Valur Ingimundarson

In recent years, feminist scholars, such as Sandra Whithworth and Ann Tickner, have criticized realist definitions of security as being too state-centric by subscribing to the liberal understanding of citizenship-with its strict division between the public and private. They seek a broader definition of security, which encompasses the private and the public and which addresses structural impediments to women’s liberation, equality, and full citizenship. Hence the importance of the concept of „human“ or individual security, referring to social, political, and economic realities, as opposed to state security, with its narrow military connotations. In short, what goes in the public sphere of politics and the economy cannot be separated from the private. This is particularly relevant in poor societies, such as Kosovo, with an entrenched domestic patriarchal system based on Albanian traditions, with a memory of external Serbian persecution and war, and with a difficult post-war reconstruction effort under Western control.

What complicates and diverts attention from the struggle for women’s rights in Kosovo is that the overriding goals of Kosovo Albanians?women and men-is to achieve sovereignty and independence. However, the so-called „international community“-essentially the United States and the European Union-is unwilling to tackle the future status of Kosovo because of the potential geopolitical spill-over effects in the Balkans. Kosovo is governed by the outdated UN Security Council Resolution 1244?passed after the war in 1999?which retained Kosovo’s constitutional attachment to a now non-existent Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, while promising extensive self-administration to the Kosovars. In practice, Kosovo has been run as a UN protectorates, with a feeble local government without real power. What is more, there are few indications that the UN’s open-ended mandate will change any time soon. Thus as things now, Kosovars have no state identity, and Kosovo is neither a state nor part of any European structures.

Kosovar women face, in fact, double-dependency in the domestic and external spheres. It is not only a question of overcoming domestic barriers sustained by a patriarchal culture that does not accept women as equal in political life. Kosovar women also have to deal with an international bureaucracy, paying only lip-service to domestic self-government, and frequently bypassing local needs and rights in favor of geopolitical and politically correct agendas to please international donors?such as ethnic reconciliation and refugee returns?irrespective of historical memory or local realities. The four men, who have occupied the highest position in Kosovo since the war-that of the UN Special Representatives to the Secretary General-have not placed much emphasis on women’s issues. What is worse, local women’s groups have frequently complained that the UN machinery, UNMIK?and its „subcontractor“ for democratization in Kosovo, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, OSCE?does not consult with them.

Their point is that the internationals resist local initiatives, seeing them as a threat to their control over women’s issues in Kosovo. Indeed, the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325?passed in 2000?on the role of women in conflict-resolution and peace-building conflict resolution has meant very little in Kosovo.

This is not to say that there has been no progress since the war. Both local and international NGOs have raised the visibility of women in Kosovo. But women do not only lack political representation but also basic social and economic security. In general, there has been a shift in emphasis from providing basic services to women to working more with political participation and improving the economic situation of women by enacting laws guaranteeing property rights. Kosovo is one of the poorest regions in Europe, with almost 70% unemployment; 50% of the population is considered poor, and 12% face extreme poverty. While urbanization and emigration are changing the nature of Kosovar society, it is still predominantly rural, with over 50% of the population living outside urban centers.

It is particularly in rural areas, where women are discriminated against, because of lack of social status, education, and job opportunities. Indeed, it has been calculated that over 99% of rural women, who have finished high school, are unemployed. In addition, women rarely own property and often have had to give up their right to property in inheritance cases. Hence, they are unable to achieve economic independence or secure financial credit to start businesses. Without getting bogged down in faceless statistics, I want to mention one startling fact that testifies to women’s lack of economic security: Only 13% of women in Kosovo live on their own income (the corresponding percentage for men 41%)?that means that 87% are dependent on others for their livelihood.

Apart from legal constraints stemming from long-standing patriarchal traditions, we also have to keep in mind the memory of the 1990s, when women were particularly hard hit when the Milosevic regime deprived them of basic healthcare, education, and employment. Women still do not have access to quality heath care in Kosovo. Even though hospitals and most of the health centers were not destroyed during the war, they are in a bad state. And given the exodus of people from rural areas after the war, health institutions in urban areas are overloaded. The local Kosovo government has been trying to improve the situation by enacting laws designed to strengthen the primary health care system, but it is seriously underfunded. The infant mortality rate is the highest in Europe; 10% of women (but only 2.3% of men) are illiterate; girls are far less likely to be sent to school than boys. The school drop-out rate for girls is far higher than that of boys. And male children outnumber female children by 3 to 1, raising suspicions of selective abortions based on sex preferences.

Primary health care in the immediate postwar period was oriented mainly toward mental health because of the psychological consequences of sexual abuse during the conflict. Kosovar society was traumatized by the events of 1999 as the majority of men were left powerless to defend their families in the face of Serbian army and paramilitary tactics, which included rape and gang rape. This weapon was not only used against women but also to humiliate and emasculate Kosovar men who were supposed to be their protectors. Of course, this was bound up with the myth of devalued feminity. By playing on the protector/protected myth, the Serbs precipated violence against Albanian women to achieve their aims of ethnic cleansing. A huge number of women and girls were raped during the conflict. Women still face significant redress in the forms of justice, medical attention, and psychological support. What is even worse, it is often difficult to identify rape victims because of the fear of being ostracized socially. For this reason many women have opted for silence instead of seeking justice.

This problem is accentuated by a culture tolerant of domestic violence. Since the war, Kosovar women are also increasingly being targeted for trafficking, mainly children and young girls, aged 11-18. Kosovo-like so many other places in the Balkans-is both a transition and target point for trafficked women from Eastern Europe. What has made the sexual trade more profitable is the large number of internationals in Kosovo. Over 89% of trafficked women are uneducated-with the vast majority from rural areas-and it has been estimated that over 200 thousand women in the Balkans are the victims of trafficking. Despite Americanized notions of „zero tolerance“ toward UN employees who patronize brothels, no less than 25% or 30% of the clients are men working for international institutions. The international military force in Kosovo-KFOR-which is responsible for security has done nothing to interfere with the slave trade. This highlights the problem of defining security in such a narrow state-centric way.

The marginalization of women in the political sphere in Kosovo is rooted in patriarchal traditions augmented by colonial rule during Milosevic’s time and by a lack of understanding on the part of the „international community.“ For one thing, it is a myth that no civil society has existed among the Kosovo Albanians. Women became active in the public as well as the private spheres during the 1990s, when a number of women’s organizations were created to provide basic social services to women, especially in rural areas. Women also participated in the war and, of course, in the reconstruction process. The facile association of women with peacemaking has?as Ann Tickner has pointed out?the effect of delegitimizing women’s voices in politics. We should not forget that women often support war and take part in militarized conflicts as agents, not only as victims.

But when the „international community“ entered Kosovo in 1999, it paid almost no attention to women or to women’s groups at the beginning; the capital Pristina was a „cowboy town,“ as one woman put it, describing the predominance of males employed by the international institutions and in the local power structures. Given the widespread media coverage of sexual atrocities committed against Kosovar women, this may have come as a surprise. But after NATO troops came to Kosovo and the Serbian army and paramilitaries left, interest in such stories faded. Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf quote a Kosovar woman in their report on women, war, and peace, as follows: „It is amazing that the international community cared only about Kosovar women when they were being raped and then only as a some sort of exciting story. We see now that they really don’t give a damn about us. What we see are men from Europe and American and even Asia listening to men from Kosovo. Why is it so politically incorrect to ignore Serbs, but culturally sensistive to ignore the concerns of women.“

To be sure, after the war, governments-eager to justify a riskless war totally dependent on air strikes-international donors, and NGOs rushed to Kosovo to show their commitment and to raise their visibility. Hundreds of international NGOs were registered in Kosovo. Early on, the U.S. government decided to donate-with much media fanfare-a sum of 10 million dollars for women. The aim was twofold: „to help mobilize women throughout Kosovo, with a specific focus on returnees, displaced, and war affected women; and to empower women to become agents of change and solidarity through the development of women’s networks and support for the principles of gender in government and civil society.“

This administration of this program-dubbed the Kosovo Women’s Initiative-is indicative of the problems inherent in such external interventions. The „international community“ devoted too little attention to local groups, relied on international NGOs, hired the best local people for administrative jobs, and ran their programs without local input. It usually painted a stereotypical picture of Kosovo as an backward society, with no civil society, based on customary law (the Kanun) and no statutory law. But it ignored the fact that traditional Albanian family structures, in which the male breadwinner provided for women and children, had started eroding before the war. Many Kosovar men emigrated to Western Europe in the 1990s to escape the military draft and to earn hard currency. Their absence altered the traditional balance of roles between the sexes. Thus the „international community“ deliberately sidelined women in the parallel political system since 1990-a government system established by the Albanians after Milosevic abolished their self-government and excluded the from the political system, the economy, education, and the social system. Over 200 thousand Kosovar women were active in the parallel structure system during Milosevic’s reign. In short, ethnic stereotyping served as an alibi to justify the international control of the women’s agenda in Kosovo; it was a classic „civilizing mission“ argument?so reminiscent of another era?that of the discourse of 19th century imperialism and colonialism.

That the goals of the Kosovo’s Women’s Initiative were worthy is beyond doubt. In the beginning, the program targeted traumatized women and their families of all nationalities. It supported education, businesses, and illiteracy courses. But it was a program devised by Washington and supposed to be administered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) without local involvement. Organizations, such as the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN)-an umbrella organization for women’s rights groups-had offered courses and training programs for psychological support for women, who had experienced rapes, domestic violence, trafficking for prostitution since the early 1990s, with little assistance from the „international community.“ For this reason, local women’s groups expected to get the money directly, but instead they were channeled through international umbrella NGOs. Thus large sums of money were spent on overhead, salaries of international NGOs, which began competing for this money with little regard to local needs. In some cases, international NGOs opened up shop right next to local NGOs. The program was also criticized for offering too many gender-stereotyped programs such as sewing and hairdressing courses.

Yet, despite these flaws, the program content was always less problematic and controversial than its administration. In the end, the program was localized: over 50 local women’s council are now part of the Kosovo Women’s Initiative (KWI), and they decide on projects to be funded by the UNCHR. What this shows is that together with the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), which has worked with Roma and Serb women as well as Albanian ones, local women’s groups are far more likely to identify problem areas than international ones.

This whole episode highlighted one problem that continues the plague the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo: that women’s issues cannot be conveniently shoehorned into aid programs created in Washington or Geneva with the purpose of making the donors look good. What has also devalued the mission is that there have been overlapping functions and lack of coordination between major international institutions, such as the UNHCR, OSCE, UNIFEM, and the UN’s Office for Gender Affairs. This was well documented in an independent gender audit written by the Prof. Chris Corrin of the University of Glasgow in 2000 on the international reconstruction effort in Kosovo. For one thing, the UN appointed very few women to decision-making positions. No woman was appointed to the first Kosovo Transition Council, the equivalent of the first local government and only two women to senior positions in government departments. Corrin argued that local groups would respond to perceived needs and become dependent on international funding, that women were being turned into passive recipients of aid, not agents of change. She criticized the slow nature of the international bureaucratic process; the rapid turnover of personnel among the international staff and lack of institutional memory; local people spent huge amounts of time briefing internationals who left after six months. What was more, UNMIK failed to take into account democratic structures or, for that matter, gender equality within the UN. There is still continued lack of female representation in UNMIK. Very few women have been appointed to decision-making positions?a fact that further undermines the legitimacy of the international mission in Kosovo.

This raises important questions of political participation and democratic accountability. UN operations are intrusive in character underpinned by coercion and control underscored by the ambiguities of local consent about legitimacy. The „not yet“ refrain has been extensively analysed in postcolonial discourse. The notion that peoples are not „not ready“ to run their own affairs does not only have strong roots in colonial memory but has served the purpose of perpetuating outside control. This leads to relationship between political culture and international guidance?so tellingly summed up in the phrase of the former UN Special Representative in Kosovo, Michael Steiner: „Kosovo has not yet achieved the standards that the international community and its own people demand.“ This is a classic way of intermeshing the global with the local, of identifying the agenda of the UN with that of the Kosovo Albanians. This has been augmented by a truly colonialist imagery emanating from the UN. Billboards have been put up all over Kosovo, displaying a child under the heading: „Standards: exercise makes perfect.“ All this is part of the UN’s propaganda campaign to promote „standards before status.“ It has apparently not occurred to the representatives of the United Nations that by such condescending actions, they are „infantalizing“ the people they are ruling.

Furthermore, there is no credible external review of individual measures or policies adopted by the UN. The representatives of the UN are practically incontestable save for the very general reporting duty to the UN Security Council and the activities of the human rights ombudsperson in Kosovo. But the office of the ombudsperson has minimal authority and no enforcement mechanisms. It is not only that he (no women have been appointed) is appointed by the Special Representative of the UN?a major conflict of interests. „Internationals“ are far less likely to be prosecuted for human rights abuses than locals. It does not come as a surprise that the ombudsperson has no jurisdiction over KFOR, the international military force in Kosovo under NATO command. Even UNMIK initially issued a regulation in the year 2000, giving itself total immunity as well. After protests that decision was not allowed to stand. But UNMIK has obstructed the ombudsperson’s investigations of abuses committed by UN staff by delaying access to case files for months. That this not compatible with notions of democracy and rule of law needs no further elaboration.

The local power structures in Kosovo are dominated by men. Local women’s groups have been fighting for increased participation of women in politics. The UN Office of Gender Affairs had focused on three priorities: a) increasing representation in decision-making authority in what it terms reconstruction and peacebuilding; b) addressing violence against women; c) integrating women into the economic recovery of Kosovo. The goals are worthy, but the record is decidedly mixed: The UN, with the OSCE in the main role, decided in the first municipal elections in 2000 to establish a 30% quota for women, with open lists, with the aim of recruiting women into political positions and prevent tokenisms in political life. Only 8.8% of women, however, were elected.

This disappointing result was explained in several ways: a) The rule had not been properly advertised?a rather weak excuse; b) The OSCE saw the result of the conference as indicative of the traditional nature of Kosovar society; that Albanian women voted along family lines. No concrete evidence was provided for this view, and it smacked of ethnic stereotyping; c) UNMIK had already created an unequal starting point by appointing only males to key positions both in the Joint Administrative Council and, of course, UNMIK representatives. Again, given the lack of polling data, there is no proof of this. But this argument was advanced by local women’s groups, who were extremely critical of the lack of consultation. The quota rule was imposed by the OSCE without any dialogue. Some female representatives, who were elected, chose to resign from their posts because they felt that the quota system was an instrument imposed by the „international community“ and that it did not guarantee quality. Others claimed that they did not deserve their seats.

In the 2001 parliamentary elections, the OSCE?again without consulting local NGOs?decided to keep the 30% rule, but with closed lists. This proved to be far more successful, with almost 28,5% of women elected to parliament; to prevent tokenisms and male tactics such as putting up „alibi women“ in the elections to make room for men later on, the law stipulated that women could only be replaced by women, if they resigned. As far as I know, no women has resigned. But not everybody was happy. Reflecting persistent patriarchal notions, the male leaders of the biggest political parties in Kosovo stated that this would make parliament weak, that women would not be able to grasp complicated political issues that parliament would be grappling with. While quotas are not universally accepted, local feminists in Kosovo strongly support them. They are acutely aware of the dangers of the transition process from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War, especially in the Balkans. Women witnessed a backlash-retraditionalization and roll-back of women’s rights and the erosion of their economic status as part of an nationalistic ideological agenda.

In the 2002, municipal elections in Kosovo, the same quota system was used with similar results, guaranteeing almost one third of seats for women. But when it comes to empowerment and to exerting political influence, women continue to be marginalized. Only one government minister is a woman, no party leaders (there are 14 political parties represented in parliament), and no mayors. The number of women in political parties rarely exceeds 20%. The notion of the critical mass is, of course, the idea behind the quota system; and many Kosovar women believe that the quota ceiling should be higher, 40% or more. But there is little prospect for it in the near future. And in all likelihood there will be open lists in the next municipal elections. Kosovar parliamentary women are ambivalent about quotas, saying that poverty and other pressing social issues are more important than achieving gender equality.

But without the support of elected women, nothing will change for the better on gender equality issues in Kosovo. The same applies to the media, where women are significantly underrepresented. The UN Special Representative has done very little to highlight women’s issues with one notable exception. Steiner issued a regulation earlier this year designed to combat domestic violence by offering police protection to battered women. This effort helps women’s groups in their fight to criminalize domestic violence. Other positive steps have been taken by local women A Gender Equality Law will be passed by parliament in November; it will undoubtedly strengthen the legal position of women. Local women’s groups have also come up with a Gender Action Plan for the Achievement of Gender Equality?a project initiated by UNIFEM?designed to increase the participation of women in political and economic decision-making, ensure equal education for men and women, fight for human rights, and improve health and social services.

This plan is general in scope, and it remains to be seen what will come of it. What is more, it is not enough for UNIFEM to acknowledge the need for considering the final status of Kosovo in the Gender Action Plan and be part of a UN system that offers empty rhetorical gestures on the question of sovereignty and independence. The fact remains that Kosovar women or men do not have citizenship rights because they do not belong to any state. The UN Friendly Relations Declaration makes clear that peoples have the right to determine freely, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. That the Albanian constitute a nation according to international law is not disputed. But the „international community“ is not interested in anything that could upset the geopolitical balance in the region.

No wonder that Kosovar women were among the first to appeal to Iraqi women after the Iraq war last spring I want to finish my talk by quoting it: „The women of Kosovo also struggled to be heard following the war… We greeted joyfully the decision that put Kosova under a UN administration. But most of those UN agencies die not recognize we existed. Instead of dedicating all our energy to helping women and their families put together lives shattered by war, we had to spend efforts in fighting to be heard and in proving to UNMIK that we knew what was best for us, that women in Kosovo were not just women waiting to be helped.“