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A haven for abused women in Kosovo

Domestic violence, long treated as a criminal offense in the US, is still seen as a private affair here.

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Avoiding eye contact and unsuccessfully fighting back tears, Fatmire describes a home life not uncommon in rural Kosovo.

Her father, an alcoholic, allowed her to attend school for only two years and would forbid her from leaving the house even to meet a male cousin. When his abusiveness escalated, finally culminating in the death of her mother, she went to the only place where she knew she would be safe.

She went to Liria.

Kosovo's only women's shelter, founded in 1999, is symbolic of the sweeping cultural and social changes brought on by the presence of KFOR, the international peacekeeping force that arrived at the end of Kosovo's civil war. But pervasive traditionalist thinking about women's rights and a lack of support from local officials has made it difficult for the Liria Center for the Protection and Rehabilitation of Women - based here in Gjilan, Kosovo - to prosper.

"This is a challenge for them," says Nazife Jonuzi, director of the center, speaking of Kosovar men. "I don't think they accept change that easily." While the US has treated domestic violence as a criminal offense for more than two decades, in Kosovo it is still considered by many to be a private affair that must remain within the family.

Liria's assistant director, Shahadije Rexhepi, even goes so far as to say that "according to our unwritten laws it's not very tragic for women to be beaten by a husband or brother." Such attitudes threaten not only the lives of Kosovar women, but also the work that is being done to protect them.

"I was looking for a way to help the position of women and give them more rights," Ms. Jonuzi says, explaining why she and several other women founded Liria. "We didn't even know shelters should exist because no one dealt with this issue."

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