In June 1999, the conflict between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo ended with the retreat of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces and the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244, which established the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Under UNSCR 1244’s mandate, elements from the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Union (EU) assumed responsibility for the rule of law, governance, democratization, institution-building, and economic development of Kosovo.
Four years earlier, representatives from 189 countries had gathered in Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Conference), a defining moment in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality. Recognizing that “the achievement of equality between women and men [is] a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice,” they acknowledged that empowering women as equal citizens was the “way to build a sustainable, just and developed society.” This gathering produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which serves as a key blueprint to guide and inspire nations toward the goal of gender equality. Following the Beijing Conference, countries, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and private corporations began to formulate policies, design programs, and allocate funding with a greater appreciation for the role – and inclusion – of women.
Post-conflict Kosovo offers a complex and interesting context to examine the role women play in post-conflict development. Four years after the Beijing Conference, the intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and subsequent UN administration of Kosovo provided the international community with an opportunity to implement the measures it had endorsed in 1995. NGOs and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) quickly proliferated throughout the territory, many of them seeking to promote, amongst other things, an agenda of gender equality.
Though women were not heavily involved in the formal peace negotiations that ended the hostilities in Kosovo, they played key roles in civil society before the war and actively sought ways to participate in the reconstruction efforts. At the grassroots level, and in unofficial channels, women worked towards peace and stability in their communities. Post-conflict Kosovo presents a useful case to examine the theory that women’s empowerment – in economic, political, and social spheres – leads to a more sustainable and prosperous peace. The international community affirmed this belief by providing security, financing, and expertise to build institutions that advanced women’s rights after the war, while Kosovar women demonstrated the ability and willingness to contribute meaningfully to their country’s reconstruction.
The case of Kosovo illustrates the essential role women play in establishing a stable post-conflict environment. Research has shown that “post-conflict is a critical period in which to address human security, not only because of the significant need, but because of the unique opportunity that presents itself through International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) involvement and Local Non-Governmental Organization (LNGO) creation, thereby establishing organizations within civil society that are capable of building gendered human security through their interventions and especially within their organizations.” If women are given meaningful access to the political and economic processes at the outset of a nation’s reconstruction, they can influence the institutions being established, imbuing the entire system with a greater sense of fairness, equality, and sustainability.
Nevertheless, as peace-building and nation-building become increasingly common elements of international intervention, the international community’s pledges for gender equality are being applied inconsistently in post-conflict contexts. This report makes a compelling case for why women’s empowerment and gender equality should be a fundamental element of post-conflict development. Though it is a young democracy facing considerable challenges, Kosovo has functioned as an independent country since 2008 and, due in large part to the involvement and influence of women, possesses the institutional foundation necessary for a long-term stability and positive growth.