By Trish Tobin
On Thursday April 24th, we loaded into a van at the Pristina offices of Women for Women International for a trip to meet women in the program all over Kosovo. Hamide Latifi is the Country Director for Women for Women International in Kosovo and, along with many of her staff, is our guide for the day. Each time I visit with one of our Country Directors or in-country staff, I am more awed by the work they do, their perseverance and the unending optimism they have. This visit has been no exception.
Today we drive to one of the more remote villages that is still recovering from the war and where Women for Women International is still getting a foothold. I can tell this for two reasons.
First, as we drive in I can see only men. There is, in fact, an active and official soccer game going on with young boys – uniforms, coaches and spectators. But there is not one woman, not one mother or sister watching the game – out of probably 100 people on the field. This is an area where traditional norms keep women and girls inside – they don’t go out for a soccer match, they don’t make the trips to the market and they don’t go to school. I ask Hamide why it’s okay if we visit and she tells me we are outsiders – out of context – so it’s okay. I am dumbstruck. I had read this in Hamide’s reports. Somehow to see all these men in the village and no women makes the term “patriarchal society” much more meaningful to me. When I ask what the women do, I’m told they do the housework. I am struck again at how impactful our job skills training must be for women whose traditions would tell them that housework is all they can do.
Second, as we drive into the village it looks like a rural European village except in the beautiful fields I see cows grazing in and amongst heaps of trash. This pastoral landscape looks jarringly wrong. Hamide explains to me that things have been devastated for so long, that this is normal. As people and areas recover, “you will see it in how they take care of their land” she assures me. Hamide shows me the farm we are visiting and sure enough I can see a clean pasture – Hamide tells me that this farm has received a loan for their milk collection business and that a condition of it is to clean their property. I like the example this sets for the neighbors and that it also conveys hope and pride.
The Milk Collection Vat
We visit the family the children all come out and so do a few of the neighbors to see what these visitors are like. We see the large stainless steel vat for collecting milk that has been purchased with a loan from Women for Women International. The vat is in a pristine room that is clearly washed down regularly and kept to high standards. Women and men bring their milk in milk cans to this farm for collection. It’s tested to ensure the quality and then added to the vat. Then a truck comes take the milk from the vat and into the markets – mostly to the suburbs of Pristina I am told.
I am intrigued by a conversation going on between the two Women for Women International participants and the one woman’s husband. It seems to be some teasing going on and talk about the book where milk transactions are logged. I ask Hamide to tell me what it’s all about.
There is a piece of paper in the book where they tell me all the women who bring milk are listed with their transactions – but this is on a separate piece of paper, not in the actual book. I ask why – only to learn Hamide has just asked the same question. We learn it’s simply not custom to treat the women as customers – so even writing them on paper at all was a step for them.
We all agree. Though it seems like a small thing, the symbolism is important… the women need to be in the book too. They promise and Faruk, who is Women for Women’s agribusiness specialist, confirms he’ll check up on it on his next visit. I picture one of those women customers bringing their milk next time and signing their name in the actual book – and I am satisfied that this will be meaningful for them too.