On the occasion of March 8th, 2003, Women in Black, together with Women’s Studies and Filonus, the Students’ Association of the Philosophy department of Belgrade University, organized an international conference in Belgrade (on March 7th, 8th and 9th), entitled “Let us globalize solidarity and social justice”, as well as many other activities, involving more than 100 women from Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. At this conference, we agreed to organize activities marking the 8th of March every year. In accordance with our policy of decentralized activities, mutual support and solidarity, it was agreed that Women in Black, Belgrade and the Women’s Center, Leskovac will organize all activities for the occasion of March 8th 2004, with Leskovac being the center of activities, with the full support and cooperation of the women’s peace network.
The topic of this year’s conference is the relation between women and power, entitled “A different kind of power is possible”. The very title emphasizes the complexity of this issue. However, we are not going to dwell exclusively on criticism or the negative, destructive factors of power as the dominant form and way of exercising power. We wish to develop a different kind of power, both regarding its content, structure, manner of implementation as well as regarding the meaning of power to women.
Let us start with the negative factors of power:
The imbalance of power between men and women is a universal phenomenon. It is also a notorious fact in our country. It is well known that the dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milosevic was toppled owing to the intermittent efforts of the entire civilian society, a very active part of which is the women’s movement. However, even after the shift of power on October 5th, 2000 a markedly patriarchal system, a system of gender imbalance, has remained virtually intact—which was blatantly revealed in the election held on December 28th, 2003. This power discrepancy is manifested in numerous ways, by means of versatile elements and facts, some of which will be mentioned here:
· The feminization of poverty is ever-increasing: the number of women who are being made redundant is constantly rising; women bore the bulk of the burden of international sanctions and are currently bearing the heaviest burden of transition.
· Ultra-conservative, retrograde tendencies of nationalistic and chauvinistic, and even of fascistic character are spreading; the influence of the Church (primarily the Serbian Orthodox Church) on the political sphere, the educational system and other spheres of social life is mounting, with women being the most affected.
· Following parliamentary elections in Serbia (on December 28th, 2003), the number of elected women in the National Assembly of Serbia is lower than expected (12% or 30 women deputies).
· Not even the formal requirements have been met – mechanisms ensuring gender equality have not been established, nor have all the political parties of democratic orientation accepted the 30% quota for women.
· Women exist as ornaments in places of institutional political power; in spite of the fact that during the periods of transitional crises women were given important functions, real power lies with the party centers of power, which are controlled by men.
· The women who came to power did not fulfill the electorate’s expectations, not only because of their low percentages in places of institutional political power, but above all, because the vast majority of women in these position pursue their policies in a patriarchal manner: instead of acting on the behalf of all women and all those with low economic and social power, women politicians mainly serve the interests of their parties.
· There are no quality relations between the women in places of institutional political power and women activists in the civil sector, with cooperation on equal footing being the exception rather than rule.
Therefore, the women – as well as the men – who are not part of institutional power (political, economic, etc.), see it as dominance, manipulation and corruption. Women, and particularly civil society activists, not only reject this type of power but also consider entering its structures as a loss of moral integrity. This is the reason why the majority of women do not wish to become involved in institutional politics.
However, there is an experience of a different kind of power in this area as well, because power can by no means be reduced only to the institutional variety, owing to the following facts:
· During the dictatorial regime, the years of war and in the post-war period, women were the most numerous in the anti-war and anti-nationalistic movement and in humanitarian activities, working to help each other.
· Women have been the most active in the post-war period in creating peace and in the process of reconciliation – in short, women have been the principal actors of civil society.
· Even in places of institutional political power, there are women who pursue a different kind of policy, with whom we have not only established contacts, but have also cooperated on changing the legislature and the patriarchal mentality; we see it as our responsibility, as civil society activists, to continue creating coalitions and to continue our mutual support with the aim of strengthening democracy and civil society, especially the autonomy of women.
As a part of the emancipating women’s movement (of feminist and pacifist orientation), we pledge for conquering power so that we can influence both our existence and the entire society. We do not wish to be objects, but subjects of power. We wish to develop different forms of power. We need power in order to be able to share it with others, so that we can bring about, together, a more just distribution of wealth and the creation of a different, better world.
THE PROGRAM OF THE CONFERENCE
FRIDAY, March 5th
15h — Opening of the Conference, brief introductions of the participants.
16h –19h — Panel discussion: Is a different kind of power possible?
(On the experiences of women in power positions on the global, regional and local levels; on the problems, dilemmas, and challenges…).
19h — Opening of exhibitions:
a) “Deconstruction of the space and contents of the kitchen” (The Women’s Peace Network / Women in Black Network).
b) Templun – identity recipes – and exhibition of Valeria Sangiorgio, artist from Turin, Italy.
20.30h — Dinner
22h — Women’s art as a promotion of women’s human rights, social justice, and equality. (In the Resource Center of Leskovac, Strahinjica Bana 3).
SATURDAY, March 6th
10h –11.15h — “The power of women’s international politics” – an encounter with Luisa Morgantini, participant of the Conference, member of the European Parliament, and founder of Women in Black, Italy.
11.30h – 12.30h — Women’s solidarity is our strength (Women’s street march).
12.30 — Promotion of the publication “A different kind of power is possible”.
13h -15h — Lunch
15h – 18h — Workshops concerning the topic “A different kind of power is possible” (Working simultaneously)
1. Are coalitions among us possible? (On transforming state institutions into social services, on the im/possibility of coalitions between women from the political parties and the civil sector;
2. On the policy of international foundations, assisting development and relations with civil society women activists;
3. Privatization and transition: depriving women of power or empowering women?
4. From invisible power to power-sharing (shadow power, the power of women within the family, relations inside women’s groups, in couples, etc.);
5. From discontent to offering alternatives: Women want power, but what kind of power?
6. Solidarity among women – the beginning of dismantling patriarchy.
19h – 20.30h — Presentation of concluded activities at a plenary session.
20.30h – 22h — Dinner
22h — Women’s art: Broadening the space of women’s freedom and autonomy.
SUNDAY, March 7th
10h –13h Panel discussion: Let us create peace, let us disarm the world!
On the impact of militarism – local, regional and global – on the decrease of funds for social services, women and the underprivileged; on the impact of neo-liberal economic globalization on the position of women in the countries in transition; on alternatives solutions.
(At this panel, various initiatives, proposals and comments will be presented).
13h – Closing session.
Contact phone numbers:
011 2623 225; 063 704 98 18 and 063 88 35 655 (Belgrade)
016 252 042 and 016 213 674 (Hotel Beograd)
064 13 92 971, 063 776 12 63 (Leskovac)
In friendship and solidarity,
Women in Black
Let us globalize peace, women’s solidarity and social justice!
Women’s Center, Leskovac – Women in Black, Belgrade
Belgrade/Leskovac, February 5th, 2004.