Reconstructing Kosovo: UN Habitat and Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning

Article excerpt

The 1999 military conflict in Kosovo had a dramatic impact on women - on their social roles, health and economic security as well as on their participation in social and political life. It was another aspect of the war in former Yugoslavia. It led to the loss of lives, job opportunities and the damage of property and houses. The conflict left many families without husbands and fathers. Women had to become bread-earners as well caregivers for their families. This was the case in the village of Krushe, where almost all of the men were killed by Serbian troops in March of 1999, soon after the NATO bombing had begun. The women from Krushe village had to find a way to reconstruct their houses and make a living from what was left. These new responsibilities gave many women a greater sense of independence and self-reliance - new for a society that continues to be marked by a strong patriarchal family model.

UN-HABITAT has been working in Kosovo since 1999 with much of its focus on building capacities of municipal planners and civil society organizations to engage in local development planning. For cities and municipalities in Kosovo, local development planning has become one of the key priorities, as Kosovo has moved from the emergency into a transition phase. The involvement of civil society in creating and implementing their vision for the place where they live and work is the key element of the participatory approach to strategic development planning. It is the approach which UN-HABITAT promotes and assists to put into practice in Kosovo.

The weak economy of Kosovo and the lack of jobs have impoverished its people and lowered their standard of living. A polarization due to age, education and place of residence is occurring. The World Bank's Poverty Assessment report on Kosovo indicates extreme poverty among women-headed households; double that of male-headed households. In cities, young, educated women have better chances of finding jobs than their peers in rural areas, where access to education and jobs is even worse. Boys have greater access to education than girls and these disparities increase with higher levels of education.

Post-war reconstruction and rapid development of urban areas throughout Kosovo has impacted on relations between men and women. A massive migration from rural areas to cities in search of better living conditions and job opportunities followed the conflict. This has put an additional strain on municipal infrastructure and services such as water, sewer systems, access roads and electricity. Power and water interruptions continue to be a daily reality in Kosovo and affect men and women differently. They put additional burdens on women who are still mainly responsible for nurturing their families and for household chores. Poverty and interruptions in power and water supply increase domestic tensions and violence and there are few services to assist women in such circumstances.

The lack of recreation facilities, youth clubs, cinemas, or public libraries leaves young people at loose ends and young women have even fewer opportunities then men to spend free time outside their homes. Women participate very little in political life. Electoral quotas of 30% of seats in the Kosovo Assembly and municipal councils do not translate into an equal proportion of women being nominated for or elected as members of the government, municipal councils, or appointed as CEOs or in other decision-making positions.

Now, six years after the intervention of international forces has brought the conflict to an end and successfully established the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo, the focus has shifted from immediate humanitarian assistance to building foundations for sustainable development. The presence of international organizations, donors and specialised UN agencies has also had different effects on men and women in Kosovo, especially in large cities.

Gender Mainstreaming Governance and Planning

The gendered realities of post-war conditions especially in Kosovo's cities led the UN-HABITAT Governance and Development Planning Programme (GDPP) to incorporate gender equity in their training program for urban planners. …