Viering Internationale Vrouwendag in Sarajevo

For many people in this part of the world, the 8th of March conjures up an image of men buying flowers and gifts to their female partners, mothers, or grandmothers.
I haven't received many flowers for the 8 of March when I lived in the Nether-lands. It is not that there wouldn't be enough flowers. In my part of the world, international women's day is mainly a day for political debates on the position of women and men in societies.



The fact that we all work for an international organization in a foreign country and that we closely work with colleagues from this country means that this auditorium can offer as many if not more cultural traditions here as there are countries represented in this Mission.
Although we work for the same Mission, we have our own different memories and experiences, and perhaps also different appreciations for the International Women's Day.

Zo begon ik mijn speech voor de 8 maart viering die de OVSE Missie in Bosnie-Herzegovina dit jaar voor het eerst organiseerde.

Mijn verhaal was wel aardig, maar Fadila Nura Haver - een bekende schrijfster en journaliste - gaf een uitstekende speech die ik graag hieronder af wil drukken. Het geeft een prachtig inkijkje hoe 8 maart in voormalig Joegoslavie gevierd werd. Hier komt die:

Freedom is always and exclusively the freedom
of the person who thinks differently
Rosa Luxemburg

If in the 1980's you were an employee of the State administration or of a State-owned company in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and you are a woman, then your memories of the celebrations of 8 March are only slightly different than mine. Or even less than that. In the last decade of the socialist utopia it was a half working day, the only day that was celebrated collectively without being legalised as a State holiday. Of course, even in socialism, every human practice has its purpose. Marking a holiday, envisaged and implemented in such a manner, at work, had a goal to continuously nurture an illusion about the absolute equality of women in the socialist society. Viewed from outside, it could really be claimed that socialism - at least the one I lived in - abolished the racial, ethnic, religious, even gender inequality, providing equal treatment in practice, first of all in the domain of social justice. Collective rights, equality within that framework, were not just declarations by nature.

If we analyse more closely, within the global framework, the early women's activities regarding gender equality, we will notice that those were, in fact, demands for social equality. Along those lines, the first advocates and fighters for women's rights will remain remembered in history mostly as fighters for socialism, and within it for equal rights of all human beings - thus including women. No wonder then that it was in socialist systems that women attained a higher level of social equality rather than in the capitalist systems. The capitalism, of course, by its nature strived not only to protect the rights of owners of the capital to the highest degree but also, in the name of their interest, to use its mechanisms of domination to degrade and oppress the poor and the workers. In that sense, a woman in capitalism was additionally discriminated against because she was less paid than a man for the same job. Research indicates that this trend has continued in the developed democratic societies.

However, let us return to Bosnia of the Eighties. Three or four days before 8 March we would see women - university professors, political activists, nurses, tramway drivers, waitresses, journalists, office administrators or factory workers - rushing to buy presents for kindergarten or school teachers of their little children, for their mothers or mothers-in-law, for neighbours, sisters, aunts and girlfriends. All along, they quarrel day and night with their partners whose nerves are ever thinner, in proportion to the decrease of the family budget. Entering the last gate of this hellish struggle, they give their last penny to refresh their hair style, clothes and other accessories which should contribute to the following day's happiness and shine in front of their female colleagues while, behind the doors of their homes, the tensions escalate into a declaration of war.

A woman's expectations are big and absolutely unrealistic. She expects Him to redeem himself for all the lack of attention, for neglect, arrogance, for the fact that He ignored her needs and her sacrifice for the family. On the other hand, He expects that the extraordinary investment of good will, money and compliments be added and recognised as macho accomplishments which deserve gratitude and trophies of all kinds. She wants to sit on the throne at least today. He wants to stay on the throne every day, and especially today. Because, "Today is not 8 March", he will say on those days when his neglect of the woman is objected to. And, of course, He expects an extraordinary reward for His extraordinary effort during a single day.

So, many women would appear in the morning at their workplaces as tragicomic caricatures, their faces swollen from crying, with dissatisfaction and unhappiness whose harsh odour could be smelled under a triple dosage of Chanel, justifying the tired look and circles around their eyes with the lack of sleep in order not to affect the new hairdo. She would brag about shoes, bag, suit or jewellery ostensibly bought by her husband, the loveliest husband in the world. Only those who developed not only collegial but also friendly relationships will say to each other unwillingly that they had actually bought the gift to themselves in order of avoid humiliating sympathy of people at their workplace, which is based on the myth that the woman is guilty for the undignified attitude of her husband/male partner.

In that persistent embedding of the feeling of guilt in a woman's consciousness, the guilt for all the troubles in relations between a man and a woman, lies the biggest trap from which stems the culture of the woman-victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, a victim which denies that persistently. I have met many women who developed incredible skills of praising their partners, maintained persistently until the faithful moment when the real truth about the abusers at home could not be hidden by any means any more. After ostensibly falling down the stairs and hitting traffic signs countless times, which had allegedly caused the bruises, there would be a formula whereby the degree of violence would increase as long as there would be an appropriate victim to endure that.

Now, or when we started speaking about the individual relationship between a man and a woman, we left Bosnia and are exposed to a global torrent. When it comes to domestic violence and the denial of it, the women's issue crosses local borders. Relevant research indicates that even in developed democratic societies the family violence topped the ranks of pervasive and growing violent behaviour. Also, it is evident that the abusers are mostly men, and that the victims of violence are mostly women and children.

That brings us to the so-called transitional period of the BiH society or we are, maybe even, returning to the very beginning of the women's problem. A significant non-governmental sector for civil initiatives, launched by International Organisations with the aim of democratise the BiH society, returns us to the level of declarative gender equality, which is less than we experienced in practice. In the domain of social and even political equality, a BiH woman has far less rights today than in the State that existed before the war. The concept of human rights - which serves as the basis of feminism as well- has been degraded to the level of lack of respect for fundamental human rights. That situation additionally favours sexism, which - similar to racism - is based on the degradation and denial of the fact that a woman is a human being at all.

We ask - why does sexism exist at all? - and the contemporary theories provide an answer: It exists because the entire society is based on the principle of domination. It exists because this society is organised hierarchically. Thus, it is necessary to change the structure of the society. The main goal of feminism is to achieve something very similar to anarchic utopia - a self-organised society, based on free relationships and not on domination. It is necessary for each individual to change his/her modus operandi. The fight for change must begin at all levels - not only in politics, in demonstrations or similar events, but at a personal level as well, in our relationship toward other people.

Finally, we have to ask ourselves: is it not the very necessity to fight for our personal development in fact the basis of all human rights, that is - the right of any person to live and develop oneself the way he/she wants? If that is so, we return to one of the first demands of feminism, and that is the right to education. Because, the education represents the basic component of human creativity, and the creativity is the basic precondition for individual development.

International Missions, including the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, would have to know that the lack of respect for human rights was not invented here. The respect for that fact would perhaps help them in order not to treat the local population as less worthy human beings, but as a community of people which is just facing bigger problems than some happier communities. Because to educate, first of all, means to show by example.

Fadila Nura Haver

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