50 women squeeze into the conference room on the 5th floor, Monika Hauser always marvels at how many are working for medica mondiale and its vision of a just world for women. It seems she can never quite believe what her decision 25 years ago has led to.

 

Background to the medica mondiale series “Women’s rights heroines in the focus”

Truly equal rights for women and men are still not reality – anywhere in the world. But without them there cannot be an end to sexualised wartime violence and there will not be peace – anywhere in the world. During the year we will present remarkable women and men from all over the world who have been or are active in the fight for the rights of women. We do this to pay tribute to their individual efforts and achievements, and also to remind us all that active commitment is still needed if we are to achieve gender justice and an end to sexualised violence.

Further women's rights heroines:

26-year-old legal expert Shakiba Amiri at Medica Afghanistan is working to ensure that women and girls receive justice.

During the Kosovo war Sofije was raped. Today she is fighting for justice for women who survived sexualised violence.