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Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

Edited By Renate Haas

From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.
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The Role of Anglicist Women in the Development of Gender Studies in Serbia: From NGO to Academia

Aleksandra Izgarjan / Dubravka Djurić

The Role of Anglicist Women in the Development of Gender Studies in Serbia: From NGO to Academia

1.  Introduction

Like in other European countries, three particularly prominent phases or perhaps ‘waves’ can be distinguished in the development of feminism in Serbia. The first was at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries in the Kingdom of Serbia and later Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes / Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The second came in the 1970s, in the period of late, liberal Yugoslav socialism, when Yugoslavia opened up to the Western world. The third major phase followed at the beginning of the 1990s as a part of the post-socialist process in East European countries. After the fall of communism, they were transformed politically, economically, and culturally into capitalist, neoliberal states. The difference between the Serbian feminism of this period and most other post-socialist countries derives from the fact that it appeared at the moment of the decomposition of the multiethnic / multicultural Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the civil wars; it therefore became a part of the broader political antiwar movement. But before focusing on the third phase, we will deal briefly with the period of socialism.

2.  The Development of Feminism in Yugoslavia from the Second World War to the 1990s

Women in Yugoslavia obtained civil rights, including the right to vote, after the end of the Second World War, since gender equality was considered an undeniable component of the communist ideology. Due to this stance, women had been members of the Communist Party before the Second World War and immediately after its outbreak joined the ranks of the partisan movement. It is estimated that one million women took an active part in the resistance movement, and approximately one hundred thousand ← 303 | 304 → were soldiers in the Yugoslav army (Milić 2011: 54). During the war, these women founded the Antifascist Women’s Front (AWF), whose main objective was the improvement of the position of women. Thanks to the activities of AWF, in 1942 two acts stipulated the rights of women to vote and be members of the bodies of the revolutionary government. In the same year women started to exercise their rights working as delegates in various bodies of the government in the territories liberated by the Yugoslav army (Pantelić 2011: 37). AWF was also crucial in building a network of women throughout the freed territories and their emancipation. After the war, the participation of women in the Yugoslav army, their bravery, but also their work in founding and managing the AWF, ensured their involvement in bodies at all governmental levels. AWF continued to be influential in female emancipation, particularly in rural areas, where its members organized literacy courses and food drives and founded schools and hospitals. Women became members of the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and each of the seven republics had some female ministers. More women were employed on lower levels of the government departments and became judges in courts at all levels. The number of women studying at universities doubled, and they joined the ranks of university professors. As a curiosity, we want to mention that one of the women who had a leading role in AWF, particularly its international cooperation with the United Nations and Women’s International Democratic Federation, was Olga Humo (Pantelić 2011: 90). During the war, she was Josip Broz Tito’s translator and secretary of the army headquarters. She had studied at the English Department in Belgrade before the war, and after obtaining her PhD she became a professor in the same institution. Her involvement in AWF and position at the English Department may be considered an early example of the connection between English studies and women’s organizations in Yugoslavia. With regard to links between English studies and the struggle for women’s rights and careers Mary Stansfield Popović may also be pointed out: at the side of her husband Vladeta Popović she was co-founder of the English Department at the University of Belgrade, and after his death in 1951, she became professor, serving as the head of the Department until 1961.

As mentioned, the participation of women both in the war effort and the provisional government set up in the freed territories was crucial for their gaining civil rights and starting to fully participate at all levels of the ← 304 | 305 → political and economic structures. Their major contribution pertains to building an organizational network which comprised hundreds of thousands of women, work on family care (including the founding of numerous kindergartens) and the protection of women and children. According to Slapšak, female participation in the war led to ‘a nation of women’. Aware of their newly found power, they never went back to their subjugated position of before the war. ‘The success of the Yugoslav partisan movement was multifaceted: it ensured the existence of women’s labor force in the rear, female war force at the front, female labor force in re-building the country after the war, and female political force, which supported the victorious ideology.’ (Slapšak in Pantelić 2011: 42).1 As Lokar states, it was thanks to this legacy that the socialist countries in South East Europe ‘did not have any trouble with de jure equality for men and women. They all had prohibition of gender discrimination in their constitutions, special articles on women workers’ rights, health care, social welfare (single mothers), pension and child care legislation’ (Lokar 2003: 9).

The next stage in the development of women’s movements in the country leading up to the foundation of women’s studies coincides with the second wave of feminism in Europe. In Blagojević’s opinion, ‘Yugoslavia was not only receptive to new theoretical developments coming from the ‘West’, but was also quite advanced in its promotion of gender equality, both within the country and internationally’ (Blagojević 2010: 186). Growing interest in gender theory resulted primarily in a concentrated effort at translation of articles or books and the first master’s or doctoral theses based on the growing volume of research in the field of women’s studies. On the other hand, feminist activism was evident in the organization of various forms of help for women who suffered domestic abuse and women’s groups for therapy or consciousness-raising. This period was also characterized by better cooperation among women in the Yugoslav republics. Unfortunately, this cooperation would end with the advent of the civil war, which led to the secession of the Yugoslav republics. The period which followed next, i.e. from 1990 to 2000, ‘represents the most intensive breakthrough of ← 305 | 306 → feminism in all its forms in the social life of Serbia’ according to Milić (2011: 58).

3.  The Work of the Centers for Women’s Studies as NGOs

During the 1990s, feminist organizations were founded first in the two most important central cities, Belgrade and Novi Sad, and soon multiplied in the whole of Serbia (and Montenegro, which were at the time one state). They belonged to the NGO sector and were mainly financed by Western feminist foundations.2 The number of these organizations proliferated as a result of the inside dynamics in the feminist groups, in which many different concepts and interests were confronted, and because of the politics of financing, which stressed the need to decentralize the feminist scene outside of Belgrade and Novi Sad. Initially the feminist organizations were the product of feminist activism, and we would like to accentuate three overlapping aspects in their functioning: 1) activist projects targeted at the economic empowerment of women and the prevention of violence against them; 2) alternative and informal educational programs, organized as women’s studies; and 3) literary and artistic projects (Djurić 2013: 51). The two major tracks of women’s studies in Serbia, one dedicated to theory and the other to activism, often overlapped in the remarkable effort of women in Serbia to condemn war and the dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milošević.

The major ideological and practical challenges for feminist scholars from Serbia were related to the wars and Serbian nationalism: how to translate ‘Western’ feminist knowledge – which had a prevailing influence at the time but had been articulated in different contexts and was based on different experiences – into the local women’s and anti-war movements? From an epistemic point of view one could say that it was relatively easy to ‘translate’ that part of ‘Western’ feminist knowledge that corresponded to the ‘normal’ former development of Yugoslavia as a medium-level developed industrial European country, out of ‘the bloc’. Women in Yugoslavia were faced with a ‘double burden’, similar to that of ‘Western’ women, of discrimination at work, segregation in education and on the labour market and violence. (Blagojević 2010: 187–188) ← 306 | 307 →

The idea behind founding the centers for women’s studies was for women of different social background, age and education to get feminist and gender-sensitive knowledge through alternative education. Other motives for the establishment of these centers can be found in the growing need to provide space outside of the universities, which were under rigid government control as sites of rebellion against Milošević’s regime. The centers for women’s studies created a community of women who deconstructed and criticized the regime through gender studies. Lokar sees the following general features in the former Yugoslav republics which coincided with the social, political and economic transition in the region:

We could see the turn of electorates to the very conservative, patriarchal, nationalistic and aggressive mainstream politics. There was a strong renewal of the influence of the churches in political life. Everywhere we witnessed the weakening of the rule of law, explosion of massive unemployment, shrinking or collapse of the welfare state, feminization of poverty, growing violence against all weaker members in the society – women, children, elderly and minorities of all sorts. Everywhere gender inequalities started to grow – the main indicator was the tragic fall in the political representation of women in the parliaments. From an average close to 30%, it dived below 11% and in all the countries where it fell below 5%, wars and armed conflicts started to develop. […] In war tormented countries of former socialist Yugoslavia, negative trends towards gender equality got dramatic dimensions – women not only de facto lost all their gains from the socialist times, but were additionally exposed to tremendous ideological and armed pressure of conservative, nationalistic and extremist religious forces. (Lokar 2003: 10)

In Serbia, the centers for women’s studies particularly tackled a number of issues closely connected to the oppression of women as a result of civil war and poverty (throughout the 1990s Serbia was under severe economic sanctions). Consequently, they were focused on building a network to support women through safe houses, shelters and helplines while special attention had to be paid to refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and later internally displaced persons from Kosovo.3 The leading role in helping refugees with social reintegration was assumed by The Women’s Center ← 307 | 308 → for Helping the Victims of War and The Center for Antiwar Action, with predominantly women members.

Lesbians and gay men took part in all antiwar and feminist peace organizations. Despite homophobia, which became particularly blatant in the war time, the gay and lesbian group Arkadija was formed in 1990 and the lesbian group Labris in 1995. It is important to mention that women’s studies centers had lesbian studies as an obligatory part of their program. ‘It also meant that throughout the war, at every international meeting of the women’s peace group from Belgrade, Women in Black Against War, there was a workshop about lesbians. Making space for lesbian desire and politics was a must at least among some feminist peace activists.’ (Mladjenović 2001: 386). The journal Feminističke sveske [Feminist notebooks] was the first to publish Anglo-American lesbian poetry, prose, and essays (Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde among the authors), which inspired local production. The first lesbian organization in Vojvodina was founded in 2004 (Lesbian Organization Action Novi Sad) and today there are about ten LGBTQ organizations in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Kragujevac.

Women’s organizations were also instigators of political changes since they became the generators of several political parties (Women’s Parliament, Women’s Party), which supported the rights of women and their place in Serbian political life. Together with these and other organizations such as Women in Black, the centers for women’s studies were actively involved in antiwar efforts. The period from 1991 to 1995 was characterized by massive resistance to forced mobilization, antiwar demonstrations, and legal support to the deserters. One of the first massive antiwar demonstrations was organized by three women’s organizations (Women’s Parliament, Women’s Party and Women’s Lobby) in front of the Serbian Parliament. In the face of the strong media campaign supporting the war and the growing oppression of those who challenged the regime, these actions were important as a proof that there was a civil society which was very different from the radically nationalist, war-supporting Serbia presented in the media, which were all heavily controlled by the regime. The nationalist rhetoric contained a significant patriarchal aspect as well. Women were required to stay at home and take care of their families. The emancipation of women, their confrontation with the regime and support of antiwar activities was perceived and portrayed in the media as a betrayal of Serbia. The considerable ← 308 | 309 → number of women participating in two major waves of demonstrations in 1991/92 and 1996/97 (49% of all demonstrators according to Blagojević) make the gender perspective an unavoidable aspect when it comes to the analysis of ‘the depth and complexity of the social transformation on the road to civil society’ in Serbia (Blagojević 1997: 20).

Whether it is in the form of a pacifist movement, which was predominantly a women’s movement (as far as the number of women involved is concerned), as massive protests of mothers against the war, as participation of women in protests, as organization in autonomous women’s groups or as part of student and citizen’s demonstrations, the continuity of women’s activism is indisputable. […] It was precisely in this continual resistance against the institutions of the regime that not only the political consciousness of women became stronger but civil society too. However, we can also conclude that this activism happened predominantly outside institutions and that it was reactive and protective in nature. That is, it appeared as a reaction to a drastic measure of the regime to abolish civil rights or out of the need to protect an oppressed group of women (for example refugees or victims of violence) (Blagojević 1997: 31–32).

Given the fact that during and after the war Serbia went through a period of extreme financial crisis (with one of the highest inflation rates ever recorded) and in view of the destabilization of the basic social values, this solidarity and ability of the women’s organizations to mobilize women and young people gains importance. Another significant contribution of the centers for women’s studies was the creation of a network of women’s organizations in Serbia. This enabled more women to benefit from the centers for women’s studies and become involved in the political and economic sphere. While many of these women’s organizations included workshops and lectures on feminist theory, more were focused primarily on empowering women. Accordingly, women’s organizations offered courses and workshops in entrepreneurship, applied for projects and funding and thus helped other women to find their vocation and start their own businesses (Milić 2011: 61). The economic crises in the 1990s left many families impoverished, and since women were more heavily hit with hardships, these workshops and projects were of immense value to them. In addition, thanks to this network of women’s organizations, women were better connected and became interested in taking a more active role in local and county governments. Mladjenović aptly states that during the 1990s, women’s NGOs did an enormous amount of work on winning more rights for women, which ← 309 | 310 → was actually something that should have been done by the state and local administration. There still are numerous women’s organizations in Serbia and all of them are doing service work not just for women, but also for the young, the poor, refugees, the victims of violence, and people suffering from PSTD due to war trauma. Equally important is their work on monitoring state and local governments and agencies, making sure that the laws protecting women’s rights and gender equality are being implemented and that women are represented in the different spheres, from the economy to culture. They have been actively engaged in helping state institutions to assume their role in gender mainstreaming (Mladjenović 2002: 20). On the other hand, after the establishment of the first democratic government in 2000, with Zoran Djindjić as the first democratic prime minister, the foundations which financed the activities of women’s organizations gradually started withdrawing from Serbia, and as a result, these organizations slowly disappeared, with some still struggling to survive. The best position is maintained by those which managed to connect themselves to an institution of higher education, like the Belgrade and Novi Sad centers for women’s studies. In that sense, the histories of these two centers, as the most important and developed ones in Serbia, trace the arch of the transition of women’s studies from NGOs to the academic sphere and reflect the complex situation on the political scene, which inevitably influenced the processes.

4.  Belgrade Women’s Studies Center

The Belgrade based feminist group Women and Society initiated the establishment of the Women’s Studies Center in 1991. It was organized as an interdisciplinary educational project with several segments: teaching, research and publishing. The issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and class were of central concern. Apart from the teaching program, the center developed other important activities: publishing books on women’s and gender studies as well as the journal Ženske studije [Women’s studies], founded in 1995, later renamed Genero, which often featured translations of relevant articles by Anglo-American authors. In 1994, the center formed a library, which was of crucial importance due to the long lack of recent theoretical literature in Serbia. Research activities were also important with such projects as ‘Women’s Movement in Belgrade in ← 310 | 311 → 1990’ (1997–98), ‘A Dictionary of Misogyny’ (1999–2000), ‘The Representation of the Female Body in Visual Art in Serbia 1990–1998’ (1998), ‘Domestic Violence and Women’s Criminality’ (1997), ‘Women’s Literature in Serbia’ (2002–2004), etc. Diverse art projects and temporary or permanent workshops were organized, including poetry, performance and visual arts. Among the various courses at the center, literature was at times dominant regarding the number of courses and lecturers (Dojčinović-Nešić 1998: 216–21). It is important to note that a significant number of the lecturers were in several ways connected to English studies and the comparative study of Anglo-American and Serbian literature, whether by educational background or by vocation, as some of them were graduates of the department of general and comparative literature, while others taught the subject at universities.

The Women’s Studies Center was characterized by the fact that among the lecturers were university professors but also non-academics who had the ambition to enter the academic sphere. Their engagement at the center encouraged them to complete their master’s and PhD theses, and eventually most of them managed to become professors at state or private universities in Serbia. The number of lecturers in the Women’s Studies Center was five at the beginning and increased to thirty in the late 1990s. In Blagojević’s opinion (which reflects the point of view of the center’s university staff):

The double strategy – of ‘going through’ the academic institutions while at the same time putting pressure on them to change by creating ‘alternative’ projects – has proven time and again to be most efficient and effective. Often the same women academics were circulating on both sides, thus on the one hand increasing the status of the Women’s Study Centre, while on the other, through their public presence, political engagement and media presentation, making gender studies more attractive by comparison with old fashioned academic courses; they also pressed for the introduction of gender studies courses or gender components in existing curricula. (2010: 191)

For a while, during the 1990s, two fractions co-existed within the center, one of which supported activism, whereas the other favored the integration of women’s studies in the Serbian educational system. They parted in 1998, and two separate NGOs were established, the Women’s Studies Center (now focused exclusively on the student population) and the activist Association for Women’s Initiative (Djurić 2010: 89–99). ← 311 | 312 →

Apart from the Women’s Studies Center, the journal ProFemina, established in 1994 and published by the Belgrade independent oppositional radio station B92, played an important role in the transmission of Anglo-American feminist and gender studies. Their dominance in the journal is evident in a significant volume of translations from English and articles by many lecturers from the Belgrade and Novi Sad centers, but also from other parts of the country as well as from the newly established countries of former Yugoslavia. This published material was crucial for the efforts of feminist formal or informal scholars to apply gender theory to women’s writing in Serbia. ProFemina has made a valuable contribution in constructing the nonsystematic canon of Serbian women writers from the end of the 19th century till now.

5.  Women’s Studies in Novi Sad

The NGO Women’s Studies Mileva Marić Ajnštajn [Einstein] was founded in Novi Sad in 1997. Similarly to Belgrade, there was a need for an educational institution which would offer women information about gender studies, since they were not part of the formal education at state institutions, which supported the patriarchal, hierarchical system. As an alternative educational program, it immediately received support from women who were engaged in the nongovernmental sector and were the first to enroll. Most of the lecturers came from state universities, and working for Women’s Studies gave them an opportunity to teach classes and subjects which they were not able to teach and include in the curriculum, but also to connect with a wider network of women and activists. Importantly, a number of lecturers came from the civil and business sectors and took an active role in the economic reforms related to gender equality. The educational program and the theoretical approach were interdisciplinary with focus on the implementation of gender studies in practice.

Women’s Studies soon expanded and was divided into four programs: educational, research, publishing and documentary. Since it became obvious that women’s studies required empirical data on gender inequality in Serbia in various fields, the research enabled the deconstruction of gender inequalities. Therefore the results of various research projects were published in books dealing with gender inequality in the media, feminist theology, social ← 312 | 313 → needs of elderly women, and women in the political sphere. A special segment of research was dedicated to the recording of women’s oral histories in Vojvodina. Since Vojvodina is a highly diverse setting with twenty-seven ethnic communities, the project encompassed women from all major ethnic groups and focused particularly on renowned women in these communities. The researchers also made sure to first record oral histories of the oldest generations and then moved to younger ones. Seven volumes, in which transcribed oral histories were collected, were published as a result of this endeavor. Oral histories were perceived as sources of a new understanding of women’s lives and their invisibility in the sense that their stories were not included in mainstream history. In similar projects the histories of renowned women from Novi Sad were gathered and published. As part of this documentary activity, Women’s Studies created a library and data base with books, audio and video material on gender studies and women’s history in Serbia. Women’s Studies also helped the creation of the centers for women’s studies in other parts of the country, initiated the building of a network of women’s studies in Serbia and joined similar networks in South East Europe. Moreover, Women’s Studies played an important role in founding the School for Romani Studies, which offered the first university courses in Romani studies in Serbia.

Another important contribution of Women’s Studies in Novi Sad was the organization of monthly round tables and discussions. It was especially relevant in Serbia during the 1990s to raise questions about the deconstruction of the patriarchal society which rested on the nationalist paradigm and to turn public attention to the status of women, who were frequently objectified. The discussions centered on burning issues and featured as speakers not only lecturers and activists from Women’s Studies and further NGOs in Novi Sad, but also women from other parts of former Yugoslavia, thus creating an open space for the confrontation of different perspectives and the creation of a network of women who opposed the language of war in countries embroiled in ethnic conflicts. In 1995, a group of local activists and scholars established the feminist organization MultiMedeja with the goal to make women more visible in Novi Sad. The lecturers came primarily from Belgrade and Novi Sad. They were concerned with feminist philosophy, feminist literature, women and law, women and art, feminism and visual art, sociology and anthropology, and promoted books by various ← 313 | 314 → women writers and critics. Such lectures and discussions made a contrast to the dominant discourse by creating a dialogue and raising the public visibility of women (intellectuals, professionals, activists) who were different from those supported by the regime and who were willing to oppose it. The economic crisis was another impetus for women to leave the private sphere and enter the public arena, demanding their rights and institutional mechanisms guaranteeing their implementation. This also meant building a society which would be willing to support such changes.

Equally significant was the engagement of the members of Women’s Studies in all forms of antiwar protest and their support of other groups and women’s networks which organized and participated in them. They took an active part in organizations that challenged Milošević’s regime (such as the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, which was instrumental in election monitoring and exposed the voting theft that kept Milošević’s party in power). Behind most of the actions of Women’s Studies was the criticism of the regime, and the members often endured various forms of pressure from the police and pro-regime groups. The confrontation became most obvious before the elections in 2000, when Women’s Studies openly supported the female candidates of the Democratic Party, which, together with other opposition parties, won the elections and toppled Milošević. In cooperation with other NGOs, Women’s Studies managed to ensure the passing of the law guaranteeing 30% women in parliaments on all government levels. The Province of Vojvodina, with Novi Sad as its capital, founded the first Secretariat for Labor, Employment and Gender Equality with Jelica Rajačić Čapaković, a member of Women’s Studies, as its first secretary. It was the first such secretariat not only in Serbia, but in the whole region. During the 2000s, Serbia has had women in the positions of state president, speaker of parliament, chief justice and justice of the supreme court, ambassador, governor of the National Bank of Serbia, minister etc. Women’s Studies has kept working on gender mainstreaming, making sure women are included at all levels of decision-making processes. First in Vojvodina, and then on the whole territory of Serbia, the function of an ombudswoman for female rights was installed. In addition, due to their former antiwar activities, women have continued to play a leading role in peace initiatives among the ex-Yugoslav countries. ← 314 | 315 →

6.  Women’s Studies in Academia4

The next important phase in the development of women’s studies in Serbia had to do with the long-term aim of institutionalizing the curriculum of women’s studies at the universities. Comparison of the arduous process of establishing feminist and gender theories at Serbian universities (which is still in progress) with Western counterparts that had women’s studies from the end of the 1970s, highlights the fact that, in the West, feminism has frequently been absorbed into mainstream elite culture. However, the processes connected with the status of feminism in contemporary societies are contradictory. In Western universities, feminism and gender studies became part of their curricula in the 1980s, despite continuous negativity inside various academic contexts. But in the 1990s, often labeled as postfeminist, the negative reaction to feminism became again more prominent, as is particularly visible in Western popular culture. Postfeminism incorporated some emancipatory aspects of first and second wave feminism, at the same time heavily rejecting the need for feminism in contemporary society. In Serbia, like in many other post-socialist societies, these phases started considerably later and were shorter.

In 2002, the network of women’s studies in former Yugoslav republics organized a conference dedicated to the issue of institutionalization. The aim was to make educational programs of women’s studies as NGOs part of university programs. The working group formed in Novi Sad lobbied with the university, women’s organizations, and the governments of Vojvodina and Serbia and presented a study arguing for the need to introduce gender studies at the university. There was additional pressure from women’s networks, and particularly significant was the support of the provincial Secretariat for Gender Equality. The moment was fortunate in the sense that for the first time the University of Novi Sad had a woman chancellor, Fuada Stanković, and the Faculty of Philosophy (where most of the lecturers of Women’s Studies worked) had a female dean, Marija Kleut, who was in favor of the project. At the first round table dedicated to the ← 315 | 316 → topic in Novi Sad in 2002, the issue was how to organize women’s studies: whether as elective or obligatory courses offered to all students at undergraduate or graduate level, or as a separate department at the Faculty of Philosophy. The participants in the discussion came from the countries of South East Europe and faced similar dilemmas. Models at various European and American universities were analyzed as well. The idea of introducing women’s studies at university also encountered some opposition, primarily by traditional, conservative professors. After a number of round tables and a conference dedicated to the issue, the University Senate discussed matters and a consensus was reached.

The Center for Gender Studies was founded in 2003 as part of the University’s Association of Centers for Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies, which offers master’s, specialist and doctoral courses. It was the first university center for gender studies in the country. From the beginning, the intention was to ensure the multicultural aspect of education, and the courses were taught in Serbian, English and languages of the ethnic minorities. In the first phase, the Center for Gender Studies offered an accredited master’s program; in the second, from 2012, a doctoral program has been added.5 The teaching staff came primarily from the local ranks of professors, but also from the University of Belgrade and the University of Niš, most of them belonging to the core of the educators of the Women’s Studies NGO. The curriculum was based on gender theory and included components of activist research in various fields. Great weight was attached to student input. Since they had graduated from different departments, the objective was always to link their previous knowledge with gender studies. The goals of the Center for Gender Studies were to broaden the curriculum and make the studies more interdisciplinary, in order to encourage scholars from various departments at the University to incorporate a gender aspect in their work. The assumption was that gender equality at university does not stop at the integration of gender studies into the curriculum and the inclusion of more women in the higher academic ranks; rather it implies the creation of new paradigms and the replacement of patriarchal models. Such an aim is especially relevant in view of the surveys showing that ‘university ← 316 | 317 → programs in Serbia are not gender-sensitive but promote gender role stereotypes, and that educational materials are anachronistic and discriminatory. Stereotypes concerning gender roles are still prevalent among university staff and students, and they are more noticeable among younger than older generations’ (Petrušić/Konstantinović Vilić 2012: 25).

This year the Center for Gender Studies celebrates ten years of its work. While upon its founding the fact of its existence was remarkable in itself, after a decade it is hard to maintain such a complacent attitude. Although the center is valuable as one of the two gender studies institutions in Serbian higher education, it also falls short of the objectives set at the beginning. One major problem is the relatively low number of students; on average six to ten students enroll per year.6 More importantly, the center did not achieve its main goal of integrating gender studies into university programs. Despite the initial plans to offer courses in gender studies to all students, only the students of the center have been allowed to take them. This has significantly alienated the center and prevented it from creating networks with other departments. As a result, gender studies are perceived as exclusive, and not inclusive. Another, equally significant drawback is the circumstance that the center’s graduates cannot use their degree when seeking employment. The degree in gender studies is not on the list of occupations of the Ministry of Education; thus the students cannot employ it to their advantage and have to limit themselves to the degree they received in undergraduate studies. This, of course, means that enrollment at the center suffers and depends on the students’ enthusiasm for the subject. Lacking opportunities to use their degree also means that the students have difficulties putting their knowledge into service, which leaves them frustrated and disappointed. As Dascăl aptly points out, this inevitably casts doubt on gender studies as ‘legitimate knowledge’ within and without the academic sphere (Dascăl 2012).

The courses and mentorships at the Center for Gender Studies are not part of the regular teaching load of the professors and do not count for tenure. There is not a single professorship in gender studies in Serbia. No ← 317 | 318 → wonder that the number of professors and the courses offered fluctuates considerably. The engagement of professors from abroad was financed primarily through international foundations and was consequently sporadic. As for the transfer of knowledge and expertise of the professors at the center to other departments, the success is again partial. Such interaction mostly happens with the departments at the Faculty of Philosophy. However, it must also be said that given the small number of courses, the inclusion of the gender aspect depends on the individual effort of professors and is not part of any official policy to make this practice more universal.

The English Department has the highest number of courses integrating various aspects of women’s studies, both within the Faculty of Philosophy and the whole University. This can be explained by the fact that these courses are taught by professors who first lectured at Women’s Studies and then have continued at the Center for Gender Studies. Furthermore, women’s studies in Western countries had a significant impact on literary theory and literature in general, and most of the texts on gender theory used in Serbia were originally published in English, so the connection between English and gender studies is to be expected. A particularly strong link between literary and women’s studies is obvious in the American literary canon with its growing number of renowned female authors.

Like in other countries in South East Europe, new courses at the English Department in Novi Sad were created in connection with the Bologna process. Previously, the department, founded in 1954, had only one track in English studies, which seriously limited the number of courses offered, and the focus was on linguistics and ELT. However, in 2000 the complete revision of the curriculum allowed the introduction of four tracks (literature, linguistics, translation studies, EFL), which also increased the number of courses and fostered interdisciplinary studies. There were four courses at the undergraduate and one at the graduate level intersecting literary theory and women’s studies. These new courses combined elements of literature, sociology, anthropology, history, women’s and translation studies. The primary focus was on the narrative strategies of contemporary writers and the ways they examine the categories of race, class, ethnicity and gender. However, with the new cycles of accreditation, the department had to reduce the four tracks to two (literature and linguistics), which also meant abolishing some of the interdisciplinary courses (including those with the elements of gender ← 318 | 319 → studies). This only proves the point that the effort to interrelate gender studies and English studies was not a part of the mainstreaming policy. Thus, it can be said that institutionalization of gender studies had limited effect on the English curriculum. On the other hand, it should also be pointed out that the integration of the elements of women’s studies in the courses at the English Department has indeed broadened the students’ interests, as they have become acquainted with gender studies for the first time in their education and have been able to apply their knowledge to other fields of study. Some have decided to pursue master’s degrees at the Center for Gender Studies, and some have done master’s theses that combine English literature and gender theory. Since the English Department is one of the largest of the Faculty of Philosophy, this impact is considerable. It is also important to note that the English Department in Novi Sad has played a crucial role for research, since it was the first in Serbia to officially initiate master’s and PhD theses explicitly related to gender and women’s studies.

The University of Belgrade has faced similar challenges in the introduction of women’s studies into the curricula. The first course ‘Gender and Society’ was created in 1993 at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Philosophy. In 1997, another course, ‘Women’s Studies’, was established at the Faculty of Political Sciences.7 The Women’s Studies Center, as an NGO, rented space in the building of the Faculty of Political Sciences in 2002. The idea that the Women’s Studies Center would help the faculty to develop courses in women’s studies was directly linked with the plan of the democratic block to connect political parties of the center to the NGO sector. The goal was to arrange a partnership between the state educational system and NGOs (which were during the 1990s engaged in building alternative educational systems). However, due to constant political shifts in society as well as in the Faculty of Political Sciences, the Faculty soon stopped this program of cooperation with the NGO sector. The resistance against the Women’s Studies Center was the result of the negative perception of NGOs by the conservative forces in Serbia, since they were identified with political opposition to Milošević. As such, they became a political option constantly ← 319 | 320 → attacked by the nationalist block, which increasingly gained power. A solution to the problem was found in the establishment of the Center for Gender Studies and Politics at the Faculty of Political Sciences in 2006. The center is predominantly focused on research and, from the perspective of gender studies, examines women’s position in society, the issues of identity, the relations of politics and political practice, human rights, power relations, the ideological matrix, etc. So, at the moment, two parallel centers exist at the Faculty of Political Sciences. One (the Women’s Studies Center) is an NGO, which is still active and as an alternative program offers interdisciplinary courses in gender studies, and the other (the Center for Gender Studies and Politics) is structurally part of the Faculty of Political Sciences. The Center for Gender Studies and Politics has a master’s program in gender studies, and in every generation 10 to 15 students enroll. It offers an elective course at undergraduate level, which can have up to 70 students (depending on the Faculty politics, it is either available to all departments or not). The course ‘Theories of Gender and Politics’ is an elective in the doctoral program. All students get the diploma from the Faculty of Political Sciences; later they usually work in state institutions or the NGO sector, dealing with gender equality and human rights. Implicit and explicit collaboration between the two centers still exists.

According to Daša Duhaček,8 one problem of the center at the Faculty of Political Sciences is that it originated from the Women’s Studies Center and still relies heavily on it for additional human and other kinds of resources. A further major obstacle for the successful integration of the Women’s Studies Center and its outreach to students is that it does not have enough academic credibility and some faculty members believe that gender studies are not a relevant academic field which should be part of a state university (Duhaček 2013). It can be concluded, as Duhaček argues, that the problems of the centers at the universities in Novi Sad and Belgrade are the same (particularly isolation, financial difficulties, small number of students and limited outreach, as mentioned above), but the strategies are different given the circumstances in the specific local political and cultural contexts. One major difference certainly is that the focus of the Center for Gender ← 320 | 321 → Studies at the University of Novi Sad is on education, while the Center for Gender Studies and Politics at the University of Belgrade is more focused on research. While the Novi Sad Center for Gender Studies predominantly collaborates with the departments at the Faculty of Philosophy, including the English Department, the Center for Gender Studies and Politics, as a part of the Faculty of Political Sciences, is primarily oriented towards political sciences.

At the English Department in Belgrade,9 the elements of women’s studies are included in two graduate courses and one doctoral course. Similarly to the English Department in Novi Sad, the curriculum was reorganized as a result of the implementation of the Bologna process. The graduate courses on American postmodern writers and postcolonial literature incorporate the works of Anglo-American women writers. Additionally, a course on gender theories is offered within the doctoral program at the Faculty of Philology.

To look further afield for the sake of comparison: the English department at the University of Niš, which was founded in 1971, offers a course on Canadian women writers as part of its own undergraduate program and the doctoral program at the Department of Literature and Serbian Language. The University’s Law School has offered an elective course in gender studies since 2008. Among the many private universities founded in Serbia after 2000, the University of Singidunum (Belgrade), established in 2006, deserves special mention with its Faculty for Media and Communication. The FMC employs three lecturers from the Women’s Studies Center as professors. Due to this fact and the support of its Dean, Nada Popović Perišić, gender studies have been an important part of the curriculum from the start. The courses offered at undergraduate and master’s level relate to popular culture and gender, gender and culture, reading the city from a gender perspective, queer theories and film, etc. This university is the only private university which offers so many courses in gender studies. ← 321 | 322 → 10

7.  Conclusion

The antiwar and anti-regime activities shaped women’s studies in Serbia, but reciprocally, women’s activism and women’s studies also shaped the Serbian political scene and continue to do so. The centers for women’s studies and other activist groups have had a significant impact on legislation, political parties, and the current composition of the Parliament (with 30% female representatives from each party). Most importantly, without them we would not have a democratic society. Just as women had contributed to building the country – its political, economic and social aspects – after the Second World War, so they contributed during and after the civil war and Milošević’s regime. In this sense, they are inseparable from the civil sector. However, at the beginning of the 2000s, with the advent of democracy, there was no longer any need for the anti-regime activity of the centers for women’s studies. Their focus was once again on education, but also on the growing demand to make gender studies part of the universities and their curricula. After a decade of work of the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Novi Sad and four years of the Center for Gender Studies and Politics in Belgrade, it is evident that they have only partially fulfilled their objectives. While they have indeed provided research and education in women’s studies to the students enrolled, they have not managed to ensure a complete implementation of gender mainstreaming in the educational institutions in Serbia, which has been partially due to an unsupportive environment. Courses integrating aspects of women’s studies are offered only sporadically. There is no professorship in the field, and the involvement of professors at the centers rests upon their enthusiasm and is in no way part of systemic support. The centers cannot offer courses at the departmental or university level to all students, which isolates them from the wider academic community. Another major problem is the fact that the degree in gender / women’s studies is not recognized by the Ministry of Education, making it hard for the students to find employment. With the constant drop in the number of students who enrol and the inability of the centers to prove themselves an indispensable part of university education, their future remains uncertain. From what we can see in the region, this is not a local problem, but rather a global trend. ← 322 | 323 →

One solution to the problem might be a continuous and joint effort of the university departments to offer courses that would combine women’s studies with other disciplines, educating students about various ways of their application. A good example of this practice was the English Department in Novi Sad, which offered five courses integrating gender studies with literature, postcolonial and translation studies. Another solution might be to change the professorships to make them more interdisciplinary. As it is now, there is only an undifferentiated professorship in English studies. The introduction of an official focus on women’s studies within the field of English studies would make both disciplines more visible and attract more scholars to multidisciplinary approaches.

Notable scholars who have combined elements of English and women’s studies in their publications are Dubravka Djurić, Biljana Dojčinović-Nešić, Vladislava Gordić Petković, Aleksandra Izgarjan, Aleksandra Jovanović, Dubravka Popović Srdanović and Adriana Zaharijević. Dojčinović-Nešić’s Ginokritika: rod i proučavanje književnosti koju su pisale žene [Gynocriticism: gender and the study of women’s literature] was a seminal text on gynocriticism and as such a significant impetus for feminist research in Serbia in the 1990s. In 2011 she published a book on Virginia Woolf Susreti u tami: uvod u čitanje Vidžinije Vulf [Encounters in the dark: introduction to reading Virginia Woolf]. Djurić explored the works of modern and postmodern experimental women poets from a feminist post-structuralism and cultural studies perspective in Poezija, teorija, rod: moderne i postmoderne američke pesnikinje [Poetry, theory, gender: modern and postmodern American women poets]. In Korespondencija: tokovi i likovi postmoderne proze [Correspondences: movements and characters of postmodern prose], Gordić Petković analyzed Anglo-American and Serbian women writers from a woman-centered approach. In Ugalj i mesec: eseji o američkoj poeziji XX veka [Coal and the moon: essays on 20th century American poetry], Dubravka Popović Srdanović wrote on American poets of the 20 th century with special focus on the formation of a canon of multicultural women’s poetry and lesbianism. Izgarjan’s Neprekinuta crna priča [Uninterrupted black story] and Maksin Hong Kingston i Ejmi Ten: ratnica i šamanka [Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan: woman warrior and shaman] were the first monographs in Serbia to analyze the works of African American and Asian American women writers, respectively. Savremene američke književnice ← 323 | 324 → [Contemporary American women writers], edited and translated by Izgarjan, was the first anthology of contemporary American women writers in Serbia. Half of the twenty-one writers featured had never before been presented to the Serbian audience. Jovanović’s Glasovi i tišine [Voices and silences] contains a chapter on British feminism, while Zaharijević’s book Postajanje ženom [Becoming a woman] charts the histories of British and American feminisms. In 2011 Ivana Milojević and Slobodanka Markov edited the first comprehensive collection on gender theories, Uvod u rodne teorije [Introduction to gender theories], written by twenty-nine Serbian female scholars (many of them Anglicists) and covering the time span from first to third wave feminism. In all of these works, we see how women’s and gender studies can successfully be combined with English studies. Hopefully, these books will inspire many other Serbian scholars to engage along such lines of study.


Anon., ‘Dekada postojanja Centra za rodne studije na UNS: 2003–2013’ [Decade of the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Novi Sad], <> (15 Aug 2013).

Anon., ‘Serbia Celebrates World Refugee Day’, <> (17 Aug 2013).

Blagojević, Marina, ‘Feminist Knowledge and Women’s Movement in Serbia: Strategic Alliance’, Aspasia 4 (2010), 184–97.

–, ‘Jaja i zviždaljke’ [Eggs and whistles], Feminističke sveske 7–8 (1997), 20–35.

Dascăl, Reghina, ‘From Loitering with Intent to Consensual Union – Anglicists and Gender Studies in Romania’, ESSE-11 Conference Istanbul 4–8 September 2012.

Djurić, Dubravka, ‘Lokalna i globalna dinamika feminizama’ [Local and global dynamics of feminisms], in ZBORnik: Ka razvijenoj demokratiji [Collection of essays: towards developed democracy], ed. Irena Javorski (Beograd: KPZ Beton, 2013), pp. 50–55. ← 324 | 325 →

–, Poezija, teorija, rod: moderne i postmoderne američke pesnikinje [Poetry, theory, gender: modern and postmodern American women poets] (Beograd: Orion art, 2009).

–, Politka poezije [Politics of poetry] (Beograd: Ažin, 2010).

Dojčinović-Nešić, Biljana, ‘Centar za ženske studije, istraživanja i komunikacije’ [Center for women’s studies, research and communication], in Ka vidljivoj ženskoj istoriji – Ženski pokret u Beogradu 90-ih [Towards the visible women’s history – the women’s movement in Belgrade during the 1990s], ed. Marina Blagojević (Beograd: Centar za ženske studije, istraživanja i komunikaciju, 1998), pp. 207–21.

–, Ginokritika: rod i proučavanje književnosti koju su pisale žene [Gynocriticism: gender and the study of women’s literature] (Beograd: Književno društvo Sveti Sava, 1993).

–, Susreti u tami: uvod u čitanje Virdžinije Vulf [Encounters in the dark: introduction to reading Virginia Woolf] (Beograd: Službeni glasnik, 2011).

Duhaček, Daša, Personal interview, 13 Aug 2013.

Gordić Petković, Vladislava, Korespondencija: tokovi i likovi postmoderne proze, [Correspondences: movements and characters of postmodern prose] (Beograd: SKC, 2000).

Izgarjan, Aleksandra, Maksin Hong Kingston i Ejmi Ten: ratnica i šamanka [Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan: woman warrior and shaman] (Novi Sad: Filozofski fakultet, 2008).

–, Neprekinuta crna priča [Uninterrupted black story] (Beograd: Zadužbina Andrejević, 2002).

–, Savremene američke književnice [Contemporary American women writers] (Zrenjanin: Agora, 2009).

Jovanović, Aleksandra, Glasovi i tišine [Voices and silences] (Beograd: Mono i Manjana, 2012).

Lokar, Sonja, ‘Equal Opportunity Acts in SEE – a Trap or Achievement?’, in The Conference of Gender Equality Acts in the SEE Region (Novi Sad: OSCE, 2003), pp. 9–11. Transl. Marina Ileš.

Milić, Andjelka, ‘Feministički talasi, orijentacije i pokreti’ [Feminist waves, orientations and movements], in Uvod u rodne teorije, eds. Milojević/Markov, pp. 51–64. ← 325 | 326 →

Mlađenović, Lepa, ‘Notes of a Feminist Lesbian during Wartime’, The European Journal of Women’s Studies 8:3 (2001), 381–92; also available via

–, ‘Nasilje nad ženama je pojačano’ [Violence against women is on the increase], Karavan, Žene Balkana: regionalna perspektiva 7 (2002), 20.

Pantelić, Ivana, Partizanke kao građanke: društvena emancipacija partizanki u Srbiji 1945–1953 [Female partisans as citizens: social emancipation of female partisans in Serbia, 1945–1953] (Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju, 2011).

Petrušić, Nevena / Slobodanka Konstantinović Vilić, ‘Integrisanje studija roda u univerzitetski sistem obrazovanja’ [Integration of gender studies into the system of university education], Zbornik radova Pravnog fakulteta u Nišu (Niš: Univerzitet u Nišu, 2012), pp. 17–41.

Popović Srdanović, Dubravka, Ugalj i mesec: eseji o američkoj poeziji XX veka [Coal and the moon: essays on 20th century American poetry] (Pančevo: Mali Nemo, 2003).

Uvod u rodne teorije [Introduction to gender theories], eds. Ivana Milojević / Slobodanka Markov (Novi Sad: Mediterran Publishing, 2011).

Zaharijević, Adriana, Postajanje ženom [Becoming a woman] (Beograd : Rekonstrukcija Ženski fond, 2010).


Aktivizam Novosadske Lezbejske Organizacije [Lesbian Organization Action Novi Sad], <>.

Asocijacija centara za interdisciplinarne i multidisciplinarne studije i istraživanja [Association of Centers for Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies and Research], <>.

Centar za rodne studije [Center for Gender Studies], <>.

Centar za rodne studije i politiku [Center for Gender Studies and Politics], <>.

Centar za ženske studije [Women’s Studies Center], <>.

[Received November 1, 2013] ← 326 | 327 →

1 All translations in the text are provided by Aleksandra Izgarjan unless otherwise specified.

2 The most notable Western sponsors include: the Soros Foundation (later renamed Fund for an Open Society), Kvinna till Kvinna, Rosa Luxemburg, Heinrich Böll, Mama Cash, ProHelvetia, Global Fund for Women and KulturKontakt.

3 Serbia has the highest number of refugees in Europe and is one of the five countries in the world with a so-called protracted refugee situation. It received 618,000 refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and 210,148 internally displaced persons from Kosovo. Cp. <>.

4 We decided to concentrate on the University of Belgrade and the University of Novi Sad as the oldest and largest in the country and the first to introduce gender studies into the curriculum.

5 The master’s studies comprise 10 and the doctoral studies 15 courses. Cp. <>.

6 Approximately 100 students have attended courses at the Center for Gender Studies. The individual sectors show the following enrolments and degrees: specialist studies 10 / 2, magister studies (before the Bologna reform) 20 / 7, master’s 45 / 12, and doctoral program 21 / 6. Cp. <>.

7 Here, as in general, it is difficult to provide a complete survey due to the lack of databases and the unavailability of the curricula on the internet sites of some of the faculties and universities.

8 Duhaček was a co-founder of the Women’s Studies Center and is now a professor at the Center for Gender Studies and Politics.

9 The English Department in Belgrade is the oldest in the country and was founded in 1929.

10 There is also a course in gender studies at the private Faculty for European Law and Political Studies in Novi Sad.