“I joined a feminist group in 1987 and since then I have found a community to which I belong. It is very rewarding to be part of a feminist community. Being an active participant in change, together with other women, and analyzing the world from a feminist perspective gives me answers for what doesn’t really work in this world. When we work together and manage to change something in our society – a sense of meaning is brought to my life.”
Nela is a feminist and anti-war activist, advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and one of Croatia’s representatives at the European Women’s Lobby. She is also a co-founder of the Center for Women War Victims – an organization that provides support to women survivors of war, human trafficking and sexual exploitation with counselling, access to legal services and other practical assistance.
Before diving into the world of feminist activism, Nela studied law. She found herself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with patriarchy, and the expectations and roles of women. So in 1987, Nela joined her first consciousness-raising women’s group. Since then Nela has become an active member of multiple women’s organizations and movements in Croatia, and has been a key individual in constructing a network of feminist communities throughout former Yugoslavia.
Nela and fellow women’s rights activists founded the Center for Women War Victims in 1992, after identifying the need to amplify the voices of women and survivors in the country’s anti-war movement. In the early 1990’s political and economic tension within the former Yugoslavia allowed political parties to fuel nationalism and spur conflict among differing ethnic groups. The declarations of independence from each of the country’s republics resulted in civil wars across Yugoslavia. In Croatia alone, the conflict between Croatian and Serbian forces displaced over 500,000 people and cost over 20,000 people their lives. Now over 20 years later, women who were silenced during the war are coming forward, sharing their experiences of violence and seeking support to heal.
Nela played a key role in the preparations and organization of the Women’s Court – A Feminist Approach to Justice launched this past May. The project is a collaboration of women’s groups across the region and was created in order to make space for the voices and testimonies of women affected by the Yugoslavian wars. Despite recent government recognition of the use of rape and violence as a weapon of war, women throughout the former Yugoslavia still report shame and stigma attached to sexual violence and other violence they experience in the war. The goal of the project is to write and tell an alternative history, illuminating the injustices, and the violence experienced by women.
Nela struggles with the fact that the patriarchal system is so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives, but she finds strength and hope in feminist solidarity and sisterhood.
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