“Seeing so many unempowered people has always driven me to combat discrimination, advocate for human rights and try to make positive changes for the LGBTIQ+ community” – Meet Rajmonda Sylbije, Program Director for the Center for Social Group Development

17 May

With a positive outlook on life and things we can change, despite the challenges she faces daily, Rajmonda Sylbije, Program Director for the Center for Social Group Development, drives our conversation with a promising outlook on the future.

Coming from a diverse background herself, Rajmonda has been advocating for human rights even before she knew what activism is.

“I’ve been a volunteer activist since 2006 which has directly impacted my willingness and desire to work and promote human rights on behalf of one of the most vulnerable groups living in Kosovo. As a child of a mixed marriage, I was very little when I had to take a stand. Because of who I was and due to the political situation at that time, somehow I had to defend something that I even didn’t fully know what it was and why I had to defend it. So, this is why I think that the activist part of my brain has started being developed unconsciously from a very early time of my life,” Rajmonda explains.

After she moved from Prizren to Pristina to finalise her university studies, she met a very vibrant group of people who were advocating for LGBTIQ+ rights. She started taking part in many advocacy groups’ activities and exchange of experiences between Pristina and Belgrade, and what struck her about the uniqueness of this community was that they were also tackling issues of dealing with the past, something that Rajmonda viewed as an additional asset: “Seeing so many unempowered people, discovering such a hidden life, a parallel world in Pristina, made me realize how difficult life is for a certain group of people. I think that I was fortuitously put in a place which led me to a nice path in my life where I can contribute to a great cause,” says Rajmonda while recalling the beginnings of her days as a passionate activist.

Despite many positive developments, however, Rajmonda tells us that there are still many challenges that this community faces in Kosovo: “There are some improvements but there are things that have been on a standstill for the last 10 to 15 years. In the one hand we publicly speak about important things like same sex unions and changing the Civil Code, but on the other hand, when you work directly with the community, you see that actually the challenges remain the same. One of the main issues which remains pressing is domestic violence and sheltering issues for LGBTIQ persons. We have so many people coming to us who need to be sheltered, but, unfortunately, up till now this issue has not been resolved.”

Rajomnda points out that, even though the trust in the law enforcement agencies exists, there is still the fear of being exposed, the fear of uncertainty on what will happen next: “Historically, not many cases of domestic violence and hate crime against LGBTIQ+ people have gone to courts. Victims would give up or get discouraged from often too complicated proceedings involved along the way.”

Cooperation with the Kosovo Police is also stable and active. Rajmonda explains that CSGD has done many trainings with the KP on a national level on how to treat cases of where victims were targeted because of gender identity or sexual orientation.

To be the Program Director for the Center for Social Group Development (CSGD), one of the main organizations in Kosovo that leads and promotes protection of LGBTIQ+ rights, gives Rajmonda the opportunity to work on a cause she deeply believes in, being able to directly support the LGBTIQ+.

CSGD offers both and online and offline platform dedicated to the LGBTIQ+ community that provides necessary information and services of free legal aid and psychological sessions: “We have legal experts who are contracted by us in cooperation with the Free Legal Aid Agency; we can also direct persons who contact us to our psychologists or psychiatrists, depending on the need.”

CSGD provides approximately 1,000 psycho-social sessions per year to people who contact them directly.  Moreover, the organization also provides free testing for beneficiaries, which aims to implement the HIV prevention programme, thus contributing to the overall well-being of the beneficiaries.

“The entire process of consultation and the help that a person needs is highly confidential to ensure that each person’s privacy and data are protected,” stresses Rajmonda.

A multidimensional approach of the organization has been key to many of their successes. In particular, awareness raising about the LGBTIQ+ rights among the general population has been a very important component of the work done by Rajmonda and her colleague activists: “We constantly do advocacy and lobbying within Kosovo institutions and as a movement we have achieved to be very vocal about the draft Civil Code and clear that we will not allow unconstitutional approaches towards us. I think that throughout the years the civil society got much stronger and having a strong and professional stand in these times is crucial.”

According to Rajmonda, Kosovo is still facing many obstacles in guaranteeing inclusion and equal rights for all communities. "Some factors that could ease these challenges would be changes such as the final adoption of Legal Gender Recognition Law, the alleviation of double discrimination such as cases of queer women and trans persons; the provision of shelter for LGBTIQ+ victims of domestic violence; and a higher harmonisation in the criminal justice chain when it comes to categorization of hate crimes against the LGBTIQ+ community,” she states.

At a national level, apart from the cooperation with the Free Legal Aid Agency, CSGD is a part of the Advisory and Coordination Group, which is led by the Office of Good Governance, within the Prime Minister’s Office. Until today, the activities of this Group have resulted in a couple of awareness raising campaigns and trainings on matters concerning the LGBTIQ+ Community and human rights.

Having in mind the powerful role of media in driving and creating certain narratives, Rajmonda expresses that there is slight positive change in how media report and write about issues that concern this community: “A few years back issues that concerned the LGBTIQ+ community were treated in a sensationalist manner without considering potential consequences. The reporting has improved in terms of the terminology that is being used, however, there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of content and of what type of information is being served to the general population by the media,” highlights Rajmonda.

Conclusively, when it comes to advocating and working for human rights, for LGBTIQ+ rights, Rajmonda emphasizes that every day is the right day to do it: “The time is now. I’ve seen so many close friends and activists leave Kosovo. We do not have the luxury to wait for the ideal moment, we need to be ready, very fast and professional when it comes to provide legal advice and support and to monitor the changes that need to happen at legislative level in order to support LGBTIQ+ rights.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the person/s interviewed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official position of EULEX Kosovo.