Woman PeaceMaker will speak about reconciliation
Editor in Chief
Shukrije Gashi, or Shuki as I know her, has vivid memories of traveling with her grandmother throughout Kosovo to settle disputes. She attributes the inspiration for her current mediation and conflict resolution work to her family, and especially to her grandmother, who was a well known mediator in Kosovo.
“I never … thought that sometime in the future I would, myself, be involved with mediation,” she told me, reflecting on the time she spent watching her grandmother. But Shuki is a woman who has worked for peace and justice in her country for years and her humility seems unwarranted. I asked her about coming to San Diego for the Women PeaceMakers Program and she said, “I applied and I didn’t think at that time I was going to be elected. … I said, ‘Come on, there are only four women. It’s impossible.’”
After one short hour in a room with this woman, I thought it was not only possible that she be one of four women chosen to spend eight weeks in residency at the IPJ, but necessary and possibly meant to be.
As a university student in Pristina, Kosovo in 1979, Shuki remembers witnessing arrests and mistreatment of her fellow students. “These arrestments gave me some first spark, some first message that something wrong was going on in Kosovo,” she said. By 1981, she, along with her boyfriend, her older sister’s friend and several other students had begun to hold demonstrations and to ask for better conditions for students.
But their attempt to spread ideas about Kosovo liberation were not well received by the government, and by 1983 Shuki had been sentenced to two years in jail. She used her time in jail to speak with other women about national rights and to raise awareness about women’s rights. Upon her release it became difficult to work openly, but Shuki eventually helped establish the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and became the head of the capital city Pristina branch, one of 63 branches of the council.
Through her work with the Council for the Defense of Human Rights, Shuki used every opportunity to speak about women’s rights and to gather support from women until she was able to open another NGO, the Centre for the Protection of Women and Children. With the support of NGOs and international organizations, and because of her personal strength, Shuki has traveled extensively through the Balkan region. She works attempts to settle different types of disputes, to make sure people understand the difference between the Serb population and the Serb regime, to protect human rights and to help make reconciliation possible.
When war spread throughout Kosovo, Shuki left for Macedonia where she spent a short time in a refugee camp. She discovered a young girl, about three years old, who was sick. But when she told the police that the child needed medical assistance, her request was met with blows. “That was not the only case,” she said about her abuse at the hands of police. “I realized that outside of the circle I could be more help and I managed to get outside of that hell circle.” She escaped after one day and continued her work to bring justice and to heal a war torn region. The strength one must exhibit in order to withstand such circumstances and to leave not scathed, but rather empowered, is something Shuki did not mention to me. But I heard the strength in her voice and I saw it in her eyes as she told me how desperately she desires to “live as good neighbors and build good relationships” with the countries in which she has experienced conflict.
Shuki has been a lawyer, a poet, a mediator and journalist, but insists that the best way to reach people is through the “collaborative process,” which she employs in her current position as the Director of “Partners-Kosova” Center for Conflict management, where she deals with training and mediation services, training of local government officials and elected municipal representatives in leadership and citizen participation, mentoring and empowering women and youth as well as facilitating the minority return and reintegration to Kosovo.
After the war in Kosovo, when she began working with the UN International Agency UNEP/UNCHS, she was asked not to go into Serb enclaves by herself because of the potential danger. “No, no, no,” she told her bosses and chiefs. “They are my people. They belong to Kosovo. I know what it means to be a minority, so this is my willingness. I want to go and meet them because they need us.” She has risked her life and her well-being so others can know peace and experience justice.
Today she is also working to bring dislocated peoples home. “I think that one day soon minorities, including Serb minorities, will realize that Kosovo is their country and whenever they have troubles or needs they should address the Kosovo government,” Shuki told me about her hope for the future of her country.
Next Tues., Oct. 10 at 12:30 p.m. Shuki will hold her “Conversation” in the IPJ Theatre. Students will have the opportunity to listen to a woman who embodies the idea that “women are always the first to work toward reconciliation,” as Shuki says, and can look forward to hearing inspiring stories of hope and strength.
The Vista, October 5, 2006Original Article