Workshop 5


Women’s Peace Policies and Resistance to War and Nationalism

Although this workshop was envisioned as defining specific forms of women’s resistance, as it is often the case in women’s gatherings opened to exploration of one’s own policies and strategies, it turned into a discussion about the importance of personal experiences of nationalism and chauvinism, as well as becoming aware of mostly subconscious, mechanical reactions to certain situations. It was important to remember concrete events, i.e. personal discriminatory or chauvinist behaviour and to become aware of them. 

Participants, divided into smaller groups, told their own stories. They agreed on the importance of personal friendships in breaking the myth about the other group, and understanding concrete situations of individuals, and afterwards, collective situations. During the war, there was individual name-calling in the spirit of the dominant collective blame placing, even among women’s groups’ activists, and feminists. Sometimes, this resulted in collective blame shifting among groups. One can easily explain this in the context of peer-pressure that under the influence of wartime propaganda rejected all attitudes and interpretations of war that differed from those that (con) formed the ruling public opinion. On the other hand, conference participants noted certain taboo topics in their own ranks, which made communication among women’s groups and individuals even more difficult.  

As examples of war and surroundings related, subconscious reactions, participants noted subconscious discrimination of victims based on their ethnicity. (“Our women had it worse than other war violence victims”). To get even women from feminist groups to totally accept the equality of all victims of war violence, and the impropriety of discriminating against victims according to their ethnicity, required consistent working on oneself and total openness to others’ experiences. A contrary example was the conviction that bigger war victims were always “the other women” (for example, the conviction that Bosnian women were bigger victims than “domestic” women were, because the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was much worse), again, unjustly and inappropriately discriminating against victims (for example “women from Bosnia-Herzegovina had it worse than Serb women refugees from Kosovo). Another example is unconscious prejudices toward certain groups (for example Roma women, “southerners” or “balijas” – pejorative word form Muslims) which the activists needed to become aware of and eliminate. These and similar examples emphasized the importance of deconstructing attitudes conditioned by surroundings and propaganda, as well as personal prejudices of each participant. 

Participants noted the following examples of subconscious prejudices and discrimination from personal experiences:

  • Dividing victims into “ours” and “theirs” (”Our women had it worse than others” or an interesting example of reversed discrimination, i.e. validation which the participants interpreted as “hyper identification” with a certain group and exclusive criticisms of their own group or even denying belonging to that group due to discomfort that “own nation” is causing through its actions.
  • Nationalistic stereotypes as the most frequent reaction to provocation.
  • Construction of national identities in correlation and in the manner of defining differences with the other, which sometimes has hierarchal identities as a consequence. 
  • Tabooization of discussions about identities: many women refused to recognize personal differences during the war, from fear of falling into the trap of chauvinist discourse.
  • Different perceptions of war with regard to surrounding, upbringing, personal life experiences, which could have had a positive or negative influence on the belief about personal national identity or that of others, etc.