The beginnings of feminist organizing

Materials provided by Slavica Jakobović Fribec

1980s – 1990s

…from individual experience through joint action we come to a collective awareness of our historical position.

The first formally registered feminist group in Yugoslavia was the “Woman and Society” (Žena i društvo) section of the Croatian Sociological Association, founded in 1979. The section organized lectures and roundtables, and its members wrote and translated feminist texts. 

However, some women were dissatisfied with the section’s academic and somewhat elitist leanings, so in 1986 they founded the Women’s Group Trešnjevka (Ženska grupa Trešnjevka) in order to help women to become more self-aware, to create a safe space for sharing experiences, and to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women.

Feminists had realized, wrote Jasenka Kodrnja and Katarina Vidović, that violence against women was the universal principle of patriarchy, so, for them, it became a key political issue.  
After six months of preparations, in March 1988 the members of the group launched the SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence – the first of its kind in Eastern Europe. In the first nine months of operation, they received around 3000 calls from all over Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the activists made an arrangement with Caritas to provide shelter for three women victims of violence. Some of these activists would later occupy an apartment in the city center demanding that a safe house for women and children be established. 

In 1989, the first lesbian group in Croatia – the Lila Initiative (Lila inicijativa) – emerged from the Women’s Group Trešnjevka. Their aim was to increase the visibility of lesbians, enable social contact and support, fight homophobia, and so on. But the circumstances were such that their plans could not be realized at that time. Lesbians were marginalized within the second wave women’s movement in the region and unable to clearly articulate their political subjectivity just yet. The Lila Initiative dissolved in mid-1990 due to a lack of funding and loss of workspace following the first multi-party elections. 

The beginning of the Homeland War also brought a schism in the feminist movement. Affected by the imminent threat of war and a sense of their own vulnerability, some activists started questioning the politics of their organizations and initiatives, peace policies, the issues of nation and identity, all of which soon drove a wedge between women who had been working together not so long ago. The Croatian LGBT community resumed their organizing after the war, in the second half of the 1990s, as civil society strengthened and legal protections against discrimination started being introduced.

Ozaljska 16, Zagreb

Women's Group Trešnjevka was given the use of a space and a phone line at Ozaljska 16 by the Socialist Youth League of Croatia – Trešnjevka (SSOH). The group held meetings there and organized training for women who volunteered at the SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence. In December 1988, they organized the second Yugoslav feminists' gathering in which participants from Croatia, Serbia, BiH and Slovenia discussed the social position of women.  Nowadays, the Cultural Community Centre Šesnaestica, managed by the Expanse of Gender and Media Culture 'Common Zone', is located on the second floor of the building.