Why does the discussion about gender make people uncomfortable? In Serbia, LGBT+ people are being excluded from their communities and International Women’s day is confused with romantic courting. People are afraid to say that they are feminists and young females are facing misogyny. The Green Forum intern Kristina Grujicic met with gender coordinators from two green organizations in Eastern Europe.
The Green Forum partner, Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe (CDN) is working across Eastern Europe, which despite many commonalities is a very multifaceted and turbulent region. They work to promote and strengthen the green movement in Eastern Europe. Both by conducting own activities in numerous countries and by supporting the local member organizations.
One of CDNs member organizations is Serbian green youth (SGY). It is an organization located in Belgrade, Serbia. They are promoting nonviolence, participative democracy, social justice and ecological wisdom.
Gender working groups
CDN as well as SGY has various working groups whereof one is the Gender working group, Gender WG.
For the last couple of years the SGY Gender WG have been working with LGBT+ issues. This year, they organized an external event called LGBT+ Museum, and it was an exhibition divided in two parts, the first one was a collection of stories from LGBT+ people. The second part of the exhibition was about stereotypical dress codes. In Serbia, there is a “policy” that says what is OK to wear depending on your sex. According to Vanja Zaric, coordinator at SGY Gender WG, Serbia is a very homophobic society and therefore, gay or feminine males are constantly threatened.
Jana Szczepaniak, coordinator at CDN Gender WG, mean that people feel comfortable with their cis-gendered heteronormative identity as long as they do not get exposed to LGBT+ people;
– They are in effect passively homophobic through taking their own identity and sexuality as the norm. Realising that sexuality as well as identity exist on a sliding scale makes many people feel less secure in their own identity/sexuality as the borders are not so clearly defined. It makes them uncomfortable especially since there’s a social stigma that makes people scared, says Jana Szczepaniak.
Gender – more than just dress codes?
One challenge for this year is to reach people that are not feminists. Some members of the Gender WG knows a lot, and some knows very little but wants to learn – the question is how can you bring forth this in a nice way that is engaging for people and not patronizing. The general discussion in Serbia seem to be about dress codes thus what is accepted for people to wear, which is only the top of the iceberg when it comes to gender.
– I think people are interested. Gender is also about rules and constructions that are beyond the idea about how people dress, Jana Szczepaniak says.
The CDN Gender WG is focusing on educating in gender and feminism, and clarify what that really is. People seem to cinfuse gender with sex.
– I think three important concepts to understand in this context are how one’s sex, sexuality and gender are all distinct and separate from one another and can occur in any combination. says Jana Szczepaniak.
The economy of Serbia still suffers from the aftereffects from the Balkan war and its high unemployment and debt levels makes it one of the poorest countries in Europe. The average wage is around 300 euros hence people are primarily thinking about their survival and to satisfy their basic needs. Therefore, everything else is considered luxury. According to Vanja Zaric, it is difficult for people to engage on a voluntary basis in human right’s organizations since it does not pay off economically. Also other things such as going on cultural events, museums or even cinemas is not something many people do. Since their basic security is unstable, it is difficult to strive for better life conditions.
In Serbia, the patriarchal norms are strongly impregnated in the society, therefore discrimination against women and other marginalized groups is a major problem. Thus, information and knowledge about discriminated people is vague. According to Vanja Zaric, the education in Serbia is not based on raising gender awareness, on the opposite, they are totally neglected. Also, the information through media is strictly limited, especially on LGBT+ matter.
Pride in Belgrade stands for inclusion and acceptance, therefore it becomes problematic when only one organization has the exclusive rights of planning and organizing the Parade. Therefore, the exclusion is also high within the LGBT+ community. Also, you can only get properly informed about Pride if you are involved in a human right’s organization or know people who are.
Feminism – a dirty word?
There is a misconception about what feminism is. Many people believe it is something negative. And people who know what it means and believe in it, are often afraid to admit it because they are afraid of being alienated and ridiculed.
Feminism is about equality between people, not only between the sexes. It is for everyone to be who they want to be without being categorized and judged accordingly. The patriarchy does not spare anybody.
– Men also suffer under the rules of patriarchy and need feminism. They are taught as small kids to not talk about emotional things and they get violent and depressed. It is difficult to feel accepted when you have this narrow stereotype of masculinity that nobody fits into, says Jana Szczepaniak.
International Women’s Day
For this year’s International Women’s day CDNs gender WG is planning to re-launch the group and see where the interest in gender lies among its members. SGY are supporting different women’s rights organizations who organize demonstrations for 8th March.
This day is for all marginalized groups of the society, not only for individuals that identify themselves as females. Unfortunately, the number of people that shows up for the demonstrations are not many. Vanja Zaric believes that this is a problem and that more people should support it. But like the Pride Parade, not many are informed about what 8th March truly stands for. The International Women’s day is very romanticized;
– They think this day is only there to for men to pay attention to women by giving a rose, or material stuff. So there is a misconception of what the 8th of March really stands for. They don’t know that it’s there for women’s rights. Last year we had a campaign I don’t want a rose, I want my rights, Vanja Zaric says.
What should be done?
It is a challenge to meet the knowledge gaps, and to find a way to even start talking about gender. But Jana Szczepaniak thinks it is a good idea to start saying what your pronouns are, and maybe by doing that people start to see for themselves.
– Even people who don’t think gender identity is important because they are taking a heteronormative and cis-gendered perspective, should start introducing themselves with their pronouns (for example: Hello my name is Miran and my pronoun is he). People first find it a bit weird and alienating, and are not comfortable doing it but later they’ll find out that everyone in society benefits from this, Jana Szczepaniak says.
Vanja Zaric believes that it is a process that should go step by step. First step might be to decrease the level of misogyny and to raise the awareness. Many females do not question their position in the society and they do not know their rights.
– If you want to make a change, for example, you want to improve the position of women in the society or stop discrimination of LGBT+ people, you have to change the system. You have to improve all parts of the system, like education, economy, health care, etc. to see a better and a faster change. You can try to change the position of marginalized group on micro level through organizing events, demonstrations that are going to raise awareness, but the real change can only be systematic, Vanja Zaric says.
By: Kristina Grujicic
(Pictures: First one is from the 8th of march 2016, demonstration in Belgrade, Serbia. Second one is on Jana Szczepaniak. Third one is on Vanja Zaric.)