Nevenka Rikalo

Nevenka Rikalo, 61, lives in Ugljare. Her family is a daughter, two sons and three grandchildren.

The words that best describe her character are above all “tolerance”, then “being active” and “communicative” because she considers herself a person who is always ready to help others and to fight for the principles she believes in.

She lived in a complex family, where her mother always worried and took care on three daughters. They have been taught and educated that there are no male and female jobs and that the word of the elder must be respected.

Her family lived in Kosovo Polje, in the railway colony, they had a happy childhood in which all the days were covered by mother’s care, love, attention and laughter, and a nice gathering with her younger sisters. Her childhood was so kind, beautiful, and careless and filled with things that made her unusually happy. They liked to play with other children from the neighborhood. She was a mischievous child, but her mother never railed at her, even when she was enthralled by the game instead of reading the book, she ran with her friends to play with the ball. Now, after so many years, she sees that her childhood and youth were filled with some other interesting gatherings (she was a member of folklore, she participated in working actions) and at that time was honored to become a member of the Socialist Youth and later a member of the League of Communists.

She had, and today she has several friends who love a wonderful and attentive mother who tried to fulfill her every wish, and the sisters that gave her extra strength to persevere and not let go, even if she thought that the bad days won’t pass by. Two days of attacks on the Serbian civilian population consisted of the mass persecution of the Serbs. The date of 17.03.2004. was left behind her and her family. That day, she says, cannot be forgotten. In three days (March 17-19), a large number of Serbs and other non-Albanian population were expelled, desecrated Serbian cultural and historical monuments. That night, on the 17th of March, risking her life, although she was beaten, blue from the beat, she went with police cars and from the burnt Serbian houses she took mothers with children, wounded, sick and infirm. Several days of unbelief, fear, worry, trouble passed … After four days after all events, the phone rang and she answered. She heard the voice of the Albanian women who asked her: “Nena how are you, can I come to see you?” She told her to come freely, but she had to think about what could happen to her because she was coming to Gracanica. She came in as she said. She visited them, brought the clothes, medicines and most importantly – hope: “Well, not all Albanians are bad, there are good ones.” She claims that this cannot be forgotten. Her words comforted her that both had the same experience and that helped her to find the strength and the desire to build peace and work for reconciliation between the communities.

The cruel truth is that men rule the world, and Nena likes to monitor the position of women in the press not only in our community but also in the world. At times uncertain, sometimes indecisive, as others perceive, the challenges that shape it, the opportunities that she gets (not), much of it is just because she is a woman. It sounds at the same time as an appeal, but also as a truth that, as she says, we all know. She thinks that the reason for this lies within ourselves, as the heritage of previous cultural patterns and manifests itself in the difference in ambition.

 If a woman is said to be ambitious, it is not a compliment in our culture, but a negative connotation. Breaking all stereotypes is seen as the only way to equality because:

– Out of 195 countries, only 17 are led by women;

– Women take up 20% of seats in parliaments around the world, and as we climb to a hierarchical scale, there are fewer women

– Only 5% of women are at the forefront of companies,

– Only 17% sits on company boards,

  – 30% are among women entrepreneurs.

Although women have reached a certain level of education, they conclude that, when it is time to make serious decisions affecting the whole world, women’s voices are almost not heard. Ambition is expected from a man, but it is optional for women, because they often lack confidence and self-confidence. Men who are ambitious, powerful and successful get applause, while women with the same characteristics suffer from social consequences. Women’s achievements come with a price and they ask, “Why?” In her opinion, the answer lies in the fact that women do not support women, and these attitudes should be changed in women. She thinks women should support women.

She often heard from her parents: “Dear daughter, get rid of ‘blind’ work.” And from her friends she got the following message:” You cannot correct the wrong pattern (river flow).” 

As a personal project that will always be remembered, the association “Ruka + Ruci”, which for 18 years has been implementing projects that empower women in rural areas in the municipalities of Kosovo Polje and Gracanica Municipality, aiming to motivate them and involve them in taking a more active role in planning and realizing their own future in several fields. These are areas for education, for the preservation of general and reproductive health of women and youth, economic empowerment, inclusion in policy processes and protection against domestic violence. Through many projects, different groups of women were connected, they established dialogues and encouraged women to move and thus alter the existing situation in their community. She is proud because, together with other activists from the Serbian and Albanian communities (“Nas dom”, “Avenija”, “Luna”, “Open Door”, “Kalabria”, “Norma” …) contributed to the empowerment and improvement of basic human rights of women, reducing the impact of prejudices and stereotypes on the role of women in the family and community, connected different groups of women from the community and empowered communication and information exchange between women, members of various associations and groups from the municipalities of Gračanica, Kosovo Polje, Pristina, Novo Brdo and Vucitrn. She was in particular happy with the activities within the project related to:

– Educational workshops (health, politics, economy, violence, peace building …);

– Legal counseling for the protection of women against domestic violence;

– Education on the mobilization of women and advocacy for women to improve gender equality in society.

Particular pleasure (which provoked pride and gave evidence that something is changing) when women in the preventive medical examination gather in her environment (ultrasound examination of the breast, pap test, examination for diabetes, hypertension …), after advice and assistance for the protection against domestic violence, or at a workshop where they are informed about Kosovo laws.

It could be said that the stronger sex is still more and more widespread, and that women are still in the shadow of men – because of the patriarchal society, which is due to the gender division of roles in the family, especially in the villages. It notes the existence of a tendency to involve women slowly, uncertainly, fearfully in policy processes and decision-making. There are few, they believe, who are persistent and who have the support of family and community. Deeds in leading positions sees as a men’s privilege not only in politics, but also in management places, but concludes that, thanks to a 30% quota, leading positions are gradually and deserved being transferred to women’s hands. Although the statistical picture (taking into account the number of women and schedule in decision-making centers, representation in parliaments and executive organs of the parties, in managerial positions …) shows that women are still far from ideal social acceptability, they claim that they slowly conquer space to they will never be inferior monitors, but active participants in the social game. Therefore, she sees as a challenge a woman politician in Kosovo, as well as being a businesswoman or a recognized surgeon or programmer. 

The happiest moment during her activism was at one of the workshops for the prevention and protection of women against domestic violence. At one of the workshops in front of all the women, one participant stood up and said: “I told my husband that if he still shouted at me and threw objects at home, I would go to complain to the Ruka + Ruci. I also have my rights. “This statement gave her an impression of something to change, that work on the field is needed to encourage women to overcome significant obstacles in implementing basic rights.

The biggest problem encountered was the lack of a shelter for women victims of violence from minority communities. The saddest moment for her is when the victim of violence is placed in a shelter in Serbia. They spent together with her every moment of her violence and worries for the children she left to her family.

For centuries women lacked the courage and determination to initiate change. For centuries, this struggle, according to Nena, slowly strengthened certain women who contributed to living better today, such as Florence Nighthigeil, Mariah Kiri, Emelin Pankherst, Eleonora Roosevelt, who with their persistent work and talent changed the world. And the Women’s Association “Ruka + Ruci” in its strategy aims to empower women and young people in the process of changing the current situation. In this regard, they work in the community, individually and together, with the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) and associations. She believes that the consequences of the conflict are still felt and de facto reflected in terms of deterioration when it comes to coexistence and tolerance among members of the two constituent peoples of Kosovo (Albanians and Serbs). By gathering women and young people from different communities from rural areas, they want to promote cases of good practices and experiences in overcoming social conflicts between different communities, creating space for meeting and dialogue among them. Mobilized, empowered and informed women and young people will, she believes, have the opportunity to change the existing situation in the field of women’s rights, education, economy, politics and public action/ advocacy.

It is noted that for 18 years Kosovo has been developing as a country, infrastructure is being regulated, laws are being passed in line with EU standards, society is being built, but it’s not enough to develop awareness of gender equality among young girls and boys. The degree of isolation of young people from minority communities is high, especially those living in rural areas. Being trapped in a divided parallel education system, young Albanian and Serbian communities have limited opportunities for gathering and socializing. Young Serbian communities continue to face isolation because they do not connect much with government institutions, and as such their communication with services, politics and decision-making is limited. Language is also an obstacle to communication. In addition, the inherited exclusion, stereotypes and fear of being “different” from others are present in communities of different ethnic origin in Kosovo.

About 50% of Kosovo’s population is younger than 25 years of age and believes that young people in Kosovo should be encouraged to overcome significant obstacles to their basic rights. Young people living in rural areas have less chances of having access to quality education and health care, remain largely invisible because they do not have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes because central and local institutions still do not consider the development of young people as a priority. Therefore, her organization exists to launch initiatives and a new form of youth training – with incubators, advocacy training, training programs and other youth capacity building programs, to provide services and opportunities in order to reduce the negative impact of violence among young people, increase the possibility of socializing and mutual cooperation. Therefore, she emphasizes, it is necessary to support projects that will increase the community and active participation of young Albanians and Serbs who work together in a friendly working atmosphere. Changes from the routine daily way of life, into a relaxing environment where they spend time together, sees as an opportunity to strengthen their friendship, communicate, share and exchange views and attitudes through work and entertainment. Resolving could be through two key components:

– Promoting peace building through awareness of gender equality among young people in society;

– Establishing partnership relations, including active participation of young people in peacebuilding.

Her personal motto is: “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and when we become aware we cannot prevent the change” – Sheril Sandberg

As projects implemented by her and the organization she is working for, the main task of the Ruka + Ruci Association is to cooperate with decision-makers and provide support and assistance to women and children who are victims of violence in obtaining more adequate support. Their task is to gather women’s organizations and to promote with them the rights of women victims of violence and their children and to appeal to decision-makers to invest more in specialized support and assistance services for women victims of violence and their children in order to have a better level of protection of victims of domestic violence.