Kosovo European project

EVA Cooperative, a history of integration between ethnic groups and economic development

In 2015, the European Action of Women in Agri-Business project provided funds for the construction of 12 pig breeding sheds for the families of six Albanian and six Serbian women.
Ethnic Albanian and Serb women managed to find a common language and overturn gender stereotypes when they started their own female-run meat-processing plant in a little town in Kosovo.

“When I first came to Klina in Kosovo, there was no job, above all for women, who were mostly unemployed.”

Tatjana Ilic is a Serb woman from Pristina who during the war in Kosovo moved to to Kragujevac, in Serbia.

Many years afterwards, she decided to come back to Kosovo, to Vidanje, her husband’s village located on the hills near Klina, a little town of about 37,000 inhabitants, 90 per cent of whom are ethnic Albanians.

Being already in her forties, Tatjana did not expect that she could find a new life, new energy and even a new job in a country where the employment rate among women, according to 2016 data from Kosovo’s statistical agency, was extremely low at 12.7 per cent.

For a Serb returnee like Tatjana, difficulties were not only related to the lack of job, but also to everyday life, as she did not speak Albanian.

In fact, according to unofficial estimates, in the municipality of Klina there are only about 500 Serbs, who live mainly in the villages.

“I had difficulties in communication and I missed social gatherings,” Tatjana told BIRN, remembering her first days back in Kosovo.

However, what turned Tatjana’s life perspective around was Indira, a local multi-ethnic non-governmental organisation that since 2006 has been bringing together women from the Albanian, Serb and Roma communities.

Thanks to Indira, women from different ethnic groups had a place where they could gather, talk and set up a small business based on selling handcrafted products they created.

In 2012,Indira’s women decided to take a step forward and to upgrade their collective business ambitions, creating something completely new for Klina – a pork meat processing plant.

Compared to the other parts of Kosovo, where Islam is the predominant religion, in Klina there is a significant Catholic community – about 20 per cent of the Albanian population – and therefore there are consumers for pork.

“The idea came out by the fact that there was no pork meat plant in the municipality of Klina and since we all have long experience in breeding pigs, we thought this could be a successful project,” said Nevenka, a 46-year-old woman from Klina and a member of the Indira association.

Support for the Indira women’s initiative came from Reggio Terzo Mondo (RTM), an Italian NGO that has been working in Kosovo since 1999 on economic and social development projects. RTM offered them its experience and know-how in implementing the project.

RTM has long experience in the region – as well as in different countries of the world – and since the end of the war in Kosovo it has been focusing on projects for economic empowerment in rural areas.

“In 2012, we were celebrating the opening of a cheese factory in Klina, when a small delegation of women from Indira association approached me expressing their wish to develop their business idea with our support,” said Nicola Battistella, RTM’s country reresentative in Kosovo.

In 2015, the Action of Women in Agri-Business for a new Regional Economy project provided the funds for the construction of 12 sheds for pig-breeding for the families of six Albanian and six Serb women, members of the Indira association.

Together with the sheds, it funded the building and equipping of a modern, small-scale plant for slaughtering pigs and processing their meat.

At the end of 2015, the Cooperative Eva was finally registered and in May 2016, it started producing pork meat.

“Thanks to the European Union and RTM, we have a bigger shed. While before we could have only two pigs, one for us and one to be sold, now we can breed more pigs that we will eventually sell to the cooperative,” said Tone Gjergjaj, a 46-year-old Albanian woman from Klina, who is also the vice-president of Eva.

The 12 participating families breed and sell their pigs to the plant in exchange for a fixed price per kilogramme; after slaughtering the pigs, the two workers on shift process the meat, and finally they sell it in the plant’s butcher’s shop.

“I must be honest, at the beginning we were not very optimistic, because women here usually work at home and we could not believe that this plant was going to be realised. However, when the plant finally opened, we understood we were going toward a better future,” said Nevenka, who works at the butcher’s shop.

Its customers are both Albanian and Serbs from the surrounding villages. According to estimate by Cooperative Eva’s workers, apart from the many restaurants in the Klina municipality that Eva supplies the meat, the majority of clients are local people from both communities.

Cooperative Eva has surmounted a double challenge, as it has connected members from different ethnic communities through the establishment of a business led only by women, in a place where both things are unusual.

“We are all aware of what happened in the past between us, but here we don’t talk about the war and we get along with each other not like colleagues but rather like sisters,” said Tone.

Working shifts always respect ethnic balance, and when asked which the working language at the plant is, all Eva’s women smiled and agreed in saying that is both a funny element of their everyday working life because of linuistic misunderstandings, but also a stimulus for learning the other’s language.

“When I began working here, I did not understand a word of Serbian language, but day by day, little by little, I learned to speak Serbian and we now perfectly understand each other at work,” said Rexijna, a 38-year-old who moved to Klina from Puke in Albania and now works at the cooperative.

Thanks to the AWARE project, it seems that for Eva’s women, ethnicity belonging is no more a dividing factor but rather their strength. The project has empowered them first as women, in a country that still has a strong patriarchal set of values, according to which women are mainly seen as housewives who only have to take care of children.

According to Alberto Sartori, a junior officer at RTM who followed the implementation of the project, the reconciliation process is really effective when it is based on concrete activities.

“We helped the women from this village to help each other and to develop their own business, according to their own standards and will,” said Sartori.

“The base of their success is their will to answer to local needs, as well as their will to be present in the public life, because they demonstrate to be the actors of an economic development from the bottom completely lead by women, in a place where this is all but expected,” he added.

The real challenge for Eva’s women now will be to be competitive in a market in which there are few consumers of pork and whose needs are mainly supplied by big meat suppliers from neighbouring countries.

However, they seem ready to face this challenge, certain that their story could represent a model for all women.

Tatjana offered this message to women everywhere: “Be brave, be strong, take a step forward and work in a multi-ethnic environment, because even if it looks like a challenge, this is something really beautiful.”

Adapted from Balkan Insignt, Matteo Tacconi and Giorgio Fruscione, March 9, 2018

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published on 2019/12/12 01:00:00 GMT+2 last modified 2019-12-12T14:06:10+02:00

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