Part I The Women’s Movement in Bulgaria

1.3. The Women’s Movement during the Post-Socialist Period (after 1989)

There was a proliferation of women’s organisations during the first decade after the collapse of the socialist regime. Lang (1997) describes this as ‘NGOization of feminism’ in relation to Eastern Germany, which is a shift away from the preceding form of collective mobilisation. Lang (1997) connects this NGOization of feminism to the ‘professionalisation and internal cohesion of feminist projects’ and to ‘restrictive appropriation of feminist agenda for state policies’ leading to legislative action on some feminist claims (Land, 1997: 115-116). This analysis applies also to Bulgarian women’s activism after 1989. Therefore, I still try to avoid the word ‘movement’ and use ‘women’s activism’, ‘women’s organisations’, etc. – phrases that do not suggest unified and grassroots civil society action.

Women’s activism during the first five to ten years after 1989 was mostly in the areas of the environment, education, human rights, and the number of organisations working on gender equality remained small (Women’s Alliance for Development, 2000; Daskalova and Filipova, 2003). Charity was again one of the main activities of women’s NGOs, offering help to people in need, most often to orphans, the disabled, or the elderly. The women’s organisations at this stage were relatively weak due to overall lack of gender awareness and experience of activism (WAD, 2000; Daskalova and Filipova, 2003). At this time women's groups represented a relatively small part of civil society organisations, around one tenth the registered NGOs. The number of women's NGOs rose significantly in 1993-1995, and again in 1996-1997, ‘when it became clear that the transition to the free market and democracy placed new burdens on women, and that

government was not prepared to address these problems’ (WAD, 2000: 1). But the number of women’s NGOs working on gender equality issues remained small (WAD, 2000: 1).

The discourse of women’s activism during the first post-socialist decade, according to Daskalova (2000), can be described as navigating between demands for rights of women and the socialist discourse about women’s emancipation. At the same time there does not seem to be a single issue that was dominant, either for the whole of women’s activism, or for each organisation. The programmes and activities of the women’s NGOs of this period were trying to address all problematic social issues that were related to women in some way, including issues related to economic, political, and intimate citizenship. Very often the organisations found themselves representing women in general, with the small exception of women’s organisations from ethnic minority groups, and there also were women’s organisations based on profession (for example Women in Science) or education (for example Bulgarian Association of University Women). Bulgarian women’s activism after 1989, as Kostova (1998) suggests, was characterised by weak organisations with tactical rather than strategic aims, organised around single issues and very often passive, based on discussions and no action (Kostova, 1998: 218-219).

After the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) the Bulgarian women’s movement entered into a more dynamic phase marked by a growth of local activism, more professional organising, and a clearer focus on gender (WAD, 2000). A study of women’s NGOs carried out by Daskalova and Filipova’s (2003) demonstrated that almost half of the organisations were national, and half worked at local level. They identified the top priority issues of women’s NGOs at this stage as: violence against women, including sexual harassment; discriminatory employment practices (based on gender, age, and ethnicity); limited access of women to decision-making; unequal distribution of unpaid labour; gender stereotypes in education and sexism in advertising. A large part of the women’s NGOs were trying to address the public at large – 48% of women’s groups, which were related to educational goals. Another 28% were targeted at children and youth, 16% at women from minority groups, 12% at vulnerable women, and 8% at disabled people or the elderly (Daskalova and Filipova, 2003: 8). However, the authors do not mention if the organisations self-identified these target groups and if one issue per each organisation was selected, or several issues if the organisations were not single-purposed.

A key difference between Bulgaria and other post-socialist countries, according to Daskalova, was the lack of a moralising pro-choice vs. pro-life debate in the country in general, and in women’s activism in particular. The liberalisation of the abortion law making abortion on demand available to all women happened without much debate in parliament, or in society, with little opposition from the Orthodox Church (Daskalova, 2000: 345). This made some of the concerns of western feminists irrelevant to the Bulgarian post-socialist context. Instead of abortion, Daskalova (2000) further suggests, post-socialist women’s activism focused on other intimate citizenship issues, such as the availability of contraceptives, the improvement of sex education, and the promotion of family planning (Daskalova, 2000). It does not become clear from the analysis, however, if the organisations Daskalova refers to are feminist, conservative women’s, pro-family, or health organisations. I have not been able to find information about any particular feminist organisation working on the above-mentioned issues and, therefore, I believe that it was conservative women’s or pro-family organisations that took these initiatives on board. There were 35 women’s NGOs by 1995 and most influential among them were those connected to the socialist parties (Daskalova, 2000). Daskalova (2000: 353) suggests that ‘the scope of action of such organisations is very limited; their agenda is subject to change upon notice from party leadership’. This again is not unexpected because of the way in which the women were collectively organised during the period of socialism. The first years after the limitations on civil organisations were lifted, the functional principle remained almost unchanged, with strong affiliations to politics. Women from different political parties could not combine in support of common issues, and ‘in a nationalist milieu, women acting on their own agenda are reproached for being selfish’, she further suggests (Daskalova, 2000: 360). This caused marginalisation of women’s interests in collective action and an overwhelming emphasis on women’s role as mothers (Daskalova, 2000). This is very similar to the agenda of organised women during socialism. Kostova (1998) suggests that women’s problems were not a priority for the organisations after 1989 as the ‘emphasis is put on solving women’s problems only as members of other groups – the unemployed, youth, or pensioners’ (Kostova, 1998: 219).

Some of the women’s organisations after 1989 were affiliated to political parties. Some examples of such organisations were: the Democratic Union of Women and the Christian women’s Movement which were close to the Socialist Party (Българска социалисстическа партия), the

Women’s Club at the Bulgarian Agrarian People’s Union (Български земеделски народен съюз), The Federation of Women’s Clubs at the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (Българска Социалдемократическапартия), and the organisations Women for Pure Natural Habitat and the National Ecology Club, affiliated to the Green Party (Зеленапартия) (Daskalova, 2000).

Many organisations based on professions were established to support women from specific groups, for example the Bulgarian Association of Women in Law; the Bulgarian Association of University Women (BAUW), the business club Eterna; the Association of Women’s Clubs in Business and the Liberal Professions; The Club of Women Inventors; The Club of Women in Information Technologies; Zherika (Women, Work, Career); and Women in Science (Daskalova, 2000). These organisations dealt with the particular professional problems of their members and the activities were guided by the interests of their members. The activities of these organisations differed significantly – some were internationally established, while others were not active at all (Daskalova, 2000).

Other forms of women’s organised activism were also established during the post-1989 period. A political party of women, the Party of Bulgarian Women, was created in 1997; their leader was Vesela Draganova. The party gained popularity and entered parliament in 2001 when it made a coalition with the liberal political party NDSV (National Movement for Stability and Progress (News.Bg, 2007). Two large trade unions with women’s sections were formed, and still exist, which were involved in the social protection of unionised women: the ‘21st Century Women’s Parliament’ of the KNSB (Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria) and the Women’s Union to the Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (Daskalova, 2000; Ilieva and Delinesheva, 2005).

The post-socialist context of economic hardships opened up space for many women’s organisations that were involved in different forms of social support for vulnerable groups and charity work. An interesting example is the organisation Zherika (Women, Risk, Career) founded in 1994 and dedicated to supporting women under stress and psychological crisis (Daskalova, 2000). The activists of the organisation offered information services on where women can obtain medical, social and educational counselling. Supporting women was important because they were much more affected by the changes, according to Zherika – the feminisation of poverty being just one manifestation of this (Daskalova, 2000).

A forum for discussing women’s issues that has now become an annual tradition is the National Meeting of NGOs, governmental representatives, and experts working on women’s issues. This national gathering has taken place since 1997 when it was first organised by the Women’s Program of the Open Society Foundation, and later by its successor, the Centre for Women’s Studies and Policies (Ilieva and Delinesheva, 2005).

Another characteristic of women’s activism in Bulgaria is the increasing attempt of organisations to establish national networks that would unite the efforts, coordinate the work, and consolidate activists in support of some common issues, especially in the last ten years. Examples of such networks are:

National Network for Equal Opportunities initiated in 2001 by the Women’s Alliance

for Development and uniting 72 Bulgarian organisations (Ilieva and Delinesheva, 2005);

The National Network of Organisations in Support of Women Survivors of Violence in Bulgaria – combined attempts of 24 organisations among which the biggest are

Association ‘Animus’ and Foundation Centre ‘Nadia’;

Bulgarian Platform to the European Women’s Lobby – since 2003, the Bulgarian

Gender Research Foundation has had a central role amongst 15 member organisations;

Bulgarian Gender Equality Coalition – initiated by the Gender Project for Bulgaria

Foundation (Ilieva and Delinesheva, 2005).

There was an earlier attempt to create a national network that took place in 1994, when a few women’s organisations established a National Women’s Forum together with Government authorities that would allow dialogue between women’s groups and political parties. The purpose of the organisation was to lobby on certain gender issues in front of the legislative and executive authorities, public bodies, and the church and representation at international events (Daskalova, 2000) such as the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995. In preparation for the conference the Forum organised a ‘National Campaign until Beijing and Further’ (NAWS, 2002) to discuss gender issues in Bulgaria. This attempt to unify women’s activism into some umbrella organisation and to organise joint action proved to be extremely difficult (Daskalova, 2000).

There are not many studies published trying to evaluate the focus of women’s activism during the recent period. One such study was carried out by The Bulgarian Fund for Women focusing on the funding needs of NGOs working on women’s and girls’ issues. 128 questionnaires were sent out to organisations, of which 35 responded, and not all of the respondent organisations were active. The study found that the main areas on which the NGOs were working were: prevention of all forms of violence against women and support of victims of violence; trafficking; discrimination in employment; gender equality; women’s participation in decision-making; youth policy, professional development and the integration of young people; anti-discrimination and civil rights protection; integration of people with impairments; environment; health; integration of ethnic minority groups; charity; development of civil society; and social services (Slivkova, 2008).

From these areas, most activism was focused on violence and trafficking (20 NGOs); gender equality (8 NGOs); women from minoritised groups (7 NGOs); and employment and entrepreneurship (7 NGOs). Six organisations worked in each of the areas of education, healthcare, disability, and discrimination (Slivkova, 2008: 3). The main areas of concern for the organisations, the study revealed, were related to funding and collaboration. The NGOs found that there was insufficient long-term funding which would allow accumulation of finances and reinvestment in future projects, and they were requesting more support from central or local governments and the Fund for Women. The activists also believed that common action of NGOs would produce better potential for social change (Slivkova, 2008: 7).

Bulgarian women’s NGOs have been mainly supported by international donor organisations, for instance the Open Society Foundation, the Global Fund for Women, Mama Cash, Stability Pact Force, the Netherlands’ Foundation and PHARE, while there is still lack of government funding for such organisations (Social Innovation Fund, 2006). This financial dependence of the organisations is sometimes interpreted as weakness and a lack of independence, for example:

The NGO sector [in Bulgaria] is growing not only because of the availability of a solvent and low-risk market as represented by donors, but also because of growing unemployment among intellectuals. From its very origin this market is an export of services. Therefore, the NGOs sector has not emerged in a natural way, as a result of internal citizen needs; it complies with an external demand, articulated in the donors’ aspiration to stimulate civic society in Bulgaria (UNDP 2001b: 41 cited in Ghodsee, 2004: 739).

Another factor that influenced women’s activism is Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union (EU). Towards the end of the first post-socialist decade experts from the EU started evaluating the development of the country in annual reports (1998) and the accession negotiations were opened (1999). Key legislative changes occurred with significant contribution by women’s organizations, but also due to the influence of the EU agenda.

The agenda of women’s activism in Bulgaria also became influenced by the gender equality issues put forward by the United Nations’ Millennium Declaration adopted in 2000. The Millennium Development Goals contain eight targets, including gender equality and the empowerment of women (Goal three), to be achieved by 2015 (UNDP Bulgaria, 2007: 1). Although gender equality is a quite broad concept, the UN efforts are focused mostly on elimination of gender disparity in education, on equal opportunities in the labour market and on equality in political representation (United Nations (UN), 2007: 13). Hence, gender equality is seen as primarily related to economic and political citizenship, and not to intimate citizenship. Bulgarian NGOs, especially women’s organisations, have been involved in partnerships with the government, media, and the private sector to produce country reports on the Millennium Goals, and to campaign to raise public awareness about gender equality (UNDP Bulgaria, 2007: 1). The role of these national reports is seen to be to:

‘stimulate and guide the national debate on the concrete parameters for the development of the country and trigger changes in policy which could speed up the achievement of the Bulgarian national goals’. (UNDP Bulgaria, 2007: 2)

The positive language of what seems an important contribution of women’s activism towards greater gender equality has in practice resulted in uniformity in the demands and actions of Bulgarian women’s NGOs.

The pervasiveness of gender equality issues is observable also from the report of the Centre of Women’s Studies and Policies, which describes the main role of women’s activism in recent years as focusing on gender equality. The report outlines nine types of contribution to gender equality and non-discrimination, for instance: contribution to gender equality in political representation and decision making, in the labour market, more effective gender equality legislation, lobbying and negotiation with government bodies and authorities, rising awareness,

participation in national and international forums, struggle against breast cancer, and so on (Centre for Women’s Studies and Policies (CWSP, 2003). The only issue that is related to intimate citizenship, according to this report, is violence, which is defined as gender equality and protection of human rights.

A similar trend towards a prevailing focus on gender equality is observable not only in Bulgarian women’s activism during the last decade but also in the whole Balkan region, as Blagojevic (2003) points out. This also suggests that the women’s activism in the Balkans, including Bulgaria, is often a combination of ambivalent ideologies:

Within the prevailing ‘gender-mainstreaming discourse’ or ‘gender equality discourse’ coexist often mutually excluding ideologies varying from conservativism to neoliberalism, from populism to elitism, from anarchism to nationalism. Women’s agenda is often an unstable ground for coalitions even for the women themselves. The attitude towards feminism is also often ambivalent and contradictory (Blagojevic, 2003, p 5).

The gender equality discourse was also related to the involvement of women’s organisations in the drafting and discussion of the Law on Protection against Discrimination (2004). The women’s NGOs pointed out in positive terms the overall government engagement with anti-discrimination legislation (Stoykova, 2007) but also made claims for creating effective gender equality mechanisms, not marginalising gender issues, and measures for the implementation of equal treatment and certain EU Directives (Open Society, 2002 cited in Stoykova, 2007). The NGOs not only had a significant role in the drafting of the law but also in contributing to its implementation. For example, the Women’s Alliance for Development implemented a project on ‘Capacity building of employers, NGOs and trade unions for implementation of the Law on Protection Against Discrimination’ (2004-2006). There were two recent projects ‘Promoting Equal Opportunities Mechanisms at local level’ in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Vojvodina, Serbia (2006) and ‘Mainstreaming diversity - through information, education and measuring discrimination’ (2007-2008) implemented by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation.

Reproductive Rights and Parenting

Reproductive rights and parenting is the dimension of intimate citizenship that has remained a central concern of women’s activism both before and after 1989. During the past ten to fifteen

years it has been increasingly perceived by women’s NGOs as part of gender equality. Many of the claims and demands that the NGOs made after 1989 were not very different from the ones made by organised women during socialism. However, there were some new elements. The difference, most importantly, is in the demand for an alternative identity to the worker-mother- activist model proclaimed during socialism, and in the demand for protection of women’s rights as human rights and as part of gender fair citizenship. Due to the very limited information from secondary sources on women’s activism during the first years after 1989, I am not able to make a distinction between feminist organisations and conservative women’s organisations and I will consider them together in this section. It is also possible to argue that there was not a clear division between the two at this early stage of state-independent activism.

A few examples can be given to demonstrate the claims and demands of the women’s organisations that relate to intimate citizenship. For instance, the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) was the largest women’s organisation during the first years after 1989 and it was ‘heir’ to the Committee of Bulgarian Women, which existed during the communist period (Daskalova, 2000). The Union relied on its old structures and the support from the Socialist Party (Daskalova,

In document Changing cultural discourses about intimate life: the demands and actions of women’s movements and other movements for gender and sexual equality and change (Page 44-68)