International Women’s Day in the Balkans: Nita Luci

Nita Luci holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. She heads the University Program for Gender Studies and Research and teaches at the departments of Anthropology, Sociology, and Contemporary Art at the University of Prishtina. Nita co-founded the independent feminist organization Alter Habitus – Institute for Studies in Society and Culture, which has focused on gender perspectives to post-war collective memory in Kosovo.

Nita “The culturalist explanations about Kosovo, that dominated in Serbia before the war, i.e. the “primitiveness” of Albanian culture and men in particular, were in many ways recycled in UN mechanisms for gender equality. While they did introduce relevant measures that have aided gender equality (e.g. quota system in Parliament), the flaw of many “gender mainstreaming” and “women’s empowerment” measures have been in that they signify the reintroduction of women through their vulnerabilities, such as victims of political violence, or as peacemakers and nurturers.”

 

What does the 8th of March mean in Kosovo?

In Kosovo, as in many countries in the region, the holiday was inherited from a previous socialist basket of ritualized expressions that formed part of the political system. More specifically, 8th March served to celebrate the achievements of the woman worker. During the past two decades, since the shift from state-socialism, the holiday has come to embody a series of other values attached to women, most specifically that of motherhood. The day marks a possibility for various local and international organizations to promote their work on “gender equality,” and political figures use their airtime to send messages about women’s rights. In addition, flower consumption goes up, restaurants and live music venues are fully booked, for a kind of Valentines and Mother’s Day celebration wrapped into one.

However new kinds of gendered visibilities and agency in post-socialist and post-war Kosovo have been generated, even if they remain as marginal expressions. This year in particular has seen the emergence of critique – through protest, research reports, media appearances, social media commentary, art work – of the unequal employment opportunities, poor health services, lack of women’s property inheritance (ownership), and the general structures that keep women’s rights, access, and empowerment highly limited.

Can you comment on the current social situation of women (eg: labor rights, precarity, migration, remnant rights and responsibilities, and also the situation of women from LGBT community) in your country/context? In particular are you able to judge whether there has been progress or decline since the two major transitions, which Kosovo has experienced (first the break up of Yugoslavia, and secondly the independence from Serbia?)

The past two-three decades have witnessed the radical redefinitions of “gender” in Kosovo. During the 1990s, women activists, non-governmental organizations, intellectuals, and politicians struggled to convince various institutions and sections of society to address the legitimacy of their concerns. These women, in their thousands, aimed to create a public more sensitive to gender inequities. However, their concerns were ultimately linked to and overshadowed by “broader” national interests. A dominant discourse reinforced the norm that “we have more important things to worry about before we can begin to speak of providing equal rights to women.”

Linda Gusia and I have written that during the 1990s tens of thousands of women became active in Kosovar parallel structures. The beginning of civil resistance was marked by the new phenomenon of large-scale demonstrations, where women from all social strata took an active part in nonviolent protests, both engaging in non-violent forms of protest and demonstrating against the violence being committed by the Serbian authorities and affiliated groups. It seemed that participation in the Kosovar nationalist movement offered new channels through which women could enter the public space. The general perception of Albanian women as confined to the domestic sphere and consequently alienated from everything public or political both provoked new activism and was at the same time a challenge to middle-class women’s social agency. Middle-class women had, however, been active in public life, and to some extent had exercised political influence during the communist era in Yugoslavia and would not easily go back to being housewives.

Nonetheless, local discourses were, and remain, fraught with conflicting claims and political perspectives. In the post-war period attaining “gender equality” has been defined through legal mechanisms first of the UN and latter EU oversight of Kosovo. The culturalist explanations about Kosovo, that dominated in Serbia before the war, i.e. the “primitiveness” of Albanian culture and men in particular, were in many ways recycled in UN mechanisms for gender equality. While they did introduce relevant measures that have aided gender equality (e.g. quota system in Parliament), the flaw of many “gender mainstreaming” and “women’s empowerment” measures have been in that they signify the reintroduction of women through their vulnerabilities, such as victims of political violence, or as peacemakers and nurturers. It is through that essentialist lens that women are considered suited for work, thereby ensuring successful peacekeeping/peace-building/state-bulding.

Can you give an example of an inspiring woman from your national context?

Currently I am drawn to the work of the art collective Have it! I see how their work reverberates with what Ranciere has defined as a capacity to stage scenes of dissensus. “Through their public action that they had the rights denied to them…that they could enact those rights…as subject that did not have the rights that they had and that had the rights that they had not” (Rancière 2010: 69). Conceptual artists in Kosovo have been producing exceptional work for some time (see Flaka Haliti’s work). Among other things I think a lot of their relevance lies in how they are breaking old and new public/private divides in Kosovo, they address issues of politization of memory and history, the violence of homophobia, and patriarchy, and structured inequality.

 

Me and a gun
and a man 
On my back
But I haven’t seen Barbados
So I must get out of this
Yes I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread
For you, your friends your father, Mr. Ed
And I know what this means
Me and Jesus a few years back
Used to hang and he said
“It’s your choice babe just remember
I don’t think you’ll be back in 3 days time
So you choose well”
Tell me what’s right
Is it my right to be on my stomach
of Fred’s Seville

 

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