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Gendered Visions of the Bosnian Future: Women's Activism and Representation in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina

Helms, Elissa Lynelle (2003) Gendered Visions of the Bosnian Future: Women's Activism and Representation in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This is an ethnographic study of women's activism in Bosniac (Muslim) areas of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. I examine the activities and representational strategies of activists in women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and political parties as they engage local nationalist and religious discourses, established notions of gender, and the discourses and policies of foreign donors and international bodies. The work is based on over two years (1999-2000) of ethnographic research among women activists, who take a range of approaches to gender and ethno-national/religious identity. I show how women's attempts to influence the direction of post-war reconstruction often rely on what I term, following Richard G. Fox, "affirmative essentialisms"- over-simplified but positive characterizations of women. These attempts are embedded in a moral universe in which gendered wartime experiences shape much of the possibilities and obstacles to public action. As women attempt to forge new identities, then, they do so within morally coded hierarchies of gender and ethnicity established during the war. I show that while affirmative essentialisms in a sense constrain women from becoming actors of consequence in political processes, in the context of Bosnia they are an effective strategy for overcoming resistence to women's political participation. I also examine the relationship between women's activism and foreign intervention, showing how donors both enable and limit women as significant political actors through a similar use of affirmative essentialisms of women. Donor policies influence the direction of feminist and women-centered discourses through their emphasis on multi-ethnic state building and on liberal feminism. Debates over difference with men and among women thus form the core of women activists' discourses on gender roles and relations.I relate this analysis to theories of gender and ethno-national identities; strategies of women's activism in relation to essentialisms of gender and cultural systems (Orientalism, Occidentalism, and "balkanism"). In contrast to social science literature on nationalism that sees women as symbols of nation, and in further contrast to images of Bosnian women as passive victims of war and nationalist politics, I argue for and provide a case study of women's active gendered roles in post-war nation building.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Helms, Elissa Lynelleehelms@pitt.eduEHELMS
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairHayden, Robert Mrhayden@ucis.pitt.eduRHAYDEN
Committee MemberRusinow,
Committee MemberAlter, Josephjsalter@pitt.eduJSALTER
Committee MemberBlee, Kathleenkblee@pitt.eduKBLEE
Committee MemberConstable, Nicoleconstabl@pitt.eduCONSTABL
Date: 17 November 2003
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 1 August 2003
Approval Date: 17 November 2003
Submission Date: 21 August 2003
Access Restriction: 3 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 3 years.
Number of Pages: 313
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bosnian Muslims; ethnic reconciliation; foreign aid; former Yugoslavia; gender and war; international intervention; NGOs
Other ID:, etd-08212003-114548
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:00
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:49


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