A Life Reduced to Initials

A Life Reduced to Initials
12/10/2021

Alone, and scared, she prayed that the agony of hits and pain would end, that everything would just stop and she would fall asleep. That every thought, glance, and feeling for the one who at the end killed her, would disappear! None of us knows what happened in that apartment in Uroševac/Ferizaj, “within four walls,” because “it is a private matter”! These days, everyone is quick to condemn; she is the topic, the symbol of a life terminated due to negligence of the society, institutions, due to parenting based on twisted values, a result of the legacy that “women are born to suffer and give birth.” Not only that, even after giving birth, a woman should preach the same to those after her – to make sure she does not accidently have her voice heard, and, like the old rules in Afghanistan (which is a very hot topic these days), “that a woman should not make a noise, even when walking.”

She, in fact, does not walk; she hovers from the stove to the washing machine, with children’s care and upbringing entrusted only to her. She does not walk, she hovers to him because she never knows when she might be needed to receive a hit. It is not his day; he is drunk, dissatisfied with his failed life attempts to grow up, he is “tired…sleepless”, or simply and bluntly said, he is sick. She should dare not tell him that though, because even the ground must not be heard under her feet until he finishes, and she must wait with her head bowed while he “vents the stress,” waiting for another hit in fear, while children are behind her, and she defends them with her body. She can do it, she doesn’t know why, but she will endure.

She stands still while he hits her with fierce hatred, humiliating and swearing at her. She puts up with everything because, as they taught her, only by enduring this does she fulfills her life’s purpose. If by any chance she works, she skillfully covers bruises and stoically smiles at her colleagues, she spends her day as if she is the happiest person in the world. These are the colleagues and neighbors who will say to the media: “we really don’t know what happened; they were an incredibly harmonious couple.” She had to defend that harmony with her life because, in a society as patriarchal as the one in Kosovo, as a woman, you have an obligation to “preserve your marriage”, even at your own and your children’s expense.

For many years I was trying to understand how someone becomes an abuser; if you study their profiles, they are often quite different. There is no justification; I am just trying to understand how a person gives himself the right to hit, injure, kill someone. The only genuine answer is an illness, mental, psychological, or any other illness; nevertheless, it is an illness.

In this society, it is easier to accept that in 2020 we had 2,069 cases of domestic violence, mainly directed against women – wives, mothers, sisters, or acquaintances – while only in the first half of 2021, 1,132 cases were recorded. This is more acceptable than to say: in 2021, we had 1,132 mentally ill persons who were able to hurt someone generally much weaker than them. Those 1,132 people are on the streets of our towns and villages, stalking our children, abusing them, and taking their lives! Why? Because he is a man, and who dares stick such a label on him?! In truth, an abuser is just a coward, someone who hides his frustrations by inflicting pain on people weaker than himself.

Then, the most common question becomes the hypocritical one: why, why is this happening to us? We all know the answers, but we consciously ignore them as a society! There is no sincere respect for the other, love for the different, for life, people, animals, and everything that surrounds us. While chasing after privileges, money, and material gains, we forgot about the basic norms of morality and ethics. At the same time, upbringing is still rooted in twisted values. There is this common saying “she is to give birth; he is to protect”. But “gentlemen,” first protect us from yourselves.

In texts that abound in degrading advice on the obedience of women in order for the marriage to survive, the media continues to teach us “how to win his heart?”. TV shows legitimize the personality of a heartless, rude, and authoritative man who has the right to do anything because he is the “stronger sex’, psychological abuse continues to “sell well.” But who are the “buyers” of such content? Mostly those are the teenage girls who are taught that love is the same as instability, behind which, in TV shows at least, there is fun and a happy ending, while in real life, it ends with unhappiness and depression. All of us who did not report the violence we saw on the street are also responsible; even when they shout a sexist comment at us from the car, we bow our heads so as not to end up being blamed for “provoking him with our dress.” The most responsible of all, however, are the fathers and mothers, especially those who failed in the upbringing of male children.

I know, we will continue to talk about the absolute ban on all rights of women in Afghanistan, while as far at the murders and beatings of women in Kosovo are concerned, we will count the initials of victims. In the end of the year, we will sum them up and that is all they will be – numbers. As if those women, girls did not have dreams and desires, as if they did not leave behind a suitcase full of memories, childhood, as if they were not people, but empty bottles that someone threw by the roadside.

The biggest problem is institutional, because when a victim of violence turns to the police as the first link in the chain of protection from abusers, you might hear this sentence “well, it’s nothing, he just loves you; therefore he’s just a little jealous” – a friend confided to me when she reported psychological abuse by her partner. That is why all the condemnations of high officials that I see in the media seem to me a mockery of the victims and women for which there might still be hope.

I remember the story of JM from Gracanica, a mother of three who suffered physical abuse for years, and finally, with the help of good people, found the strength to escape from the abuser together with her children. She endured threats even after she left; even today, the police are probably her most frequent guests. It is a life of fear, disbelief, and pain.

If you decide to stay, even when there is a way out, you will become the very person who taught you wrong. It will become natural for you to consider a female child worthless because this is what they taught you all your life using the “most convincing methods” of fear and hits. You will become like your mothers, grandmothers, aunts, who told you that “the family should not be destroyed just like that” because it is sacred, even when it is miles away from that word. It is up to you not to teach your girls to allow others to exploit and humiliate them, as if they were goods exchanged for two meters of silk or a couple of camels. It is up to you, who give them life, to also give them the freedom to think and to live their life in harmony with themselves and with a person who will sincerely appreciate and respect them. And it will be up to him to hinder you in this, thus fight!

And if you are still young and insecure, in an environment that is entirely patriarchal, always look at the stories of women who managed to get out of the hell of violence and continued their lives. Of course, such continuation is never straightforward, but it can become beautiful, happy, and fulfilled. However, do not take risks; get an education because knowledge takes down all obstacles. With knowledge, my dear girl, you get an experience that will defend you from abusers, bad people, and the wrong company.

One thing is for sure; once he hits you, he will do it again. Therefore, bravely and with the help of sincere friends, family, and non-governmental organizations that truly deal with these issues, try to escape because the system cannot protect you yet. I know that no one will tell you this in public, because it is not popular, but you must understand that the system is the man, the system is the “men’s club” in which only the bravest will be able to provide you protection, but there are only a few of them, and they are very lonely. Regardless, because I know that you are brave, I appeal to you, if you see that someone is unstable, do not put up with it, but leave. Do not leave to your children a burden of the wrong teaching to suffer and be silent. Instead show them that a woman is not an object for fulfilling wishes or, a bag for receiving hits. There are plenty of us who will stand with you on the line against the abuser. We are everywhere. Do not forget that!

 

Within Kosovo Collective Op-Ed series

Opinions expressed in this oped series do not necessarily represent those of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (BTD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or the U.S. Government.

 The project is supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and USAID.

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MIlica Stojanović

Milica Stojanović Kostić graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy in Nis, Department of Journalism. Milica lives in Gračanica/Graçanicë and works as a correspondent for Radio Television Vojvodina and Ninamedia.

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