Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Give Women a Role in Kosovo

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Give Women a Role in Kosovo

Article excerpt

Vjosa Dobruna spent the last 10 years running a health center for Albanian women and children in Kosovo because the Serbian system would not serve them. As a leading voice against oppression by Serbian authorities, she was among the first targeted when the massive "ethnic cleansing" began in March. Dr. Dobruna fled her home in Pristina and crossed the border into Macedonia, where she immediately took up her work again, creating a health clinic and training teams of refugees to assist rape survivors.

Now, back in Kosovo, she is facing a new - but not unfamiliar - set of challenges. She wants to be sure Kosovar women have a part in the reconstruction effort.

It is not a matter of money. More than $2 billion has been pledged for reconstruction by the US, the British, and other governments. The money is there, but the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) needs to figure out how to spend it.

One aim of reconstruction is to create local institutions. UNMIK recognizes that the Kosovars are skilled administrators who ran a parallel set of institutions alongside the official government during a decade of Serbian oppression, and the long-range goal is to create a stable local government. But UNMIK doesn't want to fund the most powerful local institution, the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The practical approach is to involve more women. Because so many men were killed or imprisoned by Serb forces, thousands of Kosovar families are now headed by women. Plans to rebuild the province are beginning to reflect this. UNMIK intends to create a gender advisory unit to get women to participate in all programs.

This is encouraging. But it will also take action by the Kosovars themselves - and the dozens of private relief organizations now in Kosovo - to include women, fully, in relief and reconstruction.

Women need counseling and family care, but they also need to take part in political decision-making, local government, media projects, business development, education, and training.

After the Dayton Accords ended the war in Bosnia, no specific efforts were made to engage women in reconstruction, even though millions of women doctors, nurses, farmers, and housewives helped keep families alive and communities intact throughout the war. After this was pointed out to donor governments, the US State Department gave $5 million for a Bosnian women's initiative to support small businesses, including cafes, brick factories, and beauty salons. Rural women have started "cow banks" that provide butter and milk, plus livestock, to local markets. The success of this program helped inspire the Kosovar women's initiative, a UN program of support ranging from trauma counseling to income-generating activities.

Like the women in Bosnia, the women of Kosovo were not passive spectators or victims in the drama of war, displacement, and return. …

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