Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Barbra Bearden (Kosova Women’s Network – KWN): Barbra Bearden graduated in 2004 with a BA in Communications from Centenary College of Louisiana. She then worked in non-profit development and external communications; corporate public relations and marketing; and website design. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Louisiana Chapter), Sigma Tau Delta honors society, and the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority. At the time of her fellowship, Barbra was pursuing her Masters in International Communications at American University in Washington, DC.


01 Jul

received an email from a friend (who will remain nameless) asking me to define the acronyms EU and KWN. The first I could laugh off, but the second killed me because it seemed I have not used this medium as well as I should. Having successful garnered a bit of international attention with my rants, I think it is beyond the time to share the story of the Kosova Women’s Network (KWN).

Like most of civil society’s history, KWN truly began with a small action that became a movement. This is a story, told orally and now written of two sisters, Igballe and Safete Rogova, who responded to the abject poverty in the rural areas of Kosova with small tokens: clothing, books, etc.[1] In order to continue their work the sisters wanted to document who received what and how much. They asked the women of the village to sign their names to a log book. The women responded by telling the sisters that they could not read or write. The check points set up by the Milosevic regime had made traveling to and from distant schools nearly impossible. The Rogova sisters left the village, vowing, to themselves, to answer this need.

From that initial interaction came, “Motrat Qiriazi” (MQ)[2] an organization founded in 1990 by the Rogova sisters and Safete’s husband, Nuredin. They brought books and set up libraries. They organized classes in local villages. News of their successes spread like wildfire within the Kosova parallel system[3]. People wanted to duplicate the success in their own villages, and by 1991 there were over 64 branch organizations. Sensing growing tension, and despite the ridicule they received, MQ registered with the Serbian government and were issued passports which allowed them to travel (not freely mind you – but to travel) and do their work.

MQ flourished as an organization; working with esteemed groups like the Paraplegic Association (later Handikos), and the Mother Theresa Humanitarian Association within the Parallel system to address health and literacy needs. Progress halted with two devastating events. Nuredin died of a heart attack while speaking on the importance of education and Igballe, forced to flee months earlier because a report she gave detailing the poisoning of children was deemed illegal by her new government. She moved to Albania to work and Safete could not go on alone.

While in Albania (1994-95) Igballe joined the Women in Black, and their activism fed the passions of Safete. When Igballe returned, together, they invigorated MQ in the Has region of Kosova. Using culture, books, songs and theater MQ spread a message throughout Kosova; that education was vital. As the anti-Milosevic movement grew, their message became, “the pen is our best weapon!” Taking the queue, other women’s organizations immerged and they all sought the expertise of the Motrat Rogova (Rogova Sisters).

As a result, another organization, “The Rural Women’s Network” (RWN) began as an informal grouping of NGOs for information and strategy sharing: there were five, Aureola, Elana, Legienda, Liria, and MQ. Everyone was working together to oppose the repression. Using cunning, and charm these women’s[4] NGOs were able to move about the country even when the full wrath of Milosevic was taking hold of the Balkans.

By 1998, 10 thousand civilians had been killed by the Serbian forces. The focus of the RWN shifted to bringing food and medical supplies. Strategies were organized in the offices of The Center for Protection of Women and Children; and, at great threat of physical violence, the women of RWN organized the Drenica Bread March to bring food to the people first forced into the camps. Igballe recalls that she could not guarantee the bread reached the refugees, but the images of women carrying loaves were like candy to the international press.

Outside of the camps and within; the, organizations of RWN worked to serve the people. They brought food, medical supplies, media attention and much needed distraction. Despite the protests of other international organizations[5], local women organized singing parties, therapy sessions, plays and dances, haircuts and self defense courses. These women responded to the needs of the refugees; both physical and mental. They provided the services that turn victims into survivors.

The conditions of all the camps were difficult to bear, and fear of death was common, but the women of civil society in Kosova stayed (even when their connections afforded them access out), because their help was needed. In one instance Igballe, with the help of a cell phone and key international friends, organized a nonviolent standing protest to bring light to the situation of the refugees. They simply shouted “help”; in front of every international press camera in Macedonia. This civil pressure helped spur the political pressure which eventually persuaded the Macedonian government to allow refugees into their country.

After the camps were emptied and the refugees returned to their homes problems persisted and the revolution, which began ten years earlier, continued to grow and mature.

More to come as the formation of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo is established, international aid money flows like water, and the reconciliation struggles to begin.

[1] The revocation of Kosova’s autonomy from Serbia in 1989 brought with it job loss and massive poverty.

[2] The “Mortrat Qiriazi” or “Sisters Quiriazi” were two Albanian sisters who dedicated their lives to educating people (especially women). They are a source of inspiration for most of civil society in Kosova.

[3] A system of government set up by Kosovars to opposed Serbian rule and take care of their infrastructural needs. Women played a significant part in the Parallel System/

[4] Women were seen as less threatening then their male counterparts – the fact that they were women worked both for and against The Rural Women’s Network on many occasions.

[5] Perhaps with both good and bad intentions international organizations hoped to capture images of weeping women to better solicit international funds for their international aid.

Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Posted Jul 1st, 2006

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