Perspectives | Protests

Stop sexual harassment and abuse in Kosovo’s schools

By - 24.05.2021

Reform in schools, institutions and society is needed now.

More than ever, concerned citizens in Kosovo are raising a storm on social media and in the streets against sexual harassment and assault. 

A video that went viral earlier this month appeared to show a seventh grade boy attempting to force his genitals into the mouth of a young girl. Shpresa Shala — director of education for the municipality of Prishtina — brushed off the incident as “kids games.” That led to many people joining the street protests under the banner: “It’s not a game, it’s trauma.”

Although Prishtina has seen similar protests before, this issue will continue to fester without systemic changes.

Barely two years ago, the New York Times reported on the repeated sexual abuse of a teenager from a small village in Kosovo. Raped by a man she knew, and then again by the police officer to whom she reported the case, the girl was failed by our system twice

Many protesters and social activists have called for sex education classes, which would be a great way to educate students about harassment, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. However, such classes are taboo in Kosovo’s traditional culture. At any rate, sex education is worthless once sexual abuse has occurred. 

Clearly, our school system faces a serious obstacle: Students don’t have a designated place to report harassment and abuse. All they can do is tell their teachers, most of whom lack formal training or even basic knowledge about sexual abuse. Sometimes, teachers are themselves the abusers. 

This time it was the clothing

In her 2018 article about the sexual harassment of women at the University of Prishtina, Dafina Halili highlights the enormous, often unbearable challenges of students who come forward and the resistance they often face from faculty. This time it wasn’t “kids games.” Rather, the students’ clothing was to blame.

Day after day, women deal with off-color remarks, unwanted advances, mistreatment, abuse and discrimination.

As pressure mounted on university officials to investigate allegations of sexual harassment by professors, the vice rector appealed to women on TV not to dress provocatively. She later resigned, but that didn’t resolve the problem at hand: In the #MeToo era, Kosovo’s most prominent public educational institution has no independent commission to investigate allegations of sexual harassment. 

According to Halili, the university’s “Ethical Code for Academic Staff” doesn’t mention sexual harassment even once. A simple, mandatory sexual harassment training video would also go a long way toward improvement.  

Unpunished problematic behavior in childhood and early adulthood creates a society in which adults who were never held accountable, bring their predatory behavior into the workplace. In a country where women make up only 11% of the senior management level positions in the central government’s civil service — and where outlets to report harassment are almost non-existent — many suffer in silence daily. 

Listening to women’s anger

Day after day, women deal with off-color remarks, unwanted advances, mistreatment, abuse and discrimination. These strong women keep going because they have responsibilities. After all, giving up is not an option for them. They want a better future for themselves and future generations. 

As Oprah Winfrey said upon accepting a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award in 2018: “I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know.”

The reactions and protests are crucial because they bring attention to this issue and demand change. We must start listening to women’s anger now and implement the necessary changes to prevent more abuse and build a more equitable society.

We have a moral obligation to improve our community by reforming our homes, schools, and institutions. Every woman deserves to feel safe in the street, in school, and at work. Without a safer environment for women everywhere in Kosovo, our society will never be truly free.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.