5000 Dresses Fill A Kosovo Soccer Stadium For Campaign Condemning Rape


The Kosovo War between that lasted from 28 February 1998 until 11 June 1999 saw the brutal ethnic cleansing of Albanians by the hand of Serbians. The armed forces of (what is formerly known as) Yugoslavia fought Albanian rebellions known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (after a long-standing conflict escalated into a full blown war). It was a conflict that has left a mark on Eastern Europeans to this day, even though it was 16 years ago.

One of the most horrific aspects of this war which isn’t discussed as much is a weapon unlike any other: rape. It is estimated by international organizations that as many as 20,000 women were raped during the war in detention centers, refugee convoys, in their own homes, along with their daughters and sisters. Many women stayed silent about their experiences, even to their own husbands. It is considered the worst kept secret of this war.

Even today there are women who fear speaking out about their ordeal in fear of being ostracized by conservative communities in Kosovo. It is an awful secret to have to keep hidden for so many years, which is why a new campaign to break the silence and give voice to the victims is important and well overdue.

Italian journalist and New School professor Anna Di Lellio teamed up with London-based artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa for the ‘Thinking of You’ campaign which took over Prishtina soccer stadium in Kosovo. The pitch has been filled with 5000 women’s dresses in a symbolic gesture to tell the world that it is time to “air the dirty laundry” of this conflict that women have been holding on to for far too long.


Kosovo’s president Atifete Jahjaga donated the first dress in May, and since then thousands of women across Kosovo and the world, including British singer Rita Ora (who was born in Kosovo) and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (who was in office during the war), donated dresses.

The Daily Mail reports that Kosovo didn’t introduce a law until 2014 to provide welfare and support for the victims of rape which shows what a huge burden these women have been bearing by themselves for the past 16 years.

I was lucky to be in London during the war and I always thought this could have happened to me as it happened to these women,” said artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa who was born in Kosovo.

“‘Thinking of You’ is about being as one, not them and us. We are one as women. If it happened to her, it could have happened to me,” she continued.

The decision to house the exhibit in a soccer stadium was intentional.

“It symbolizes a man’s world: Sweat, anger, shouts, adrenaline,” she said, adding that the idea of being “boxed” in in an enclosed area is additionally symbolic of what rape feels like.

In an interview with Women In The World, Anna Di Lellio says after the war most of society was focused on rebuilding and surviving, and what dominated narrative was the heroism of the KLA.


“They were fighters who sacrificed and fought, but there were also hundreds of thousands of civilians who suffered. And their suffering has never really been dealt with. There’s not much talk about it in society. They’ve forgotten what happened here. The women were the last to be talked about, because it is an intimate and delicate issue,” she said.

She continued to talk about how they thought the campaign would be ignored by many but they were surprised by the reaction from communities in Kosovo, even some very conservative ones.

“There is an Islamic party here called “The Party of Justice,” and they came as a group and donated dresses. Dresses were even donated from an office in the north of Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly Serbian. I was really impressed,” she said.

Their statement with ‘Thinking of You’ is not just about telling the world of the atrocities of warzone rape, but to also let victims know they have allies.

“What they want is recognition, and not to have to hide or feel ashamed, but that’s how they’ve been feeling. From the point of view of survivors, we hear that this has made people talk about something that they’ve been keeping secret. The other thing is the impact of the size of it. The number of women who were raped during the war, provokes a really strong emotional reaction,” said Anna.


There is increased visibility and knowledge about the long-lasting effects of rape in conflict zones and new laws are constantly being made in order to prosecute attackers and better serve victims who have previously had no form of advocacy or retribution. But part of receiving the help they need means the victims have to be brave enough to speak up, which is why campaigns like this are helping in monumental ways.

“In order for victims to receive a pension, they need to say that they’ve been raped. Many don’t want to say it. Sometimes their families know. Many times they were raped in front of their families, but they don’t want the village to know, especially in rural areas. It’s important thought that society accepts these women, and starts talking about it…there is a lot of trauma that hasn’t been dealt with.”

The initiative is sparking conversations in a way that is breaking down stigma for women. It is often said that it is more dangerous to be a woman, than a soldier, in a conflict zone, which gives you an idea of the grave danger women face during war.

In 2014 actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie co-chaired a summit in London called ‘End Sexual Violence In Conflict’ which was the first of its kind ever held around the world.


“It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There’s nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power,” she said in a speech at the summit, urging world leaders and NGOs to not ignore the problem any longer.

It is a sign that the world is now starting to recognize this not just as a small issue that only affects 50% of the population, but an epidemic that will take all people in positions of power to advocate for victims. This is a humanitarian and a family issue, not just a women’s issue.

One of the Albanian men who saw most of his family slaughtered during the war told both Anna and Alketa he admires what they are doing for the women who suffered in Kosovo.

“It is about time we think of our sisters and mothers, wives,” he said in a show of solidarity.

The women are in talks to make the campaign a permanent installation in Pristina, but also want to take ‘Thinking of You’ to other areas where women have been victims of rape and violence in war, but their voices have been drowned out over time.

Even if there are women who still don’t feel comfortable speaking out, there are now many more who will, and thousands of dresses handing on clothes line in a stadium who also bear the scars publicly. This clothing item below says: “This skirt carries a hidden story from spring 1998.”




One Comment

  1. Pingback: UN Spokeswoman Calls For Int'l Treaty Condemning Gender Violence To Keep Countries Accountable - GirlTalkHQ

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.