Workshop 3


Feminist Approach to Psychosocial Work in War

Workshop participants emphasized the following forms and specific experiences of feminist work and engagement with women who suffered war related trauma:

  • Practical assistance - distributing humanitarian aid and money, ensuring accommodation, clothes, food, help with obtaining documents, information, assistance in solving legal, health related problems.
  • Psychological assistance - SOS telephone lines, personal counselling, various methods of therapeutic work with the aim to provide support and empowering women and young people to regain control of their lives. Education consisting of training and workshops for professional retraining and qualifying for work, training activists themselves, training and workshops for representatives of institutions, training for non-violent communication, educating NGO activists.
  • Health services - for example organizing free check-ups for women without social security, mediating between women and hospitals or Ministry of Health, cooperation with the Croatian Employment Bureau, health facilities and individual physicians, preventive education, etc.
  • Public work/lobbying through cooperation and networking with competent institutions for women refugees and displaced persons, organizing public meetings, round tables and other forms of public statements about problems related to refugees and displaced persons, with an emphasis on defying prejudice, organizing conferences, “street” actions.

According to the workshop participants, the most important characteristics and experiences of feminist approach to psychosocial work in war were: 

  • Enthusiasm (not giving up).
  • An integral approach.
  • Emphasis on confidence building, believing women’s stories and belief in their strength.
  • Honest, friendly approach which in itself has a therapeutic effect.
  • Non-hierarchal approach and spontaneous sharing of personal experiences.
  • Empowering women for choice and (re)gaining control of their own lives.
  • Transparency, understanding, but also awareness of own limitations.
  • Restraint in judging others’ experiences and choices.
  • Avoiding manipulation with women’s stories for sensationalistic or political purposes.

At the end, participants singled out the holistic, non-formal approach to every individual, i.e. an approach unburdened by bureaucracy, as well as anonymity. Furthermore, continuous self-improvement, constant rethinking, additional training and education. Another advantage was a permanently open possibility for further cooperation with every traumatized woman by, for example, including her in the activities of a women’s group, her laic or professional contribution to the group, etc. In relation to this, experience taught us that professional background is useful, but lack thereof has its advantages as well. The possibility to influence political and social change by lobbying, public statements and the like was of extreme importance.

These forms of feminist activism were, and still are, encountering the following problems: personal existence depending on paid work, as well as implementation of specific projects, fighting with institutions, resistance of the community, inconsistencies in applying democratic/feminist principles in own organizations, clients becoming completely dependent, political obstacles.