On October 31, 2000, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS), recognizing the different needs and roles of women and girls during conflicts. By that time, Kosovo was one of the post-war contexts where the resolution would apply immediately. This blog article highlights the advocacy efforts of Kosovo feminist activists to include women and their needs in negotiations and dialogue, framing the discussing through the lens of Resolution 1325 and the resistance faced by actors from the international community involved in the process.
Women in Kosovo and other post-war contexts are used to hearing claims of commitments to deal with “women’s issues” after wars, conflicts, and political processes come to an end. Since 2003, Kosovo has gone through several rounds of negotiations and dialogue with Serbia, aiming to resolve issues that derived from the war of 1998-1999. International actors, namely the United Nations (UN), the United States, and the European Union (EU), were involved as mediators in the negotiations and dialogue. Despite a public stand upon values of freedom and equality, these actors did not make it any easier than the local leaders to include women and their needs in negotiations and dialogue, despite the continuous advocacy efforts by Kosovo women’s rights activists. The ongoing EU-mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which aims for the normalization of relations between the two countries and to improve people’s everyday life, remains dominated by men. Women’s priorities continue to be relegated to the margins.
From Center to the Margins
Women in Kosovo played a crucial role during the peaceful resistance in the 1990s, especially in bringing international attention to human rights violations by the Serbian state. Following the end of the war in 1999, UNSC Resolution 1244 mandated the United Nations Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK) with the jurisdiction of Kosovo, whose authority ended with Kosovo’s independence in 2008. UNMIK ignored Kosovo women’s contribution, historical and cultural contexts, as well as Resolution 1325. The mission followed a top-down approach in state-building, leaving out local voices, characterized as a rather liberal approach to peacebuilding (Visoka, 2017).
Despite the resolution’s calls for women’s participation in the UN and other international missions working in peace and security, UNMIK failed to meet its demands even in its own organizational structures, where men occupied most of the leadership positions. Table 1 shows only a marginal increase of women in decision-making positions within international missions in Kosovo in the second decade of 1325 adoption. The unequal representation of women and men in their own organisational structures reflects international missions’ willingness to support gender mainstreaming at the national level. This approach relegated women to the margins as well as homogenized Kosovo society as patriarchal. Alongside its liberal idea of state intervention, UNMIK’s approach was highly patriarchal, deciding to communicate with men only. This prompted feminist activists in Kosovo to mobilise.
Table 1. Women’s Share of Senior Positions in Missions to Kosovo
|EU Heads of Mission in Kosovo||0|
|ICO Heads (ended in 2012)||0|
Source: Facts and Fables, 2022
Women activists started formally networking and utilising Resolution 1325 as an advocacy tool to call for including women and their needs in decision-making. Seeking to amplify women’s demands, women activists established the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), today a network of 194 women’s rights organisations from Kosovo. They have been requesting meaningful participation of women in decision-making as well as advocating for strengthening legal framework to ensure women’s protection from and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, among others.
Two decades after its adoption, the general alignment of Kosovo’s legal framework with international standards has been identified as considerable progress towards the implementation of Resolution 1325. However, the lack of implementation hinders the resolution’s full implementation, as the prevalence of domestic violence, economic inequalities, and the underrepresentation of women in political decision-making persist. The latter also applies to peacebuilding efforts, such as the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which to this day remains gender-blind. Although absent from the dialogue table, diverse women from Kosovo have their own perspectives and demands on the ongoing political process.
The 2021 KWN research report revealed the needs and priorities of diverse women regarding the dialogue. When asked what they would bring to the table, women pointed to issues related to dealing with the past and transitional justice that remain unaddressed more than two decades after the end of the war. They brought up the unresolved issue of missing persons, the lack of justice for survivors of sexual violence and the urge for payment of reparations for the violence perpetrated, to name a few. Local scholars (Visoka, 2017) note that social reconciliation and dealing with the past remain grim in the current dialogue unless it follows a bottom-up approach by including victim recognition and commemorations, identification of missing persons‘ bodies, and material compensation for survivors.
Although the EU-facilitated dialogue aims to improve people’s everyday lives, the everyday life of survivors of sexual violence and people who lived through the war is connected to the past. Their wounds remain open as justice has not been served yet.
Women in Negotiations and Dialogue – A Story of Women’s Exclusion
In 2005, Marti Ahtisaari, special envoy of the UN, presided over the first after-war peace talks between Kosovo and Serbia to determine the future of Kosovo’s status. Both negotiating teams consisted of men, while Ahtisaari proved to be much like most of the international community in Kosovo, refusing to implement Resolution 1325 and have women’s priorities included in the talks. Once again, feminist activists refer to such behavior as linked to the stereotypical view of Kosovo society as traditional and patriarchal.
Experiencing exclusion from the talks on the final status, women started mobilising regionally. They sent joint advocacy letters – highlighting the needs and demands of women on both sides, took to the streets, and conducted symbolic actions. On International Women’s Day in 2006, KWN in Kosovo and Women in Black Network in Serbia, as part of the Women’s Peace Coalition, simultaneously launched two protests, one in Prishtina and another in Belgrade with the same request: Implementation of Resolution 1325 in the negotiations (picture above). However, the patriarchal shield around the peace talks was too resistant to women’s voices, and the involvement of women as working group members was insufficient to include either women’s needs or Resolution 1325 in the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Final Status.
In 2011, Kosovo started a new phase of technical dialogue with Serbia. Edita Tahiri, who was part of the peace negotiations between the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo in 1999, now served as chief negotiator. Over the span of six years, issues such as sexual violence and other war damages that women considered important, remained absent from the dialogue, while the issue of missing persons was discussed once. Tahiri’s actions give credence to arguments that women’s representation does not necessarily influence negotiations (Paffenholz, Th., 2016). Some attributed the dearth of issues that concern women to the technical nature of the dialogue (KWN, 2022). Tahiri herself explained that she proposed the issue of missing persons, which did not become part of the agenda due to Serbia’s refusal. Women’s participation in working groups also remained low, as only 16 percent of the participants were women (KWN, 2022). Even the EU as a mediator did not do enough to ensure the dialogue is based on equality, one of its core values.
Where are Women in the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia?
The European Union has been facilitating the dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia since 2011. Having two women holding senior positions of EU Representatives for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini) through 2019 did not make the EU a gender-equality champion in the political dialogue.
On paper, the EU aligns its legal framework with Resolution 1325 and its sister resolutions, but it lacks implementation on the ground. In April 2020, the EU mandated Miroslav Lajčák to facilitate the dialogue on a comprehensive normalisation agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. Since then, meetings with women’s civil society organisations (WCSOs) and attention to their needs have been absent from his schedule. In his response to the KWN’s many advocacy letters calling for the inclusion of women’s priorities in the dialogue, Lajčák tossed the responsibility to two parties involved in negotiations as responsible for agenda setting. Regarding participation, Lajčák emphasised that the responsibility does not lie with the EU to choose the interlocutors. Such an approach conflicts with the EU’s Comprehensive Approach to implement Resolution 1325, which commits to “integrate women, peace and security issues in its political and policy dialogue with partner governments, particularly of countries affected by armed conflict, in post-conflict situations or situations of fragility” (p.11).
Feminist scholars argue that institutions may find gender mainstreaming threatening and irrelevant to their main mission, which leads them to apply only superficial gender interventions (True & Parisi, 2013 in Ansorg, N., Haastrup, T., 2018). In the context of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, both the EU and the parties involved remain largely indifferent to mainstreaming gender.
During the WPS Forum hosted by the President of Kosovo in October 2022, Lajčák emphasised the “need for more women at the negotiation table”. Yet, given his position as a facilitator, Lajčák refuses to meet with women and listen to their demands. This shows how empty words exclude women’s needs both from the dialogue and from a potential final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.
With Russia’s recent war in Ukraine and Serbia’s government refusing to condemn the illegal invasion, the EU is pushing for an eventual agreement between Kosovo and Serbia to be concluded soon. An ideal final agreement would normalise relations as well as put an end to Russian influence in the Western Balkans. Following the Berlin Process Summit in November 2022, a German-French proposal for a potential final agreement was leaked to the public. The 9-Article proposal consists of only general provisions that two parties need to agree to, lacking a gender perspective or dealing with the past as part of the end goal for the normalisation of relations. By excluding the need to address the past, such an agreement impedes a lasting and sustainable peace.
Considering it a timely issue, this blog focused on the meaningful participation of women and their needs in negotiations and dialogue. Having women at the table should not be considered an end goal without ensuring that women’s needs are addressed in the present. Therefore, parties involved in the dialogue are invited to include issues that women consider important for a lasting peace in Kosovo and beyond, such as the issue of missing persons, the justice for survivors of sexual violence and the payment of reparations for the violence perpetrated. Considering women’s and gender issues apart from any political process hinders the opportunity to achieve long-lasting and sustainable peace and security.