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  • Do It and Name It:Feminist Theology and Peace Building in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Zilka Spahić-Šiljak (bio)

Feminist theology is a new phenomenon in the Balkans, and only a few women, more precisely, only a few female Catholic theologians and writers, discussed this topic in the former Yugoslavia.1 It was important work in the post–Vatican Council period as it shed light on the role of women in family, church, and society, though no larger, systemic scholarly work or initiatives in faith communities and churches by feminist theologians existed. Even today, the majority of women and men in the Balkans, including theologians, do not know what feminist theology is and if it is indeed possible to combine feminism with theology.

This lack of understanding is, in large part, a hangover from the days of socialism when ideology and political order marginalized and suppressed religion and considered feminism as alien. Consequently, women, particularly women believers, would not dare reveal these two identities in public. Being a feminist was not acceptable, but being a religious feminist was inconceivable—and is still today.

Feminism and feminist initiatives, however, developed slowly in the former Yugoslavia, though mostly of a secular and atheist provenance that did not take religion and female believers into account. It should be noted that, unlike in many Communist countries, feminism in Yugoslavia was not formed as state feminism within official communist organizations. Instead, it flourished as an independent endeavor of female scholars, journalists, and activists to change Yugoslav society from within.2 Feminist organizations and groups showed resistance to the communist state, and their work brought to the surface questions of freedom and individual choice. As Slavenka Drakulić explains, the self-management system allowed women to work, to be mothers, and partisan heroines.3 But inclusion in the workforce, family support, and political participation were not sufficient for these feminists, whose calls for freedom of choice were a danger to the socialist status quo. Their movement indeed represented radical [End Page 176] change, but that change that did not include a place for religious women and their voices as agents of these changes.

Thus women believers were marginalized by the state communist ideology, by secular feminists, and by their own faith communities and churches. Such triple exclusion and marginalization made women theologians reluctant to deal with feminist theology, and they remained silent, dealing with other topics that did not uznemiruju (disturb, in the sense of provoking) the state or the church or secular feminists. They also did not have the opportunity to learn about feminist theology at universities or to attend any alternative to state-sponsored education. Largely, except for several articles published by Catholic theologians in Croatia and some individual efforts made by female theologians who had studied abroad, mostly in Germany and Austria, feminist theology was almost completely absent from the social and academic discourse.

When the war started in Balkans in 1991, some female theologians became active in secular women’s organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to help women and children survive traumas sustained during the war and after, in the war camps. NGO-ization of women’s initiatives was a result of foreign donor influence, and the aid was often politicized.4 But at the same time, the NGO framework opened the floor for various perspectives in the promotion and protection of women’s human rights, including the feminist theological perspective.

The sociopolitical climate in the 1990s changed very quickly from socialism to ethnonationalism cloaked by ethnoreligious ideologies. Religion erupted in the Balkans and became an important factor in the establishment of political legitimacy, while faith communities took the opportunity to reenter the public arena and to take control of religious education in public schools. Though this now meant the opportunity to teach religious education in schools, women were excluded from hierarchies within the faith communities and decision-making positions; men designed the curricula for religious education, which resulted in the usage of patriarchal textbooks that repositioned women into traditionally (religiously) assigned gender roles.

Around this time, many female theologians had to rethink their lives and find a way simply to survive during turbulent times. They were also driven to help their people...


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pp. 176-184
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