Women - Power - Politics

Short interview with Dr. Daša Duhaček on International Women's Day
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Women around the world are still structurally disadvantaged in many ways, excluded from certain activities or not paid the same for the same work; they make up about 50 per cent of the population, but are still underrepresented in many areas - especially in leadership positions: whether in politics, business or science.

On International Women's Day, people like to remind people of these grievances and deficits and demand or promise remedies. We are taking this 8 March as the starting point for a series of talks: Women - Power - Politics.  

We want to find out how women, from different political perspectives, classify and evaluate issues that essentially revolve around equality, equal rights and self-determination.

We will start with Dr. Daša Duhaček from the Center for Women's Studies in Belgrade, who will answer our questions from an explicitly left-wing feminist perspective.

Of particular interest is her comment that Hannah Arendt's concept of the political, grounded in the concept of freedom, is one of the cornerstones of the most productive strands of feminist theory and feminist politics today.

March 8th is International Women's Day and an official holiday in many countries and it can look back on a long socialist tradition. How important is this day for your work? Does it have any meaning at all?

Since my work is currently with the Center for Women’s Studies, which marks its 29th anniversary precisely on March 8th, this date is very important to us, and me also. The meaning of March 8th is built each year for almost three decades of the history of the Center and it includes our commitment to the history and the present struggles of leftwing feminists. This year it is marked and celebrated by our annual activity entitled Feminist Theory as a Gift within which the Center offers our free publications. Also, as a part of marking March 8th we begin today our next Digital Feminist School.

Probably the best-known German women’s rights advocate, Alice Schwarzer, has been calling for this day to be abolished for over ten years, as it is “pure mockery” and only means “symbolic flattery instead of real equality”. How do you feel about this statement?

Alice Schwarzer is famous, among her other work, for her interviews with Simone de Beauvoir.  She was quite right, together with some other activists, to point out that in many cases marking March 8th did happen in a format estranged from its original meaning – protest for the rights of women workers. It was “celebrated” in an unacceptable way and for the wrong reasons. However, we, at the Center for Women’s Studies - and, in many women’s and/or feminist groups - do not think that the March 8th should be abolished. That is why, in our work, among other things, we are supporting the history of feminist strikes and the organizing of women today.  In other words, what should be done is to renew the significance of celebrating March 8th as yet another occasion for the whole global community to be reminded of women’s rights.

The new Serbian government headed by Ana Brnabić has a strikingly high proportion of women: almost 50%. That is probably unique in all of Europe. How do you rate that? Is that more symbolic politics or the strategic will to strengthen the role and position of women in politics?

The politics of the current Serbian Prime Minister does not have the strategic goal to strengthen the role and position of women in politics – the main goal of her politics is to follow the political framework as set by the ruling political party, as well as its (male) leader. The fact that there is almost 50% of women within the government also does not benefit the whole population of women in Serbia, and, especially it does not benefit the women who are most discriminated against, since they also follow the party instructions and their party leader. It is the political model of discrimination that needs to be challenged, since, it still remains within a traditional patriarchal and neoliberal format.

Worldwide one can currently get the impression that large protest movements - whether in Belarus, Poland or Myannmar - are largely shaped and led by women. Do you share this impression? And if so, how do you explain that?

Any conclusion requires a contextual analysis, which would immediately point to the fact that, first the cases of Poland, Myannmar, Belarus, etc., differ among themselves. More importantly, although the protests in these countries may be shaped and led by women, no conclusion as to the ‘nature’ of women could - or should - be assumed, since it would lead to essentializing the category of Women. However, to explain the leadership of women without falling into the trap essentializing them is one of the challenges not only for feminist theory and its political practices, but also even more broadly, it is a complex issue to be addressed within social sciences and the humanities. The same question is present concerning the opposition to the wars and nationalisms during the break-up of Yugoslavia, which was again led by women, feminist activists in the 90s. This is an analysis which still needs to be undertaken, in order to articulate arguments and formulate knowledge on the issue.

One final question for you, Ms. Duhacek: You gave an interview on Hannah Arendt, which you appreciate very much, for the foundation last December. Hannah Arendt once said on the subject of "emancipation" that this question did not play a role for her personally: "I just did what I wanted to do." And she added that she took a somewhat “old-fashioned” opinion on this issue, “that there are certain occupations that are not suitable for women that do not suit them. (...) It doesn't look good when a woman gives orders. She should try not to get into such positions.” What is your comment on that?

It is quite true that Hannah Arendt was in that respect “old fashioned” but the whole issue of her identity as a woman is much more complex (as is her relationship to her Jewish identity). Although I would not see her as opposing emancipation as such, she was definitely never a feminist, although feminism of the second wave was on the rise around her in her lifetime and she did react to it, with caution. Briefly, the main reason for that is that she perceived feminist movement in her time as a case of identity politics, which it may have been in the way it often appeared then, and, this was very much against her firm stand of what the political, grounded in concept of freedom, needs to be. Importantly, it is precisely her concept of the political that is today one of the corner stones of the most productive strands of feminist theory and feminist politics.