Women’s Movements in Yugoslavia

Women in Black Against the War in BiH; Photo: Vesna Pavlović (archive of the organization Women in Black) https://ratusrbiji.rs/antiratni-pokret-u-srbiji-1991-1999/

The history of women’s movement in former Yugoslavian states is a good example of how the development of feminist activism differs from place to place. Faced with specific conditions, challenges, and violations of women’s rights related to armed ethnic and religious conflicts, women in the former Yugoslavia established a number of organizations to assist women during the war and in the postwar period. Wars in former Yugoslavia took place throughout the 1990s, between the independence-seeking states and the government in Belgrade that wanted to control them. There were a number of wars in the countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia. The Bosnian war, which took place between 1992 and 1995, is considered the most violent in terms of violations of human rights, including women’s rights. During that conflict, rape was used as a weapon and war tactic. It is estimated that 10,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the Bosnian war.

Women’s and feminist organizations responded to hardships of war in a number of ways. For example an organization called Zene Zenama, the Women to Women Center for Women Returnees established in 1997 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Zene Zenama focused its activities on creating a “safe space for women” in which they can express their war and postwar experiences. It had provided emotional and psychological support for women in crisis. It helps women returnees with reintegration into the society and provides women with information on health and legal issues.

Similarly, Medica Zenica Women’s Association, an active women’s therapy center, assists women who were subjected to violence during the war or whose families or communities experienced such violence. Medica, founded in 1993 in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, aims to encourage solidarity among women, protect women against exploitation, and promote women’s reproductive rights, as well as to fight aggressive nationalism and ethnic discrimination by providing women with shelter, therapy, and medical assistance.


  • Fabian, K., Johnson, E. Lazda, M. (2021) The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Routledge