We march not celebrate – International Women’s Day turns to protest in Kosovo

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International Women’s Day turns to protest in Kosovo

By Sophia Tulp

PRISTINA –  Hundreds of women took to the streets in Pristina on March 8, International Women’s Day, marching to reclaim the “holiday” and use it to shed light on gender inequality — in a country where more than 55 percent of women are unemployed and only 30 percent of public posts are held by women.

Following a rally in Zahir Pajzati Square, the marchers, led by activists from the Kosovo Women’s Network, filled in central streets, interrupting traffic at the noon rush hour.

Carrying a 10-foot-long banner reading “Marshojme S’festojme” Albanian for “march not celebrate,” women accompanied by a few men beat drums, blew whistles and chanted in Albanian, Turkish and English.

Traditionally, International Women’s Day in Kosovo is a celebration, where men gift women flowers to feel “appreciated and loved,” said Eriona Hoti, a journalism student at Prishtina University participating in the march.

But this year, women flipped the script.

“We’re worth more than flowers,” Hoti said.

“We have many problems as women and we don’t have the space we deserve. We think we need more rights in our country so we can be more involved in institutions.”

International Women’s Day in Kosovo
We have many problems as women and we don’t have the space we deserve. We think we need more rights in our country so we can be more involved in institutions

In Kosovo, only 1 in 3 Members of Parliament are women, and the 20-member government has only three female ministers.

Marchers also protested economic inequality, as the unemployment rate for women is 55.5 percent over 40.5 percent for men, according to a 2016 United Nations Entity for Gender Equality study.

Women in Kosovo are also victims of domestic violence at disproportionately high levels, nearly half— 48 percent — reported abuse in their lifetime.

A reference to the American Oscar-winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” even found its way into the events, when three 15-foot-high red signs that read the names of the women murdered by their husbands took center stage along Pristina’s main road, in front of police headquarters.

“To consider yourself a feminist here in Kosovo, it is still a struggle, you become part of a target group,” Doruntina Stojkaj-Gashi, a Pristina University student said.

“This march is important to change that.”

The Women’s March in Kosovo
To consider yourself a feminist here in Kosovo, it is still a struggle, you become part of a target group

The Women’s March in Kosovo comes as women’s movements across the world have been gaining momentum, specifically the Women’s Marches of January 2017 and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements protesting sexual harassment and assault.