Women’s rights activist Indira Kajosevic described her work with survivors of rape in the former Yugoslavia Monday afternoon at a Branford College Master’s Tea.
Kajosevic, coordinator of the international NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, spoke as part of the Yale Amnesty International chapter’s monthlong focus on women’s rights. She described her work with rape victims, as well as her upbringing in Montenegro, where she saw many women struggle and commit suicide in a “really tough patriarchal environment.” Those experiences inspired a career helping women and working to improve conditions and laws protecting women, she said.
“I was not confused by the reality of what was happening but by how to possibly better the situation,” Kajosevic said.
Kajosevic said there are approximately 200 female activist groups in the former Yugoslavia, creating an optimistic network for recognition and change. Despite the increased constitutional rights women in that area have secured since the war, women still do not have equal social status or necessary human rights, Kajosevic said.
During her many years of activism, Kajosevic said she found that women rarely speak out against rape and are often treated as property.
She recalled incidents when she transcribed the words of victimized village women, who would say, “He took ownership of me,” instead of using the word “rape.”
Despite the bleakness of the issue, Kajosevic described “joyful” meetings for women in the former Yugoslavia who have been mistreated.
“It does not sound like a discussion of human rights. A cathartic atmosphere is brought to these meetings,” Kajosevic said.
Throughout her talk, Kajosevic also spoke positively.
When Branford Master Steven Smith questioned how she could manage to keep a positive view despite the atrocities she deals with, she explained, “Some people are born to see good things.”
She later added, “being involved helps a lot,” referring to her work with several women’s rights groups in New York City. She said her work has helped turn her confusion into activism since her first confrontation with the issue.
Approximately 20 students — 19 of them women –attended the talk.
Amnesty Student Coordinator Don Phan ’05, the lone male in attendance, said it was important for students to learn about women’s rights.
Tomorrow night at 8 p.m., Amnesty International plans hold a candlelight vigil at the Women’s Table about the mistreatment of women, Amnesty Student Coordinator Pamela Boykoff ’04 said. Earlier this month the group hosted a talk by Connie Chow, North East Representative to Amnesty International’s Women’s Steering Committee. Last month, Amnesty held a write-in for women’s rights.
Boykoff is a production and design editor for the Yale Daily News.