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Croatian Women's Rights Activists Don't Only Take to the Streets—They Rename Them

Photo: a street sign renamed after Vesna Parun, a Croatian poet Credits: Marinella Matejcic

A street sign renamed after Vesna Parun, a Croatian poet. Photo credit: Marinella Matejcic

Seventy years after the women of Croatia were granted suffrage, the country elected its first woman president. Unfortunately, it'd be difficult to find a feminist in Croatia who could say with confidence that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović will improve women's rights there. On the contrary, the president's right-wing politics are in opposition to many of the rights women seek.

The Croatian economy was badly affected by the global financial crisis, so the government is promoting various new austerity policies. Those policies disproportionately affect women because they form the majority of welfare claimants (mostly as single mothers, as the courts in Croatia give children mostly to mothers after the divorce). As the government is decreasing social benefits, conservatives in Croatia are also obstructing reproductive and sexual rights.

It's clear that much remains to be done, so for International Women's Day on March 8, Croatian activists decided to take action. In Rijeka, people woke up to a city changed — during the night, several feminist and LGBT activists pulled off a guerilla marketing action and renamed the streets after significant women throughout history. Approximately 150 street signs were redesigned with A4 or A5 paper printed with the names of women who did great things for the country, but have been left out of the public space and conversations.

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Photo from this year's 8 March protest in Zagreb, Croatia. First banner: “My body, my decision.” The second: “8 March is resistance day.” The third: “No austerity measures at the expense of women.” Photo credit: Svjetlana Knežević, republished with permission

On March 7, women's rights organisations also protested in the Croatian capital of Zagreb under the motto “Resistance Day: No Austerity Measures“. Their aim was to emphasize that the fight for social, political, and economic equality of the sexes is still ongoing.

And in Split, non-governmental organisation Cenzura Plus rallied ten activists to demonstrate in front of a hospital in order to highlight the importance of free choice regarding women's reproductive rights. They held banners with powerful messages such as, “The most violent element in the society is ignorance”, “We will not go back to illegal abortion”, “Feminists fought for the rights every woman now has”, and “Pray our way to accessible contraception, education in schools and fight to end violence against women”. 

‘Not about flowers’

International Women's Day is a symbol of women's fight for economic and human emancipation. The day, which is celebrated all over the world and online (check out the project Web Women Want, which quotes 100 web-savvy women about their vision for the Internet), used to have stronger political flavor. Nowadays, it's often just an occasion to show love to women. 

Croatian feminist and journalist Ana Maria Filipovic Grcic reminded readers in her article on this year's International Women's Day:

Osmi mart nije cvijeće i Kozmo sniženje parfema 40 posto, već obilježavanje dana kad su žene prosvjedovale zbog malih plaća i loših uvjeta. Što čine i dan danas. Između ostalog, da bi tebi bilo bolje. Učini i ti nešto za društvo – evoluiraj.

March 8 is not about flowers and the reduction of perfume prices by 40 percent, it's about remembering the day when women protested because they had low income and bad working conditions. And they are still doing it. Among other things, to make things better for you. Do something for society — evolve.

My body, my decision.  Credits: Svjetlana Knezevic, reposted with permission

“My body, my decision.” Credit: Svjetlana Knezevic, republished with permission

Women make up 49.6% of the general population in Croatia. According to the UN's The World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics Report, there are approximately 57 million more men than women in the world. According to statistics, this gender imbalance is even greater in Europe. The report shows that:

  • Women aged 25 to 54 now have higher labour force participation rates in most regions as compared to those of 1990.
  • Women’s wages represent between 70 and 90 percent of the wages of their male counterparts.
  • Maternity continues to be a source of employment discrimination. Even with maternity legislation, many pregnant women still lose their jobs, and complaints of maternity-related dismissals are common in the courts.

Women all over Europe are facing similar problems at the moment. Unemployment, low income, glass ceilings, often excluded from public life and policy. According to the International Women's Day website, the theme of this year’s event was “make it happen”. Here's hoping that women worldwide will accept that challenge and, as Mahatma Gandhi put it, will be the change they wish to see in the world.

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