The Antifascist Women’s Front (AFŽ) and the Reconfiguration of Women’s Citizenship Rights in Early Socialist Yugoslavia (1945-1953)
Based of the AFŽ archival collections hosted in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Sarajevo, the paper discusses the ways in which women’s citizenship rights were conceptualized in socialist Yugoslavia after World War II, first in accordance with the ‘working mother’ gender regime characteristic of the Soviet Union, and then through the new ideology of self-management after the Soviet-Yugoslav split. Along with a discussion of the official socialist discourse on women’s rights, the paper provides an intersectional reading of the Antifascist Women’s Front, highlighting how differences in education, ethnicity, class, and political orientation contributed to shape AFŽ members’ different forms of political engagement. Various scholars, such as Lydia Sklevicky (1989; 1996), Barbara Jancar-Webster (1990), and Jelena Batinić (2015), addressed the hierarchical differentiation between a minority of urban, educated, politicized AFŽ leaders and a majority of rank-and-file members of peasant and working class origin. Nonetheless, AFŽ activists’ biographies and processes of politicization remain under-researched, notably when it comes to republican cadres, who were invested with leadership tasks during World War II and in its aftermath. As I will show through various AFŽ leaders’ portraits, women’s personal struggles for education, social justice and overall freedom in life choices – alongside the socialist gendered framework of “progress” vs. “backwardness” – played an important role in the construction of modern, emancipated, yet motherly female models in the post-war era.
Chiara Bonfiglioli is a Lecturer in Gender & Women’s Studies at University College Cork, where she coordinates the interdisciplinary Masters in Women’s Studies. She received her MA and PhD in Gender Studies from Utrecht University. Between 2012 and 2017 she held post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Pula, and the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna. Her research addresses women’s and feminist history from a transnational perspective, with a specific focus on former Yugoslavia and Italy. She recently completed a monograph titled Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector (forthcoming with I.B. Tauris, 2019).