Bosnia and Kosovo's Women's Initiatives

Greg Brown

Program Officer, Balkans and Caucasus Programs, International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Yeah, it is called the Kosovo's Women's Initiative, which is actually still ongoing. It grew out of what was a Bosnian Women's Initiative before the U.S. ??? to be. And not only is it a funding mechanism, but it is also a way to build capacity of local women's NGOs.

Q: So what does it look like?

A: This is sort of where I get into the peace building part at least in the Kosovo context, where you basically have a society that was split up. There are ethnic enclaves and lots of tension still. Actually the Kosovo Women's Initiative has a long history and not a long history but it originally had a money to be pursued all at once and it was through international, sort of umbrella grant, but it was all through international partners.

Q: What did you call it?

A: Kosovo Women's Initiative, KWI and the Bosnia Women's Initiative (BWI). And basically after one year partly because the funding got dropped off and partly because they didn't see the results that they wanted to see, I mean different reasons. They brought it under one umbrella which was awarded to one agency, IRC, but then how we developed a mechanism was through forming regional women's councils, and there were five different ones broken up geographically but within those geographic areas obviously the types of women's groups that were there. There was a majority ethnic Albanian population, there was also Serb populations, Roma populations, Ashkilia ???, different groups. It is all about the women identifying their priorities: what resources they already have that they can bring to bear on, what they identify as their priorities, and also this funding mechanism being able to provide assistance that way. One of the requirements was setting up the guidelines and the guidelines were that you had to have these multi-ethnic women's councils, which were elected amongst the women's groups.

Q: So if you wanted money you had to work with other ethnicities?

A: Exactly. Both within council itself which is women leaders and then also even with implementation, trying to always find where there are overlap and where assistance can be provided. For example, in the types of projects that could be funded it really was a range. There was one women's NGO that was basically looking at just legal rights and another one was looking at property, another was looking at law issues and looking at citizenship. A range of issues which through that group and through the network that was created through the Kosovo Women's Initiative they were able to start helping and working with populations that they normally wouldn't work with. You know, cross ethnic. There are a lot of different aspects to it. We brought them together for training. They came together in terms of all the proposals that came in which were ??? Standardized; were openly debated and discussed and it was looking at what was best for the community with the knowledge that you do have to have a certain percentage that focus on minority or mixed or populations.

The interesting part about that was that was it was a way to fund these types of programs, which they didn't find as their own priorities until obviously they had ownership of it. And they had a greater chance of it being sustainable. It was getting all these women together talking, which they did grudgingly at first but once you got them together it was like 'You know, maybe there is not so many differences,' or 'We see so many opportunities.' Even if it was only because they had a shared interest in funding or whatever, they would find more beyond that once you brought them to the table for a specific reason. And one of the, I always talk to people about it in confidence; I work with the women first because they are just far more practical. I mean some of these women they weren't necessarily stay-at-home types before. Some of these women were KLA fighters up in mountains and then they are down at the table with some Serb women who might have been doing raids at night not long ago. There are issues around that but at the same time there is something about working with women that I think it is a very good entry point into that. Because we were dealing with the women in that way long before any similar meetings occurred amongst other segments of society except at a very, very official level which was more for show and not really so substantive.

Q: Was the project designed with that element of reconciliation in mind to have that multi-ethnic cooperation somehow lead to a humanization or reconciliation of some sort?

A: Definitely. I mean it wasn't. I don't think we would have ever used the term peace building or reconciliation, but I mean obviously that was one of the ultimate goals.

Q: Why wouldn't you use those words?

A: I think when you have different types of organizations that do different things and enter at different points in the continuum this was definitely when you are out of the conflict so you are kind of in emergency phase even though it wasn't so much of an emergency. I think it is a different way of accessing the population because women are more likely in general to say 'Okay, this is a funding mechanism available to me. This is an opportunity for my organizational development, my professional development, or whatever, and that is sort of something that I find attractive." If we talked about it as being a peace building thing which maybe for us internally for us to talk about it that it fine but if we put it out there to them they would be like I am not coming to this group because I want to talk to Serbs, I am coming to this group because I am doing my women's cooperative in agriculture and we need funds and this is the way to access it. So that is why it wasn't very overt and it probably wasn't even the primary reason why were doing it but we have definitely recognized that as being one of the benefits coming out of it. If you talked to the women I don't know if they would get that but the women after doing it were probably talking and working with these other women that they never would have thought of that being the result they were looking for.