Throughout its history, Women in Black has approached the issue of security from different standpoints. Although this issue has been a focus over the last few years, it has informed numerous activities since the beginning of the group. Today, we can reinterpret many of our previous activities through the security paradigm. Our activities have always questioned the traditional understanding of security – the one which equates security with the ability of the state to use military means to secure, internally and externally, its interests and the interests of the majority or dominant ethnic group. For us, security is the legitimate demand of each individual for the absence of violence, threats and fear, and the protection of every human right. Our activities which affirmed this understanding of security have always responded to the political events and processes which were most violating human rights, especially women’s human rights, at that time.
Due to the changes in political circumstances during our involvement with these issues, our responses have prioritized different activities and tactics. Although there is a clear chronological progression, there is lasting continuity and connectedness among all the activities; this makes it difficult to classify them. I will use this very connectedness to interpret these activities related to the concept of security.
At the same time, I ask you to forgive my simplified survey of our activities and clumsy classification.
In light of the considerations previously mentioned, I will single out three sets of activities which responded to the issue of security:
antimilitarist activities, which include the most diverse actions and ways of understanding the problem;
feminist activities, which focus on the relationships between militarism, patriarchy, reproductive rights and women’s health;
activist and institutional activities, primarily our activities connected to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325
The Antimilitarist Approach to Security
Women in Black was founded as a direct response to war – the killing, rape and expulsion of people, the destruction of towns, nationalist and war-mongering propaganda and the violation of human rights, especially women’s human rights. War is the most drastic way of violating people’s security. Their mere physical existence is jeopardized, violating each individual’s right to life. Every action which aims to prevent or stop war contributes to general human security.
To this end, Women in Black wore black and publicly and visibly expressed their opposition to the criminal and nationalist war-mongering politics of the Serbian regime during a silent hour-long hour vigil every week in Belgrade’s Republic Square. They demanded the end of war and violence and expressed their deepest sympathy with all victims of war.
Concurrently, Women in Black showed their solidarity with all war resisters, demanding amnesty for war deserters and the end of coercive mobilization. Together with a male support group Women in Black, we organized specific activities and material and emotional support for deserters and conscientious objectors. During this period, the concept of conscientious objection was intensively promoted, primarily the demand to be able to fulfill one’s military service obligation without bearing arms, or in cases of complete conscientious objection, to be exempted from military service entirely. Numerous meeting of conscientious objectors were held and a magazine, Objection, was published. All of these activities seriously not only challenged the traditional understanding of gender roles and the mythical interpretation of history, but they deconstructed the traditional concept of security. They showed that peace cannot be created with arms and force, and that violence does not solve existing problems; it only deepens them. Security is not about borders; it cannot be achieved with weapons. Just and lasting peace is the basis of security and it can only be achieved through creating a society in which all causes of war—including nationalism, patriarchy and exploitive economic systems—are eliminated. Unfortunately, those at the negotiating table today are those who waged wars, not those who opposed them.
The Feminist Approach to Security
I distance myself from all shortcomings and divisions implied by classification. I have to repeat again that all of our antimilitarist activities were directly connected with the feminist orientation of the group. We were always interested in the relationship between patriarchy and militarism as a relationship between two repressive systems of social relations. In 1996, when we started to celebrate May 24th, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, we wanted not only to emphasize the importance of understanding this relationship, but also to join in actions in solidarity with all of our friends worldwide who were involved in issues of peace and security on a daily basis.
Our feminist approach to this topic demanded that we make the connection between feminism and antimilitarism more understandable to other women, activists and even accidental passers-by. We needed to educate them about the ways that disarmament, the conversion of military industry and war tax resistance affects their daily lives. Expenditures on war, armament and the military industrial complex comprise the biggest portion of national budgets, always at the expense of state spending on health services, education and social services. Because of that, we had always tried make a comparison in our public demonstrations between the price of—for example—one grenade or bullet and items necessary for daily life (food, toiletries, books, etc).
With these actions, we anticipated the responses of participants in our “Women, Peace and Democracy” workshops which were held during 2005. All workshop participants stated that access to these everyday necessities is the source of their security. Economic security, which can be understood as the right to not live in poverty, as well as life without violence and fear, was the basis of women’s understanding of security.
Since 2001, we combined our celebration of May 24th with our actions on May 28th, International Day for Women’s Health. We organized numerous performances in which we try to bring visibility to the impact of military spending on women’s health, specifically the way in which militarism and patriarchy jeopardize women’s reproductive rights. We organized “We Go Slowly to Arrive Safely,” a series of traveling performances about the transfer of military expenses toward civil purposes, seminars, conferences, presentation and four annual surveys about opinions towards abortion.
I think it is important to explain how reproductive rights are connected with security. Both prior to and during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, we witnessed how low birthrates were manipulated for political purposes, how the domestic birthrates was compared the increasing natality of the enemy and how security was equated with having enough people, enough cannon fodder. To encourage population growth, fear was manipulated. There were unfounded prophecies about the rapid growth and subsequent territorial expansion of neighboring ethnic groups with higher birthrates. In this context, the traditional concept of security, which equates security with military power and ability to defend the state’s borders and territory of the dominant ethnic group, led to the reduction of women to their reproductive function and demands that they use their reproductive abilities in the service of the state.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325: An Activist and Institutional Approach
The passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 encouraged Women in Black to engage in new activities to deal with the problem of security. With the support of UNIFEM, Women in Black completed a year-long educational project, “Women, Peace and Democracy,” during which they promoted the feminist concept of security and, during workshops in the field, gained insights into what activists from women’s group in Serbia consider to be the greatest obstacles to their security. These workshops clearly showed that workshop participants gave the highest priority to economic security. They also emphasized two important factors which contribute to general political insecurity – first, the lack of discontinuity with the war-mongering criminal politics of the previous regime and the unwillingness to condemn war crimes and prosecute those who committed them, and secondly, the increasing clericalization of society and the appearance of retrograde tendencies. These findings clearly show that we have to localize Resolution 1325 by including in the document that we introduced into the National Assembly issues which are specific to the political situation in which we live. Therefore, when we marked the fifth anniversary of Resolution 1325 in October of last year, in addition to a one-day conference, we issued the resolution “Women, Peace and Security” and delivered it to the Serbian Parliament. Along with asking for greater participation and representation of women on all levels of decision-making, nonviolent conflict resolution with the involvement of civil society and women peace activists, and respect of and improvement in women’s human rights, we demanded the continuation of the secular state, the efficient application of the Family Law which criminalizes violence against women, discontinuity with war-mongering criminal politics, the extradition of all war crimes suspects, the introduction of criminal penalties for denying or minimalizing the genocide Srebrenica or stating that it was not genocide, the democratic and civilian control of all armed and police forces, the curtailing of the privatization of armed forces and security agencies, and lastly, greater protection for human rights defenders. This resolution was received by the Parliament, but still has not been introduced into parliamentary procedure. With the support of the Council for the Equality of the Sexes of Vojvodina, the Assembly of Vojvodina adopted the text of this resolution without making any amendments. This year on the anniversary of the resolution 1325 we plan to ask the responsible authorities to make a statement explaining the status of the resolution we submitted.
Additionally, we printed a reader, Women, Peace and Security, which included the most important texts and reviews of the most relevant publications on this issue, as well as documents such as Resolution 1325 and critically interpretations of it.
With the Kosova Women’s Network, we founded the Women’s Peace Coalition in May 2006. It has met twice and has made public announcements and distributed documents which demand women’s participation in the negotiation process and comment on one round of the negotiations. In July of this year, one of our representatives took part in the meeting in Zagreb organized with UNIFEM support in which the Women’s Lobby for Peace, Security and Justice in South East Europe was founded.
Today, we are here with you, our friends from Kosovo, with whom we established cooperation in 1995. I believe we will hear much more during this conference about what security means for us, women in this region; how it differs in our different political context and how we can cooperate to change the world we live in.
Belgrade, Women in Black