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Kosovo Women Face New Era

November 13, 1999

STUTICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Fate Ademi covered her face with her headscarf and wept as she hugged the pictures of her dead men.

The frail 69-year-old woman lost all six men of her extended family when Serb forces swept through her village in central Kosovo in April, burned down its 80 houses and executed at least 46 people.

Losing all one’s male relatives goes beyond grief in a village like Stutica, where horse carts haul hay down the muddy rutted paths and water is drawn by bucket. Women here who have never ventured beyond the walls marking a clan’s compound or made an independent decision face a stunning new way of life _ a life without men.

Many, like Ademi, plainly don’t know what to do. Thrust into the role of family matriarch, Ademi admits she is incapable of the task of supervising the 15 people who sleep in her one-room stone house.

``It will be hard until that one grows up,″ she said, pointing to her 12-year-old grandson, Esat. ``After that, he will take care of the family.″

Aid workers guess that thousands of women are in Ademi’s place _ so many that the impact of helping them deal with the war’s aftermath could forever alter the place of women in the province, human rights activists say.

``I don’t know what is going to happen, but something is going to change,″ said Diana Cana, a project assistant working on the Kosovo Women’s Initiative for Oxfam.

Nowhere is this social shift more evident than in Drenica, the central Kosovo region targeted by forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The poor, undeveloped countryside was a stronghold of ethnic Albanian militants that Milosevic tried to crush for 18 months before NATO peacekeepers entered the province in June.

Milosevic’s forces tried to root out the militants by wiping out entire communities if even one Kosovo Liberation Army soldier was found. Stutica had at least eight, sealing its destruction.

The war’s aftermath has women’s groups scrambling to fill the void for these and other women hard hit by the war. The U.N. refugee agency, funded by a $10 million U.S. grant, is overseeing a program that is setting up sites around the region for women to socialize and take courses in sewing, English and computer use.

The centers are meant to help them move away from the isolation of village life, learn job skills and speak to others undergoing similar trials. The Kosovo Women’s Initiative is also moving into projects to fill the financial void, such as a lending program for rudimentary business efforts.

Courses in property rights are planned. In more developed areas, sports such as judo and karate will be offered.

UNHCR _ the U.N. refugee agency _ has run similar programs in other areas hit by war, including one in nearby Bosnia. But women in Bosnia were generally more independent and better educated _ far ahead of the women of rural Kosovo, Cana said.

Despite the challenge, many groups sense opportunity _ a chance to give women more options for their future.

For now though, activists are traveling from village to village, telling women there is help and someplace to go. They will try to reach people like Ajshe Ademi, Ademi’s niece.

At 21 and the oldest of the clan’s eight children, Ajshe demonstrated she was making a tentative step toward responsibility at the mass funeral Nov. 7 where her father, two brothers, an uncle and a cousin were buried.

It was she who organized the pall bearers, took pictures and stepped forward to share her grief with reporters.

``We have to survive,″ she said. ``Somehow.″

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