Valbona Marku, Klara Marku, Donjeta Pajazitaj, Antigona Morina, Zejnepe Berisha, Dafina Zhubi, Diana Kastrati.
When we hear their names, many of us are overcome by anger, pain and unanswered questions.
Valbona Marku, Klara Marku, Donjeta Pajazitaj, Antigona Morina, Zejnepe Berisha, Diana Kastrati.
When we heard of their deaths, many of us instinctively and rightfully assumed that they were murdered by their partners, husbands or fathers.
We have come to internalize and expect it. Women are abused by men, and women are murdered by men.
That same thought emerged when on March 14, news of the death of 42-year-old Sebahate Morina was reported. She was found dead together with her ex-husband, a case being investigated as murder of Sebahate and suicide of her ex-husband, L.S.
Dozens of people gathered, bringing flowers and lighting candles, remembering Sebahate.
In pain and anger, on March 18, a group of citizens organized actions in Prishtina and held letters forming the words “Not One More” (Asnjë ma shumë). The action included standing in front of the Police headquarters, the State Prosecutor’s office and the Government building, all three housing key institutions responsible for failing to save Sebahate’s life. Photos of the action were accompanied by a call to come together and remember Sebahate through a candlelit vigil later that evening.
Dozens of people gathered, in silence, bringing flowers and lighting candles, remembering Sebahate and paying respects to her family. We heard one of the family members, overcome by emotion, say: “I hope she will be the last woman who is murdered.”
As citizens were cleaning up after the crowd began to disperse, it included picking up the letters of the “Not One More” sign, a silent acknowledgement that Sebahate Morina will likely not be the last.
Sebahate Morina was killed on a Sunday morning. Sundays are usually considered to be easy-going days. But not a single day is easy for women trapped in societies where violence against them is the norm. And when such violence is also institutionalized, no one should be at ease.
While that Sunday was the last time Sebahate was to experience any sort of violence, it was not the first. On top of that, those who should have known — Kosovo Police and the State Prosecutor — were told loud and clear that Sebahate was being abused.
The endpoint of abuse must not be marked by death. An interruption of the abuse, and therefore a continuation of life, has to be what we come to expect.
Eleven days of inaction
Kosovo Police and the Basic Prosecution in Prishtina had 11 days to save Sebahate’s life.
In their press release on March 16, the Basic Prosecution in Prishtina said: “A case of ‘domestic violence’ was initiated on March 3 against the suspect L.S.,” following a report to police by Sebahate’s daughter that her mother was being abused.
The Basic Prosecution added that after interviewing Sebahate, she rejected medical attention, emphasized that she’d had a disagreement with her ex-husband, who she described as having physically attacked her in the “spur-of-the-moment,” and stated that she had chosen not to pursue the case any further.
In “efforts to shed light on the case,” the Basic Prosecution says that Sebahate’s ex-husband was interviewed and that he denied having abused her. The press release added that Sebahate was invited for an additional interview on March 4, but she did not show up for it, “again.”
On March 3, it was the duty of the police and the prosecutor to know that he might be planning further violence against Sebahate.
Was L.S.’s denial of the abuse more believable than Sebahate’s report of the abuse? Did she have to make a better case? Choose better words? What does the Basic Prosecution mean by “again,” given that they confirm that Sebahate was interviewed once. How many times was she supposed to show up to convince the police to show up for her and end the abuse against her? Why is Sebahate’s absence presented as a recurring action, when the violence against her was the only recurring action?
Both the police and the Basic Prosecution had evidence that L.S’ latest reported abuse was not an isolated occurrence.
A report published by Kosovo Law Institute and Kosovo Women’s Network on March 17, states that L.S. was taken into custody in 2019 for abusing Sebahate. Moreover, the same report shows that Sebahate had a protection order against her ex-husband up until the end of 2020.
On March 3, it was the duty of the police and the Basic Prosecution to know that he might be planning further violence against Sebahate.
Both the police and Basic Prosecution already had L.S.’s violence against her on record. So what more did they expect from Sebahate?
It was the duty of the police and the Prosecution to do the maths — when Sebahate said that she had had a disagreement with her ex-husband, she also mentioned that she had been physically attacked by him.
The fact that the Basic Prosecution left it at “disagreement” reads as if they chose to turn a blind eye to the abuse part. The difference is that when disagreeing we have agency. When being abused, that agency is taken from us.
According to the report by KLI and KWN, the Basic Prosecution did not undertake a single action during the 11 days of March 4 to March 14, the day of Sebahate’s death. It was their duty to pursue the case, not Sebahate’s.
There are only so many battles a continually abused woman can fight. Sebahate had already fought too many. It was the turn of the police and prosecutors to take their fair share in pursuing the case.
If the police and the prosecution could not connect the dots, then who was truly absent? Sebahate or them?
The fact that Sebahate did not show up for an additional interview should have been an alarm to the police and the Prosecution. Did they, for one, wonder whether she was alive? Did they worry that Sebahate’s absence from that additional interview meant she was being abused at the time — that she was potentially in immediate and present danger?
Sebahate did her part. As a victim of recurrent abuse she had already explained herself too many times. If the police and the Prosecution could not connect the dots with all the facts on the table, then who was truly absent? Sebahate or them?
By placing an emphasis on how Sebahate “did not want to further pursue the case” and on the fact that “she did not show up for an additional interview,” the prosecution is effectively saying “she asked for it.”
Sebahate Morina’s death was preventable, as are the many killings of other women in Kosovo and beyond.
Femicide in Kosovo and beyond
Many might remember 2020 as the year when life took a bit of a pause, at least compared to how we used to live. But for many women in Kosovo, 2020 was the year when life deteriorated much further. Being trapped with their abusers at home, lockdown meant that even more women fell victim to domestic abuse.
According to Kosovo Police, the number of domestic violence cases rose by 105 last year, from 1,915 in 2019 to 2,020 in 2020.
Data shows that most victims are women and most perpetrators are their husbands or partners. Some cases do not stop at domestic abuse. In 2020 alone, six women were officially reported to have been killed by their partners — that’s six that we know of officially.
Let’s call the death of these women by its name. Women are being murdered because they are women, and this is femicide.
Worldwide, collecting data on femicide remains a challenge due to limited institutional efforts to improve the process. According to the World Health Organization, a particular challenge is due to the fact that in most countries, “police and medical data-collection systems that document cases of homicide often do not have the necessary information or do not report the victim–perpetrator relationship or the motives for the homicide, let alone gender-related motivations for murder.”
In other words, collecting data on the deaths of women is not a high political, social or health priority. Perhaps because they are mostly caused by men and mostly by their partners; or perhaps because the systems of power do not want to expose the oppression and dangers that derive from patriarchal structures.
Women across all walks of life face daily fears, struggles and pain that seem alarmingly similar.
A protest challenging precisely such structures was held on March 8, International Women’s Day. Activists demanded an end to gender-based violence and femicide in Kosovo, with the call “We march against, we don’t celebrate the patriarchy that kills.” Hundreds of protestors chanted the names of the women murdered throughout the years, in the hope that they would be remembered and that society at large would listen and play their part in preventing the systematic and systemic killing of women.
Even though the tendency is to divide the world and people’s issues along lines of economic or political differences, women’s struggles in Kosovo and elsewhere, now more than ever, have proven to cut across these human made borders of divisions. Sadly, women across all walks of life face daily fears, struggles and pain that seem alarmingly similar. The protests that are being called worldwide to demand public attention, recognition and an end to femicide worldwide prove this.
Recently, vigils were organized in cities across the UK after Sarah Everards’ body was found in the woods of Kent — she had last been seen alive while walking home to her London apartment one evening in early March. Sarah’s disappearance has sparked an outpouring of stories from women expressing how unsafe they feel on a daily basis when going about everyday life.
Last year, Bianca Alejandrina Lorenzana faced a similar fate in Mexico where she left her home to never return again. Her body was found in pieces and wrapped up in plastic. Bianca’s case sparked protests to demand justice for her and to draw attention to the fact that each day in Mexico, an average of 10 women are murdered, and femicide cases have grown by 137% in the last five years.
Pınar Gültekin was found strangled, battered and buried in a bin sealed with concrete in the woods of Mugla, Turkey last summer. Protesters gathered in Istanbul and other Turkish cities, again to protest the rise of femicide numbers.
These murders are intentional, planned and executed with a message: Women’s bodies and women’s lives are disposable and controlled by men.
These murders are ignored, forgotten and treated with a message: Women can ask for help and demand justice, but the institutions that should safeguard their basic human right to life will most likely end up following the same patriarchal rules as their murderers.
We need to place blame and insist on accountability where they are due.
We need to collectively stop downplaying these cases as situated, specific events or isolated instances, and the media should stop reporting them as such. We need to wake up to the fact that structural violence is being inflicted upon half of our population. And we need to treat it as such as well.
We need to start expecting different behavior from men. Expecting men to inflict these horrendous crimes on women means accepting that such violence is normal behavior.
We need to stop living our lives with the idea that violence is an innate male characteristic and that women need to change their behavior in order not to spark that violence or become a victim of it. When we continue losing lives and expecting to lose lives, the narrative should change. We need to place blame and insist on accountability where they are due.
So, do not joke about your friend telling you how she cannot cross the street without a number of men sexually harassing her. Take her seriously when she tells you that her boyfriend’s jealousy is making her unable to meet up with friends. Help her when she is stuck and doesn’t know where and how to report her abusive husband. Listen to her when she explains how and why she cannot report him despite the pain.
You might save a life.
Demand that police, judges and prosecutors implement the laws that are set in place to protect women.
They might save a life.
Sebahate Morina, Valbona Marku, Klara Marku, Donjeta Pajazitaj, Antigona Morina, Zejnepe Berisha, Dafina Zhubi, Diana Kastrati.
We need to repeat these names so their histories and fates do not repeat.
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.