Every morning, B. wakes up at dawn to begin her day in a rural farming village in western Kosovo. She starts the fire, bakes fresh bread for the home, feeds her cow, then tends to her homemade dairy products that she prepares from a small room.
“I’m restless, I have to do something,” B., 51, says. “I feel like my brain is more quiet when I do this in my own house.”
Later in the day, she packages her different types of fresh cheese and yogurt and gets them ready to be picked up and sold at a new shop in Gjakova — a bustling city around 30 minutes away from her home.
B. is one of the estimated 20,000 women and men who were raped and tortured by Serbian police and the Yugoslav army during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war against Serbia. The exact number is difficult to determine, given the sensitivities surrounding the topic of wartime rape in this nation of 1.8 million people. In Kosovo’s conservative and traditional society, wartime rape victims continue to be stigmatized, shamed and isolated not only by society, but also by their families, from whom many survivors have kept the rape a secret. That’s why survivors are not using their names in this story.
“In general, in cases of sexual violence, the shame and guilt is unfortunately usually put on the victim and not on the perpetrator. In Kosovo, the case is the same,” says Rozafa Kelmendi, project manager with the Women, Peace and Security sector at U.N. Women in Kosovo. She notes that it was only in 2008 that the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning sexual violence as a tool of war.”