20 YEARS OF TRANSFORMING THE PAIN INTO FORCE
The second half of 1999 marks not only the end of a terrible war and the entry of NATO forces into Kosovo, but above all the opening of a new battle field to deal with the pain and challenge of turning this pain into force, respect and dignity. Looking back 20 years ago, we respectfully remember a powerful German woman who carried a bag and a laptop to begin our journey towards accessing and supporting survivors of sexual violence during the war. Margrit Spindeler, who represented our partner organization medica mondiale based in Cologne - Germany, together with the founder Mrs. Monica Hauser open a door where women and girls could find rest and care to overcome trauma and combat the feeling of guilt and shame. Mrs. Spindeler - who passed away in April 2013 - helped us build this path with empathy and dedication to start with rehabilitation and empowerment of women and girls who had gone through terrible experiences of torture and violence. The gold-embroidered key they handed over to us 20 years ago continues to be a symbol of our founding history but also of the cooperation we had with our friends and partners from medica mondiale over a decade. It reminds us about their valuable contribution to building our resources for an effective and the necessary work we have accomplished during these years. And when we are at the beginning of our work and those who contributed but are no longer with us, we wish to remember Mrs. Nesrete Zeka, who passed away in 2010 but left behind an effective work with traumatized women who continue to remember her with love and respect. I would also like to thank the previous staff who have contributed and created experience right here in our organization. That is why we are grateful for sharing our founding history together and our continued work for over a decade. Special thanks go to our donors without whom it would be impossible for us today to commemorate 20 years of work and help the women who so desperately needed our support. Starting from the German Government, the Swedish Government, the EU Office in Kosovo, partners from Sweden Kvinna till Kvinna, the Finnish Embassy, the Kosovo Women's Fund, the UN Women Office in Kosovo, and recently UN Women from New York; we move to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. International and central level support would not have effective if we did not enjoy support also from local institutions that valued our work but also helped in easier access of women and girls to public services, health care and inclusion in many training and public events during these years. It was not easy to include such a sensitive topic for Kosovo society and institutions into our mission, given the continued silence and anxiety of the survivors due to the fear from being labeled and prejudiced as "victims of shame". From the very beginning, we came across women trying to hide their physical wounds caused by the cold weapons of war; while the wounds of the soul were the ones that caused the most pain and fear. Some of them were still young girls who did not clearly understand what rape was and what was happening to their bodies that had become pregnant because of rape. I never forget the look of helplessness and horror that a 17-year-old girl had at the time when birth pains started while sheltered in a house so that her father and her patriarchal brothers would not see her stomach growing. This girl is not the only one who, besides the trauma of rape, had also carried the fruits of rape; innocent babies who were abandoned by mothers because of stigma and lack of support from their families and society. There were also survivors who had experienced double rape only because they lived in Bosnia during the war and were unfortunate to experience the war in Kosovo. We could not imagine a 50-year-old woman surviving two horrific wars and tortures that a sensitive human being can hardly overcome. It is the survival force that makes us move forward and above all the desire to heal these wounds and be able to demand our fundamental rights to social and legal justice. And this would not have been possible without professional psychosocial assistance for building trauma-coping mechanisms; the necessary legal support to claim for legal rights; medical assistance we have regularly provided until March 2011, as well as economic empowerment we provide through various agricultural resources. We have approached over 8,700 women and girls through provision of psychosocial counselling, legal support, gynecological assistance and economic empowerment throughout these years; and we continue to stay beside to over 190 women survivors of sexual violence during the war. We continue to await the arrest of two perpetrators of documented crime by the four survivors who testified in EULEX during 2012-2014. But how long should we wait for the conviction of criminals and more survivors take courage and witness violence? When will they challenge the stigma and take courage to articulate their fundamental right to gain justice? Ambassador of Courage Mrs. Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman did such a thing. She even inspired Mrs. Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani to disclose publicly her traumatic experience and seek justice for herself and on behalf of all survivors of sexual violence. They showed that power of speech - empowered by the organization where they received support - could overcome the stigma and awaken the conscience of society to offer support and respect. Although delayed, legal recognition of the status of persons raped during the war is achieved by joining forces with women’s organizations in Kosovo. In this regard, we would like to publicly and chronologically acknowledge contribution of the Ambassador of Kosovo in USA, Mrs. Vlora Citaku and the former President of Kosovo, Ms. Atifete Jahjaga for pushing this process to relevant institutions; while the contribution of KRCT and Kosovo Women's Network is extremely valuable in supporting the drafting procedures and licensing four NGOs to implement the process. Expertise that we as an organization brought to this process has been extremely important to have it as a best practice in the region. Because 20 years of work in this sensitive area of human rights, is not little to contribute in achieving social and institutional justice for the survivors of rape and sexual abuse during the war.