Koha Ditore carries on its supplement “Koha for women” issue today an editorial piece by Sonja Licht, President of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence. Below find the complete opinion piece.
I felt really honored when the Kosovar Gender Studies Center asked me to write a piece for the Koha Ditore supplement Koha per Grate. Many memories, events, faces returned while thinking about women in dialogue in Kosovo and Serbia, and between the two societies. Probably the most important picture I recall is the table in then a well-known Pristina pizzeria that used to be the meeting place of women from Pristina and a number of psychologists from Belgrade. These unique meetings were initiated and organized by “Mens Sana” founded and run by psychiatrists Nijazi Macula and Ava Kurteshi from Pristina and clinical psychologist Jelena Vlajkovic, one of the founders of “Psychological Circles” from Belgrade.
From mid nineties until 1999 the “Women Round Table” would meet once a month, and was most probably the only place where Albanian and Serbian women were siting together and talking about about issues all women are concerned with: role of women in the family, bringing up children, family violence, emotional losses during life cycles, raising awareness in the struggle for women rights etc. Ava and Jelena were very much involved in the design of the Open Club for children and youth in Pristina as well. Both projects were supported by the Fund for an Open Society from Belgrade through its branch office in Pristina.
However, even when the Fund was closed down during four months in 1996 the Women Round Table continued. It was more than a project. It became a necessity for its participants. When my dear friend, the famous feminist activist and scholar Ann Snitow, from New York visited this circle of women she was excited and emotionally touched when she discovered, during an evening spent with more than a dozen women how similar it was to the first feminist awareness raising circles in the US in the sixties and seventies. Until these very days she recalls the meeting: “Our views about families and their role were so different. I learned from them so much.” These are here exact words of a few days ago when I told her that I am writing a text on women and dialogue for the March 8th supplement of the Kosovar Gender Studies Center.
I am walking down this memory lane for, at least, three reasons. The first one is because exactly these gatherings convinced me how important and in the same time difficult it had been to address the biases of traditionalist, patriarchal culture of all our societies, especially when one tackles the issues of gender and gender relations. And in the same time how women felt and understood that this is a common struggle regardless of ethnical, religious, educational or generational identities. Second, formats such as the Women Round Table helped the participants to problematize their own position and the challenges all women are faced with, to realize that solidarity and empathy helps them to acquire new strength and self-confidence. Third, because they proved, once again, that women have the potential to be agents of change. In order to overcome bias and prejudices they must put their own act together, i.e. rethink their own role in the family and in the society, understand, support and empower each other, and by emancipating themselves emancipate the entire environment they are living in.
In my activist and professional carrier I got to know examples of numerous efforts of women being involved in various, sometimes very difficult dialogues and peace initiatives. I would only mention here the dialogues and joint initiatives of Israeli and Palestinian women peace activists. Before, during and after the end of the hostilities in the post-Yugoslav space women used to be involved in numerous different initiatives to bridge over the dividing lines. This is understandable since all violent conflicts, as it was the experience of the nineties in our own Yugoslav space proved that women pay the highest price in such conflicts. Although the causes and decisions had not been in their hands.
The dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is a unique chance to negotiate sustainable peace and stability both for these two societies and increased resilience and development of the entire Balkan region. Thus, essential for women. This is why I would quote the concluding sentence of the Women’s Platform for the Development of Serbia 2014 – 2020: “What is good for women is good for Serbia.” We can easily extend this statement for our entire region, and keep it in mind when thinking and acting as responsible social actors in designing our role in the dialogue. This dialogue must include the entire societies, all the social groups, especially youth and women – because they are under represented in decision-making bodies and circles. If societies participate then every single individual can claim ownership, feels responsible for the outcome and consequences of the dialogue.
Women could and should be much more active in all the steps of the dialogue – from the technical to the political aspects, and be in the position to advocate for all those issues that are important for women, i.e. for our societies, such as: free flow of goods, ideas and people that secures more opportunities for economic development for women, better access to education and health care, to name just a few; but also common projects in actively preventing the most dangerous effects of pollution and climate change thus, also contributing to better public health for all. We women must understand our responsibilities and act accordingly. Women know how to care about future of their own families and societies, and this is why we must be a crucial role in designing that future.