Strategic reflection and discussion meeting 16-17 November 2013 in Zagreb

CONTEXT

In its program entitled “Reinforcing the women’s movement”, a means to help feminist activists of a country or a region to deploy their activities and their ideas as effectively as possible by taking time to define and implement strategies, forming coalitions over the long term, the Mediterranean Women's Fund (MedWF) has decided to organize a workshop in Croatia in November 2013.

The decision to hold a meeting in Zagreb first was taken considering the last developments in Croatia's political situation: the entry of Croatia in the European Union, last summer, and the preparation of a referendum requiring that the heterosexual definition of marriage to be enshrined in the Croatian constitution at the end of October.

ORGANISATION

Thanks to the advices of our grantees organizations and to the assistance for the coordination of a woman of the Women Studies Center, 25 women of 18 women’s associations working for women’s rights in Croatia (8 were from towns in the interior of the country) participated to the workshop.

The design of this type of workshop also allows the participation of outside guests, members of associations in countries of the region, who can contribute their experience and know-how to the discussion. At the time of the meeting the organizations had visiting guests, women activists coming from Tunisia, Montenegro and Sweden: the four of them were invited to join the meeting.


FORMAT

As this workshop was meant to enable an in-depth discussion between the associations, the format had to be flexible and attuned to their needs.
The outside guests were welcome to contribute making parallels with the situation in their countries and enriching the discussion with their ideas and experience, taking care to remain within the framework of the concerns of the Croatian women.
To facilitate communications with the participants coming from abroad, Croatian/English transla-tions were planned.

The discussion was facilitated by Caroline Brac de la Perrière, director of the MedWF whose role was to present the workshop, deliver the floor on demand, and reformulate points raised to ensure that everyone’s contribution was taken into account. After a brief presentation of each participant, the discussion turned to the challenges facing women and women's associations in the current Croatian context and all of the Croatian participants were able to take time to share their concerns, difficulties, and what they consider to be the main challenges facing them.
The second half of the day was dedicated to assessing the strengths and available resources on which the associations could count but also the weaknesses they identify as obstacles for their action. The participants broke first into four small groups: two assessing internal strengths and weaknesses and two assessing external strengths and weaknesses. A list of the allies was then drawn up by all the participants.
The morning of the second day retained the same small groups then general discussion format. Turning to the challenges listed by everyone, and taking into account existing resources, the associations concentrated on identifying priority issues and ways and means to address them.

The challenges identified by the associations mostly involved raising awareness in a climate of growing conservative positions towards women orchestrated by the catholic Church with the complicity of the State. Numerous participants told of the backlash that affects the society and show very pessimistic vision of the future. The pressing need to reinforce themselves, work together, and find allies was repeated by everyone.

Due to the feeling of despair or helplessness that many of them expressed at the beginning of the meeting, the members of associations tended to see first their weaknesses more than their strengths. However, in the end, all agreed that they had power as strong and tenacious activists, that their continuous action and involvement had clearly contribute to increase women's empowerment. They are proud of their strong experience of networking at local, regional and international level and their knowledge of the international mechanisms fro women's rights.

PRIORITIES

In order to challenge the conservative forces of their society, the women's organizations concluded that the first step would be to strengthen their organizations and networks, going back to the feminist principles to keep a holistic political vision within and outside the movement. The outreach work was acknowledge to be very important as getting close to under-privileged populations in rural areas and getting young women to be involved, calling on outside resources for training when necessary.
The women's organizations recognize their own expertise and knowledge and experience, they know the women's movement has all the capacities and experts to write strong reports on women's situation in Croatia. They already have published a lot of reports on diverse issues, the idea is to agree on the methodology and on the issues important for the reporting and to put all the datas together.

The needs are: time, people with expertise, money and a good coordination.

CONCLUSION

Croatian women's organizations work in a very difficult context: donors withdraw from the country since it is now part of EU, and the conservative movement is strong enough to organize a referendum that aims to undermine the egalitarian articles of the Constitution.

The first decisions taken by the women activists is thus to reinforce their collective force and continue the strategic reflection and analysis as a basis of the important action they decided to launch: denounce the Vatican agreement as a bind to women's rights and to figure out as quickly as possible how to link up with other elements in society likely to be their allies.
MWF promised participants its support in this process, both in terms of financial and organizational.

A quick round table showed that the meeting was very inspiring for the women activists present, who were happy to have the opportunity to talk and reflect in such a smooth way , some added that this way of working together was a learning process, empowering and others that it brought the feeling of hope back.

It was a success for the MedWF because we could meet directly a part of the croatian women's organizations and understand better their situation and the difficulties they meet.
It confirmed the ability of MedWF to organize strategic reflection workshops for women's organizations in different Mediterranean countries, whatever the context: organizations never get the opportunity to meet without having to produce results at the end of the workshop.