One of the biggest shocks with moving to Kosovo was definitely to find out how little people know about birth control. I’ve met many young men and women in Pristina that have never heard about hormonal birth controls, such as the Intrauterine Device (IUD) or implant. I have even met people in Pristina that don’t know what the birth control pill is.
Speaking more in-depth about the subject with young people in Kosovo, local activists as well as reading statements made by experts in the field, I’ve come to realize that the women’s liberation movement, that took place in the West from the 1960s to the 1980s, hasn’t even begun to happen in Kosovo.
Which made me wonder, how far behind the West is Kosovo when it comes to sexual education and women’s rights to control their bodies and lives?
Around 100 years ago Margret Sanger started the reproductive rights movement in the United States. Sanger believed that “No woman can call herself free who doesn’t control her own body”.
Sanger eventually teamed up with Gregory Pincus and in 1960 their contraception- The birth control pill – was released on the market.
The Women’s Rights Movement 1960-1980
The development of the birth control pill and other contraception (such as the IUD) that was made accessible in 1960 drastically changed women’s lives in the West.
For the first time ever, women could start having sex without the fear of becoming pregnant and also control when to get pregnant – meaning controlling their own lives. Immediately this led to more women going to college and taking part in the workforce and economy.
The development of birth control was one of the most crucial parts of the women’s liberation movement that took place in the Western World between 1960-1980, which sought equal rights and opportunities and a greater freedom for women.
My Mothers Remembers The Youth Clinics In The 1970s
Sitting down with my mother asking her what the women’s rights movement from the 1960s to the 1980s meant for her growing up in Sweden. My mother who is born in 1960, starts by reminding me that she came from a strict family.
She couldn’t just bring home the boys she was dating like I have been doing since I was a teenager. They had to drop her off a few houses away from her parents’ house and she couldn’t stay out late when she was young.
Then she continues by talking about how she moved away from home to study in another city when she was 16 years old. During this time she and her friends started using the IUD or the pill to protect themselves from getting pregnant.
She emphasizes what an important role the Youth Clinics played in young people’s lives back then. The first Youth Clinic opened in Sweden in 1970 and was a place where young people could go to get professional counseling about birth control and sexual health.
She also brings up her old boyfriend from this time that usually came to visit her family, even if they had no intention of getting married.
Listening to her stories I can’t help thinking about the personal freedom my mother had as a 16-year old in Sweden during the 1970s, which was far greater than the freedom many of my adult female friends have in Kosovo today.
Sweden 100 Years Ago And Elise Ottesen-Jensen
During the conversation with my parents, my mother kept on coming back to Elise Ottesen-Jensen, a pioneer for sexual education who started her activism in the 1920s and founded Sweden’s Association for Sexuality Education (RFSL) in 1933.
Below is Elise Ottesen-Jensen and people demonstrating demanding sexual education in the sometime before 1955.
Ottar, as she was called, started something no one else was doing – publicly speaking about birth control – an activity that was illegal both in America and Sweden during this time.
This was also a time when many families in Sweden were poor and struggling with putting food on the table. Families could have 10-15 children and mothers would often die because they tried interventions that would stop more children from being born.
One of the most common questions Ottar got from women was “What do you think the rich women are doing so that they don’t get as many kids like us?”
Ottar traveled all over Sweden during the 1920s and 1930s, often chased by the police, educating people about sexual health and trying out diaphragms for women – a contraception that was used before the 1960s.
She also worked on a newspaper writing about unwanted pregnancies and a woman’s right to her own body. A victory for Ottar and her fellow activists was when sexual education became mandatory in schools in Sweden in 1955.
Below is a group of students being interviewed about the sexual education making jokes about how it was too shallow and short.
What About Reproductive Rights in Kosovo?
Looking at Kosovo it becomes clear that the rights that Margret Sanger and Elise Ottesen-Jensen started working for 100 years ago are still out of reach.
“Women take care of others in their families. They take care of their children, husband, husband’s parents, and their own parents. Women are educated to accept such a role and to consider themselves less important. In this way, women’s health and welfare remains the lowest priority.”
Women Get Slut-Shamed By Medical Professionals
Women in Kosovo often get slut-shamed by medical professionals when visiting pharmacies, gynecologists, and doctors. It’s common that gynecologists instead of asking women if they are sexually active, they ask if they are married.
I have a friend who was suffering from something we believed was a urinary tract infection (UTI), but she refused to visit the gynecologist due to her previous bad experiences.
Another friend told me that a pharmacist refused to sell her the morning pill. He treated her so badly, shamed her and laughed at her so that she left and had her boyfriend going in to buy it instead. That was not a problem.
Misinformation About Birth Control
Another woman I know went to the doctor to get help with her hormonal birth control. The doctor refused to help her and told her that she shouldn’t ruin her chances of getting pregnant or destroy her body with birth control. She had to go to a private clinic.
Gynecologist Hysa says that there is a myth about contraception, which claims that it can cause sterility. ”Girls say to me, ‘So I should protect myself and then be unable to get pregnant?’” Hysa reveals. “Another myth is that the coil causes cancer, which is just plain misinformation.”
Actions For Mothers And Children states that lack of information about comprehensive sexual education creates many myths.
Birth Control Is Still A Taboo Subject
As I posted a question on my Instagram story the other day asking people which birth control was the safest, a woman in her mid-20s answered me and asked me why I was talking about something so dirty.
One of my friends asked her friends what birth control she was using and it turned out to be nothing. She didn’t even understand why she would use a condom. She referred to the use of condoms as “strange”.
Most Popular Birth Control In Kosovo: The Pull-Out Method
According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics in a report produced together with UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and others, the most popular birth control is the pull-out method (51%). After that comes “No method at all”- which is used by a third of the population.
Shockingly only 5% use condoms, 2.7 use pill, 0% implant and 7.5% of women in total use some sort of hormonal birth control like the pill or the IUD. However, according to activists in the field, hormonal birth control is mostly used more by married women, not young single women.
The lack of use of contraception in Kosovo results in unwanted pregnancies. This becomes difficult for girls and women due to the stigma of abortion and lack of support from society.
Many young women are terrified of going to hospitals to make an abortion since they are afraid that their secret will become known within the community. Also due to institutional violence and slut-shaming.
Quickly going back to Ottar in the 1920s, while she was visiting Swedish villages, women shared the anxiety and fear they felt when having sex with their husbands. During this time, many women believed it was a woman’s duty to have sex with her husband whenever he wanted.
According to fellow activists, this is a culture that still today exists in the countryside of Kosovo. They claim that women have limited ownership of their own bodies, both when it comes to sex and choosing when to get pregnant.
Young brides are expected to get pregnant shortly after their marriage and some of them are not even allowed to use birth control by their husband or other family members.
Young Girls Having Anal Sex To Keep Their Virginity
A woman told me that her husband’s parents asked him after their marriage “Was she like she was supposed to be” – referring to her virginity.
One of the things that makes me most sad to hear about how young women in the countryside are often pressured to have anal sex to keep their virginity.
“Intimate-partner rape and violence; domestic violence for having sex outside of marriage or the person one shall marry; engaging in painful forms of sex for the sake of ‘keeping’ their virginity.”
No Sexual Education In Schools In Kosovo
I have a Swedish friend from Kosovo that recently told me she has a 16-year old cousin who recently contacted her to ask how many holes women have “down there”.
Shocking is also the fact that I’ve met so many young people in Pristina that have never heard about hormonal birth control. Adults and sometimes even health professionals don’t know the most basic things about birth control or reproductive rights that is being taught to school children in Sweden.
I also remember the traumatic experiences some of my teacher friends had in Kosovo when trying to teach sexual education in elementary school and high school. They were verbally attacked by their fellow teachers and told “This is not something we talk about in Kosovo”.
How Will People In Kosovo Learn About Birth Control In Kosovo?
So, with no sexual education in school and the taboo of the topic birth control in Kosovo society – How will people then learn about birth control and how will women Kosovo in start enjoying the same rights that were obtained by women in the West in the 1960s?
How will we support women in the rural areas and minority women that are marginalized, that don’t always have access to the internet, smartphones, and apps, and that are suffering the most from the lack of these basic human rights?
Is it with more tech solutions? Is it with mandatory sexual education? Would it be a good idea with Youth Clinics that helped young people with birth control and sexual health? Are there other solutions on the table?
Or is it just fine as it is?
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