I think that we can say that the phrase ‘women’s solidarity’ is currently interpreted in at least two ways.
- The Essentialist Interpretation calls for solidarity with all women on the basis of the simple biological fact that we all belong to the female sex. From this understanding, women’s solidarity leads to action which, on one hand, “empowers women” (psycho-social support) and, on the other, focuses on the state legal system, demanding equal legal treatment for both sexes. Although this interpretation labels patriarchy responsible for the unequal status of women, it most often does not consider the complex societal reality that contemporary patriarchy creates; our class differences; and national, religious, and racial identities, which are centuries-old excuses for repression and war-making. To not consider all of our differences and diversity, but only those and all mechanisms which patriarchy uses to control women (as well as men), the essentialist interpretation of women’s solidarity has no means of criticizing capitalist patriarchy. It does not possess the power to create solidarity which would demolish the complex patriarchal system.
- The Critical Interpretation tries to include all the complexity of patriarchy and recognize all the forms and mechanisms of domination and exploitation of the patriarchal system. By being involved with a specific woman (her real social and economic status, but also symbolic sources, including the current values system in which a specific woman lives), a critical understanding of ‘women’s solidarity’ acknowledges all sources of repression which one woman can experience (including repression based on class, ethnicity, religion, race, ethical and political convictions, and sexual orientation) and tries to offer responses to each of those problems. Engagement based on such an understanding of women’s solidarity does not start by demanding institutional recognition of the equality of women and men. On the contrary, a critical approach criticizes institutions (the state) and the prevailing values system based on competition and violence (society). In this case, women’s solidarity exceeds solidarity with women; it includes solidarity with everyone who is marginalized or deprived of their rights. Since the question of why we talk so much about ‘women’s solidarity,’ and not only about ‘solidarity’ still exists—it was already being asked among the left in the 19th Century—I think we must talk about the reasons for viewing the vigilance of feminists to recognize all points of repression (which our leftist comrades have not taken into consideration because this work, for example emotional exploitation of women in romantic relationships, is banal to them), and the way of expressing women’s solidarity which does not end with formalism, but tries to create fullness of our interpersonal, political and emotional relationships.
Consequently, Women in Black’s practice of women’s solidarity is based on the ethical and political values that we share, not biological facts. The feminist ethic of care and the feminist ethic of responsibility are based on our political involvement which recognizes militarism, nationalism, clericalism/fundamentalism, homophobia, and neo-liberal imperialism (globalization) as patriarchal forms of repression.
I would like to remind you that the feminist ethic of care deconstructs the patriarchal role of the woman who exclusively cares about her male relatives. The feminist ethic of care, in contrast, does not discard the idea of care for others, but it offers me the freedom to choose who I will care for, outside of the dictates of patriarchy. The feminist ethic of responsibility deconstructs capitalist ideas of the self-sufficiency (or egoism) of ‘one state, one nation’ and the role of citizens in such states. Similarly, the feminist ethic of responsibility deconstructs blind membership and loyalty to the state and nation, but also to a religion, race, or class. It offers me the possibility to independently define my community, as well as to adopt critical, responsible relationships towards communities which claim me by my birth (including states, nations, and religions).
The political engagement of Women in Black—the concrete practice of women’s solidarity— grows out of such ethics. Feminism recognized that militarism and nationalism are the direct products of patriarchy. Consequently, the political engagement of Women in Black is antimilitarist and antinationalist. In the case of antimilitarist involvement, besides obvious solidarity with those who are victims of war all over the world, women’s solidarity is reflected in the creation of alternative cultures of peace and nonviolent relationships. Women’s solidarity also means disloyalty to militant structures in one’s state and society.
For me, as a Women in Black activist from Serbia, antinationalism is most important at this moment. My reality is that I live in an aggressor state in which national identity, and the supposed endangerment of the Serb nation, was the excuse for hegemonic politics and numerous wars in the former Yugoslavia. In this case, antinationalist involvement means disloyalty to the nation which claims me and to my own state. As long as it is my ethical principle to care for others (which is really a deepening of the oldest universal moral law, ‘do not kill’) and I am a self-aware, responsible person who in every moment wants to distinguish good from evil, to me there is no such ‘higher goal,’ ‘national interest,’ or ‘state interest’ that can compel me do evil. A step further which I make, on the basis of these ethical principles, is my aforementioned antinationalism, which means refusing all romantic notions about the nation, notions which are really dangerous and openly chauvinist. These political and ethical principles which I have accepted from Women in Black also obligate me to ceaselessly oppose the glorification of criminals who led wars and committed crimes in my name.
Additionally, antinationalism means internationalism, which leads to solidarity with women and men of other nations and states. By discarding blind loyalty to my nation, I discard all prejudices about other nations. My women’s solidarity means that I connect myself to all the women of the world, allowing for our differences, but insisting on the values in which I deeply believe are universal and are the only response to ever-present violence. This means that I, as a feminist and activist in Serbia, offer support to victims created by my government and support to victims of other beliefs and ethnicities. That means gathering with them, following trials for war criminals, ‘going out on a limb’ for them, and listening to them. Together, we try to create a different space and different values. Together with them constantly, I remember that crimes were committed. Together with them, I demand justice.
As long as women thoughtlessly accept the forms of patriarchy listed here (militarism, nationalism, and others) as their own convictions, these forms will be obstacles to women’s solidarity. Nationalism demands loyalty from women based on ethnic belonging; this divides women. As long as we recognize nationalism, (militarism, clericalism, and fundamentalism) as something that divides us and as something that is falsely presented to us as emancipation (Nationalism really negates women’s right to choice, and reduces her to a machine for reproducing members of the nation and ethnic group, a thing which belongs to men.) we can cross borders which appear like nationalism and create a world truly in solidarity. Refusing all forms of patriarchy is a condition for women’s solidarity and shows the true practice of Women in Black and the associations and coalitions which they have created in the Balkans and throughout the world.