Feminist Leaders Profiles

photo: Zofia Lapniewska, Brussels 2004

2005-09-20 13:36:40 / News read 2889 reading
Form September on the NEWW-Polska web sites and our newsletters we would present you the profiles of world feminist movement liders with the interviews given especially to our portal. The first person is the President of the Women’s Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Serbia & Montenegro: Mirjana Dokmanovic.

Zofia Lapniewska, NEWW: You are an international lawyer, journalist, researcher and lecturer on human rights and women’s rights, as well as the President of the Women’s Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Serbia & Montenegro. How you became interested in women and human rights topics?

Mirjana Dokmanovic: Human rights attracted me as an issue to be in focus of my professional attention during my studies of law. In that time there was no word on women’s rights in the legal curricula. In the previous socialist period it was widely considered that gender equality was fully achieved, and that women gained all rights equal to men in all spheres of the public life. Of course, the reality was very different from the official policy attitude, but the women’s studies and gender studies have started to develop and widespread the country not before 1990s. After being included in the foundation the Women’s Studies Center in my town and the participation the international Human Rights Leadership Training for Women organized in CEE/NIS region in 1998-1999, I began to deepen inquiry on women’s position in society, and to integrate gender perspective in each field of my work and each project I developed. This method resulted in getting very new and very different dimension than widely accepted before of every each component of a society, and a society as a whole. Including law, international law, economy, public policy, etc. and including the human rights concept itself. All traditional theories and concepts in the social sciences were drafted and developed by men; due the traditional gender roles in the society, women were excluded from the process; as a result, we have social sciences perpetuated in our educational systems that do not reflect the reality in the society. As a result, we have policies that do not pay attention to the needs and concerns of a half of a population. As a result, we have policies that do not correspond to the concerns and needs of the majority of human beings, both male and female. For me, it is a challenge to connect my research in social sciences with policy proposals aimed at social changes.

ZL,NEWW: Could you draw picture of women’s situation in Serbia and Montenegro? Did Balkan conflicts had strong influence on women? Especially Muslims?

MD: The Balkans conflicts negatively influenced the whole population in the region. Those parts that stayed out from the armed conflicts suffered from the economic isolation and the NATO bombardment, resulted in the impoverishment, and increased child and maternal mortality rates. Everywhere women were those who carried the heaviest burdens of the situation in the region: they consist the majority of refugees and displaced persons, they suffered from rape, trafficking and abusing during the conflicts, and they are still not visible enough as victims, if we not count the reports and studies of women’s groups. Economic transition to the market economy followed by the shrinkage of the economic and social rights gained in the previous socialist period also attacked women. Due to high level of bankruptcy and privatisation of state-owned and socially-owned firms, many workers lost jobs, majority of them being women. They are now facing the discrimination during the employment, especially women over 40. They have almost no chance to find a job, disregarding their skills and level of education. Many women who experienced the transition in this negative way approached our office asking for legal aid. Unfortunately, we still do not have the Law against Discrimination. The antidiscriminatory clause is introduced in the new Labour Law, but still there is no enforcement mechanism, while labour inspections are weak.
Weak labour legislation, weak control mechanisms, weak trade unions, no corporate responsibilities and high level of unemployment contributed to increased personal, economic and social insecurity. Many women enter to the informal sector staying without any security and paid pension and social security scheme, just because of their need to secure a source of income for their families. The cuts of budgetary allocations for education, health care, child care and social services also hit women. They are now forced to produce more unpaid work at home and to take care about children, elder, ill members of a family. Their removal from the public sphere is especially visible in the political field. Although due to the advocacy efforts of women’s groups quotas are introduced, only 11% of members of the Parliament are women, there are only few women in the government, and there are local municipalities with no female members of executive councils. Women are also excluded from the negotiation processes in resolving conflicts in the Balkans in the past 15 years. The re-patriarchalisation of the society is now the biggest threat not only to the women’s status and human rights issues in the region, but to peace and development – the society that nourish the power imbalance that favours only ‘pater familias’ (in a family, company, political party, trade union, State…) and tolerates discrimination and violence against women, is the society that favours only the powerful and tolerates discrimination and violence against all the others (ethnic groups, nations, States, …).

ZL, NEWW: Can you tell me something about your organization? Right now you are more oriented on women’s economic and social rights in the context of privatization and globalization. What was the reason of choosing this direction?

MD: All the countries in the Balkans are now in the path of transition to the market economy shaped by the neoliberal economic policy, the same one that drives the global macroeconomic agenda. And this is the same patriarchal agenda, which consequences I described above. These “nus-products” of the macro economic neoliberal policy are same everywhere in the world where it takes place. I witnessed a lot of evidences presented by experts, women’s groups and NGOs from all the parts of the world during participation at the World Social Forum, European Social Forum, the Feminist sections of the ATTAC, etc. The economic policy is also linked with the geopolitics and issues of international/regional security. Dealing with the conflicts, human rights issues, and how to increase civil participation in the policy during the 1990s, led me to inquiry the link between politics and economy, both on the national and international level, and the impact of this interrelation on human rights/women’s rights.
As I consider that the education, information and motivation of people are the key factors for developing social changes, I oriented the activities of the organisation in that direction. We organised courses, seminars, training aimed at human rights education of the youth and women in trade unions, NGOs, political parties, media…We try to inform and educate them on newly adopted laws that shape their rights, to introduce new strategies for achieving gender equality as gender sensitive budgets, to make and publish research. We also try to help women in need, discriminated at work or in the labour market, by providing them free legal assistance. We organise meeting places for exchange of ideas, experiences and practices, as it was the international conference on transition, privatisation and women in 2002… Few months ago I have established a virtual “meeting place” at the Internet aimed at spreading information, and knowledge on these issues. This is the online Journal on Political Theory and Research on Globalisation, Development and Gender (at the address The idea was to set up the bridge between the English spoken community and South Slovenic languages spoken region. As a lot of significant research and papers on these issues are published in English, and therefore they are not available for the readers who are not familiar with English, I try to fill this gap by translating them to Serbian. In this way, a number of research papers produced by Women in Development Europe, AWID, NEWW, etc. will be introduced to women in the region. I remember that one of the conclusions of the first NEWW Economy Literacy Conference held in Krakow in 2002 was that the economic literacy of women in the CEE/SEE/NIS would be increased by the exchange of research and translation of the literature to the national languages. It is also about the sharing information on various political options. Countries in the Balkans could learn a lot from the good and bad experiences of the Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, and other countries that have already passed the most painful part of the transition. Why to repeat mistakes of others? Why not to learn from the best practices? And, all together, why not shape the development road together? Is the profit-oriented market economy the best economy that is possible of all? What kind of a society we want to live in?

ZL, NEWW: What are your plans for the future?

I’ll continue to work on the Journal and to try to publish printed versions periodically, and to work on developing new concepts into the projects, as gender sensitive budgets and human rights approach to development. I have a lot of ideas. For me, the most important is to put questions, to re-think the issues, and to provoke others to do that, too.

by Zofia Lapniewska
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