"Women in Serbia: Post-Communism, War, and Nationalist Mutations"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Mon Aug 30 04:58:56 MDT 1999

Zarana Papic wrote in "Women in Serbia: Post-Communism, War, and
Nationalist Mutations," _Gender and Politics in the Western Balkans: Women
and Society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States_, ed. Sabrina
P. Ramet (University Park, PA: Penn State UP, 1999):

*****  The nationalist instrumentalization of women was also confirmed in
the new abortion law adopted by the Serbian parliament in May 1993.  Just
like the patriarch's message, this abortion law all of a sudden introduced
women into the political arena, after their long and "normal" invisibility.
The version adopted by the parliament permitted women to decide on an
abortion only up to ten weeks into their pregnancy, while a commission
composed of a physician, a psychologist, and a social worker would be
empowered to take the final decision where women sought abortions between
the tenth and twentieth week of pregnancy.  Also, women between sixteen and
eighteen years of age (although having the right to work and to found a
family) must obtain permission for both parents in order to have an
abortion performed.  And last but not least, the initial draft of this law
did not recognize rape as a legitimate reason for abortion.

The abortion law provoked major resistance on the part of feminist groups
as well as Civic Alliance, the only major opposition party to have taken up
the cause of women's rights....[T]his law was among the few that President
Milosevic declined to sign, sending it back to the parliament with the
explanation that "it diminishes the basic freedom to decide whether to give
birth, as one of the fundamental human rights." ...[T]he revised abortion
law eventually adopted in Serbia included rape among acceptable reasons for
granting an abortion, and allowed women between the ages of sixteen and
eighteen to make their own decisions without parental consent.  But it
still did not allow personal, family, or social reasons to be considered
after the tenth week of pregnancy; nor did it allow women to make their own
decision after the tenth week.

Where the first draft had stipulated that raped women had to give birth,
the "ameliorated" law represented only a lesser erosion of women's
fundamental rights.  Abolishing women's right to decide on abortion up to
the twentieth week of pregnancy, grounded on personal, family, and social
reasons, in fact does not represent at all a contradictory precedent in the
general trend of _ideologization_ surrounding the issues of fertility and
population politics in the service of the Nation.  Compared to the "hard"
reasons accepted as the only allowable reasons for granting approval for
abortion up to the tenth week (the woman's health, a deformed fetus, rape,
or incest), _personal_ (including family and social) reasons are the only
ones that could be translated as "ideological," that is, reasons outside
the realm of "natural" causes....

Only 4 percent of the members of the Serbian parliament are women, and even
that represents some small progress when compared with the period 1990-93,
when only 1.6 percent of parliamentary deputies were women.  Not a single
law was passed in this parliament concerning women's rights.  Women
represents the major part of the workforce that was laid off or put on a
compulsory vacation.  Women and rural inhabitants were the real pillars of
Serbia, bearing the brunt of the U.N sanctions from 1992 to 1996....[T]he
death rate among the newborn increased from 12 percent in 1992 to 16
percent in 1994. (163-4)

[An earlier version of this essay was originally published in _War Report_,
no 36 (Sept. 1995).]

[Zarana Papic teaches social anthropology at the University of Belgrade and
at the Women's Studies Center, Belgrade.]   *****


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