On Thursday, July 26, 2019, the Peace and Conflict Studies Summer Program at Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.) Kosovo (American University in Kosovo) ended. I turned in my final assignments on Thursday and I became filled with bittersweet feelings about having to leave Kosovo. I fly out of Prishtina on Sunday morning and I miss my family, but I have come to love and appreciate the people here in Kosovo.
At our concluding ceremony, the former president of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga was the “commencement” speaker. She was the first woman president and the youngest elected female head of state. She was 35 years old when she won the presidency. I find it astonishing how she was also the first independent politician elected in Kosovo. Prior to becoming president, she worked as the Deputy Director of the Kosovo Police. Jahjaga spoke about “Speaking up and Stepping out for Justice”.
(Former President Jahjaga during her speech at R.I.T. Kosovo)
During her 5 year term, she faced a lot of challenges being a young woman leader. She was very progressive in her involvement with women and youth in Kosovo. She established a cabinet where all but 2 people were under the age of 30. She was criticized by politicians and stated that some members would call her meetings a “kindergarten” meeting or a “women’s club” meeting. Through meeting a group of women who are survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo, she vowed to fight for justice for sexual assault victims.
(Participants in the Peace and Conflict Summer Program)
Rape is taboo in the Balkan region as it is generally not openly discussed. In 2015, an art installation by Alketa Xhafa Mripa called “Thinking of You” was installed in a football stadium in Kosovo. Both men and women donated skirts and dresses to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence. Famous singer, Rita Ora, who was born in Prishtina, also sent in a piece for the collection. In Kosovo, there were about 20,000 women who were raped during the war. Women felt ashamed and disgraced. Jahjaga mentioned that some women were raped in front of their families and many had to watch their mother and sisters get raped as well. The psychological and emotional trauma that the women suffered still lingers today.
From my course on Human Rights in Global Perspective, I watched the “Thinking of You” documentary and it was very moving. Survivors of rape have to deal with the violation and the shame that society places on them. That is a very difficult thing to cope with. In 2018, the Kosovar government allowed war rape survivors to apply for war pensions. The pension is up to 230€ per month. No amount of money can repair the damage that was done to these women, but it is important that the government is acknowledging that rape happened.
(“Thinking of You” art installation Source: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/government/2016/04/07/confronting-war-time-rape-the-power-of-art-in-kosovo/)
Former President Atifete Jahjaga reminded us to keep fighting for what we believe in. The fight may not always be easy and at times it may seem impossible, but the results are worth it. Fighting for social justice issues is important to me as being a minority and as a second-generation immigrant, I find that it is important to speak out even when the opposition is strong. Jahjaga voiced out about women and sexual violence in a culture who does not discuss it, but by doing so she empowered rape survivors. She helped them believe that they are not alone.
I think that hearing Jahjaga speak was the perfect way to close the Peace and Conflict Summer Program.
(Photo with Jahjaga and I shaking hands with my program certificate)