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The history of all times, and of today especially, teaches that ... women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves.
Louise Otto
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Third Option or the Visions of Possibility that Comes from Young Women
Taida Horozovic | 7 February 2007

Last week, an intense series of presentations, training sessions, debates and fieldwork visits were held in Skopje thanks to the program "Through Women’s Eyes" organized by the Multimedia Perfrorming Arts Center in Skopje, Macedonia. The event gathered participants from arts and culture organizations from Germany, Holland, Greece, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Slovenia.

Read the program: 31 January - 04 February 2007, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

"Why are women always alone working for women’s issues? In fact, this is a man’s issue, not a women’s issue. Equality can not be achieved without the friendship of men." (President Vigdis, Iceland)

Here is more about the event:

After the proclamation of the Republic of Macedonia as independent and sovereign, the new political elites have accepted the democratic and civil orientation of the state, emphasizing the era of pluralism in the orientation. The concept of civil society as a future for the country was accepted as well. In respect to this vision, it should be stressed that in the last years Macedonia has been part of the wider process of adapting the relations between the nations, cultures, histories and territories, (specific for the SE Europe), thus tracing the discourse of stimulating a dialogue, strengthening the democratic culture and the culture of democracy, and not changing the political decision making.

Anyhow, the vision of such a society was and in some segments is still far from the reality.

However, between this vision and reality there were, and still are in some spheres, huge differences and gaps; gaps between old and new system. The approach towards this new vision was and is the sole road that Macedonia, as well as all of the other countries in the region, could take in order to join the European standards and positive models of living, without becoming isolated islands. That meant starting with changes. We all entered into the process of transformation or said in modern terms transition.

In the same time, in the Balkan region, which has a long history of war and domination, women are still experiencing the transition which is generally called the end of the cold-blooded nationalistic wars. In the escalation of racial, ethnic, religious and gender-based conflicts and violence, the role of women - questions of women’s human rights and the violation of women as a symbol of their cultures and peoples - has become central.

These global changes are offering both opportunity and danger for women (especially young women activist), as in any time of crisis. The opportunity is there for women to offer new solutions, to enter the public policy debate in a way that they have never been able to do before. And the danger is that even those advances women have made in this century will be reversed if they are not able to take this opportunity to move forward. When we talk about women entering the global policy debates and influencing those discussions, we don’t see this as totally separate from, but rather building on, the work that women are already doing.

Women are usually invisible leaders at the local community level. Women are the leaders who have held families and communities together in times of crisis. Women have managed budgets that were inadequate to raise children and have managed to keep people together in times of war and other conflicts. And yet, as power moves up the ladder women’s voices and women themselves disappear. It is precisely a movement to change this that young women have begun lately - they have begun to re-question their place at the table of global policy making as well as at their place in the kitchen. The incredible failures of international policy in this century make it clear that young women’s expertise and experience must be brought to the global agenda if we are to see positive change in the 21st century.

We would like to add that lately we see the dismantling of social welfare in both formerly socialist countries and in Western Europe, which is structural adjustment in this part of the world. This dismantling of social welfare has the same impact as structural adjustment in that it sacrifices human needs and human rights for economic expediency. And it is women who suffer the most in all of our countries from these policies because it is women who must make up for the services lost to family and community.

Both economic and cultural life is becoming more global as they are more dominated by global market values. Everyday we see the erasure of distinct geographical diversity and cultural variations in the process of the creation of a “common world” of consumerist culture that sacrifices difference. Young women have a crucial role in this process and they have to find a better way for their world to have development and find common ground while still retaining cultural and other forms of diversity.

In today’s world, women are facing two polar opposites; they are told that they either have to accept the global economy with its homogenized consumerist culture or they have to return to "traditional" cultural patterns and life. These actions believe that women must devise a third way, a third option. Frequently, we can see the growth of a narrow nationalistic ethnic fragmentation into separatist enclaves where all "others" are demonized and seen as less than human.

Another form of such reaction is the rise of religious fundamentalist movements that take a narrow patriarchal view of religion, whether Muslim or Christian. These movements often cross national lines and are based on a narrow call for identity that dehumanizes "the other" as those who are not members of their religious group. And therefore, the identity, the commonality that is developed is in opposition to and seeks domination over others, rather than building a spirit of solidarity, of humanity and tolerance for those not like oneself. These conservative reactionary forces, whether nationalistic or religious or both, all seek to control young women. This control is absolutely central to religious or ethnic or cultural purity and identity. If they cannot control the women, they cannot ensure purity of race and identity, and in that very key point lays the vulnerability and potential strength of women.

Young women must be educated how to refuse these narrow definitions and say that there can be diverse cultures and ethnic identities living together, that we can live in solidarity and respect with those who are different. Feminists have been accused of being anti-family, but the conservative forces have continually narrowed the understanding of what the family really is. Young women must be educated what pro-family is and that means same as pro democratic, pluralistic, non-violent, and tolerant. Families based on respect for the human rights of all. Such families do not form the basis for narrow ethnic enclaves who will fight other families and other ethnic groups but instead create the basis for family members who respect minorities and other groups.

Having in mind this context, it seems natural to think that all these changes are not gender neutral. Women have absorbed the shock of adjustment to this new social order by withdrawal in the sphere of the house and taking responsibilities for nurturing the children and caring for elder people. Many of them have intensified the unpaid work because of the cutting-down of the budgets for basic public services as education, social service and health care. When gender equality is in count, the economic sector is occupied with two problems: 1. gender-biased process of transforming toward market economy and 2. bigger working time pressure for women, with negative effect on their health and well-being. It is clear that current needs of women besides political representation fall also in the issues of equal economic opportunities and women’s activism. The adoption of international conventions secured creation of new laws on equal opportunities for women and men who are de jure perfect but de facto not respected.

The consideration of the economic situation of women is one part of the multidimensional sphere of social status, resources and opportunities for women. Its connection with health, education, social security, housing and parental rights requires strong determination and research. The process of achieving gender equality depends on women-leaders which have great responsibility in raising awareness on the seriousness of the problems connected with gender. But promoting and supporting women’s rights is not solo responsibility of women and it surely requires democratic environment that understands and appreciates the meaning of being equal. In this quest, women should build partnership and advocate to the local self-governments and national institutions, women’s organizations should have strong membership that reflects the real needs of the women in their community and have clear and concise list of priorities and activities for dealing with open problems.

Women must look at these questions from the point of view of women’s lives and from the point of view of all of those who have been marginalized by the dominant paradigm and definitions of these concepts. In this way they will begin to pose alternatives, to move toward a model of society that is not based on domination and alienation and the divisiveness that we see in the world today.

We are underlying that young women are the most important new force on the horizon in Europe today with the potential to create more humane future and humane global governance. Whether addressing labour, poverty, education, health, violence, etc. all of these are issues of women’s access to full humanity, to full human rights, to the conditions necessary to exercise political rights and to take responsibility for enacting visions of where we want to go in the world.

Partners in the project include:
- Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture - City of Women, Slovenia;
- Akcija - Cultural Development Agency, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Artens, Greece;
- Debalie, The Netherlands;
- The New Society for Fine Arts (NGBK), Germany; Culture and Community, Albania;
- Per.Art, Serbia;
- Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Republic of Macedonia

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