WOMEN ACTIVISTS USING E-MAIL IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
Turnipseed (from FEMINIST
COLLECTIONS vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 1996, pp. 22-23)
* An activist in Yugoslavia
uses e-mail in her education program with women and girls in a community
where, until recently, women were sold into marriage and denied their
basic right to education. Articles depicting a range of women's experiences
around the world, gathered from postings on e-mail conferences, are
used to educate students about their basic human rights and to bring
this group of isolated, rural women into the global community of women.
The stories elicit laughter, curiosity, recognition, and surprise.
* Living in strongly heterosexist
societies, lesbians are keenly aware of our invisibility in public life.
Labrys, a lesbian human rights group in Belgrade, uses e-mail to publish
reports of human rights violations, to link with international advocacy
groups, and to further projects begun at international conferences.
The international solidarity available over e-mail is critically important
to minority groups as our advocacy for human rights and inclusion places
us at odds, sometimes violently so, with the dominant culture.
* Citizens of Tuzla used
e-mail to express their rage and grief at the deliberate shelling of
the center of the city on the Day of Youth, 1995, which resulted in
the deaths of 67 youth and injuries to 128. Women in Belgrade, Zenica,
Sarajevo, Zagreb, Europe, and North America used e-mail to send messages
of solidarity to people in Tuzla. While the international media had
moved on to the next story (the hostage-taking of UN soldiers), e-mail
expressions of solidarity and support continued to flow into Tuzla and
countered a general sentiment of their grief having been too quickly
These examples illustrate
how women have incorporated e-mail communications into their lives.
My work with Electronic Witches is biased by my belief that in facing
every critical issue in former Yugoslavia including post-war normalization,
social reconstruction, the return of refugees, the protection of civil
liberties, and the bringing to justice of war criminals women are capable
and must exercise intelligent leadership that is decisive, strong, and
inclusive of others. E-mail can enhance the participation of women in
public life as it enables the production and broad distribution of information.
E-mail is a tool for women in former Yugoslavia to bring to light the
violence that is embedded in silence.
To appreciate the critical
value of electronic communications to anti-war, feminist, humanitarian
and other civic initiatives in the Former Yugoslavia, it is necessary
to appreciate the political and social context in which women live.
During the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, many public leaders were stirring
up prejudice, hate, and fear between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
With the start of armed conflict in Croatia in 1991, normal communications
between citizens in the emerging States were disrupted, resulting in
an almost total breakdown of communication between people working on
opposite sides of the fighting.
The politics of nationalism
and the creation of a culture in which power is allied to and defined
by force is expressed by silencing alternative views, restricting individual
freedom, and reviving traditional norms. These policies have had specific
gender implications in the Former Yugoslavia. Regardless of the level
of military activity, women's rights are under attack, women have less
visibility in the public sphere, and are virtually excluded from State-level
decision processes, including the negotiation in Dayton of an unjust
cease fire. Masculinity is militarized, demanding a deeper machismo
and a display of patriotism through military service; correspondingly,
femininity has been constructed into "Sexualized woman" or "Patriotic
Mother." Several women's organizations have received the blessing of
the State for their provision of a variety of social services to the
survivors of war-induced trauma and relocation, yet this stands in contrast
to the invisibility of women's calls to end domestic violence or for
appointment to leadership positions.
Local and international media
play a critical role in the construction of culture and the interpretation
of wars in the Former Yugoslavia. The international mass media have
documented and brought into homes around the world countless stories
of the political violence in Former Yugoslavia. Many people in the world
know that numerous citizens in Bosnia and Hercegovina have been starved,
physically beaten, forced from their homes, and killed, yet most people
still are unaware of the oppressive conditions endured by ethnic Albanians
living in Kosova. Due to widespread coverage, there is international
awareness that rape is used as an instrument of militarized nationalism,
yet people do not learn of the persistence of male violence in the home
nor the impact of NATO and UN forces on prostitution in the region.
Images of rural women displaced
from their homes by threat or force are often featured in television
reports and news articles from the region. Women do comprise a majority
of the refugee and displaced population of this region, but we also
comprise a majority of anti-war, human rights, environmental, and social
reconstruction activists. With the periodic exception of groups working
with women survivors of sexual violence, much of women's work for peace
goes unreported in the mass media. Rarely do journalists widen their
view to include pictures of women in all our diversity taking effective
action. We do not read about the lesbian who raised money to support
a lesbian and gay human rights group; the woman who returned from exile
to initiate a literacy program; or the woman who lives in a refugee
camp and is learning to use computers.
The horrors of war are worthy
of reporting, yet the mass media often do not place it in proper context.
In the shadow of the media's popularized images of war, violence, and
ethnic divisions lie other widespread and pervasive effects of militarism:
societies are running on fragile economies with many citizens on the
brink of survival, there is resurgent religious influence in public
life, conservative social policies abound, and many young people have
emigrated. The Dayton Peace Accords have brought relief to many people,
but are not likely to bring back those who have resettled in third countries,
nor have they replaced widespread cynicism and hopelessness. The narrow
space for alternative views renders e-mail indispensable to activists
who strive to restructure communities so that people have power over
their own lives, participate fully in community, and live in dignity
and freedom. E-mail enables activists in this region who must work outside
traditional structures to speak for themselves, to be informed, to coordinate
programs across national borders, to maintain relationships, and to
meaningfully participate in global social change movements.
The Electronic Witches project
was initiated in spring of 1994 (with two women working part-time) to
broaden women's access to electronic mail. Since then, Electronic Witches
has worked with more than one hundred women from thirty organizations
throughout former Yugoslavia. These women come from a wide variety of
backgrounds different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, education
levels, classes, and professions. Threaded through this diversity in
life experience runs an overwhelming similarity in women's experience
with information technology. Women understand the power of information,
its potential to enhance their social change goals, and the need to
share it widely. This group, however, generally has enjoyed neither
regular access to computing resources, training appropriate to their
needs, nor encouragement to creatively explore the potential uses of
the computer. Overwhelmingly, the computer has been placed outside of
women's familiar framework; it has been mysticized and generalized as
the domain of men. Women who have used typewriters for years, for example,
don't immediately see the linkage of skills, as computer technology
has been mystified.
Under such conditions, Electronic
Witches training includes materials that are relevant and easy to understand,
with a minimum of technical jargon and a focus beyond skills transfer
to the alleviation of women's fears and low self- confidence regarding
use of technology (attitudes that have been ingrained through life experience
of gender-based discrimination. Exercises used during training, instead
of exalting the technological wonders of e-mail or the computer, focus
on daily, practical applications relevant to women's lives. We have
witnessed many women's attitudes toward e-mail shift from skepticism
or distaste to curiosity or enthusiasm as they watch their friends quickly
incorporate e-mail into their work and personal communications.
Women are motivated to use
e-mail principally for the exchange of private messages and to locate
information available on public electronic conferences and mailing lists.
Women also use e-mail to communicate with international funders and
solidarity groups, to publish articles on local conditions, and to coordinate
projects across national borders.
Many resources have recently
become available to support the broadening of women's access and utilization
of e-mail networking in former Yugoslavia. The Network of East West
Women have included women in the region in their e-mail networking project,
the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has raised funds
to support women's direct involvement in the Zamir Network, and the
Women's Information and Documentation Center in Zagreb has initiated
a Women's Regional Networking Project. Now that a core group of women
use e-mail, there is a shift toward increasing women's participation
in public e-mail conferences and multiplying the benefits of e-mail
by sharing information with groups that do not now have computers.
[Kathryn Turnipseed is a
lesbian feminist activist. She freed herself from a job as a commercial
banker to enjoy the richness of life existing beyond the walls of multi-national
capitalism. She is slowly learning that peace is every step.
E-mail address for Electronic Witches is: electronicwitches_zg@zamir-
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