Decorations on the office walls at Fondacija CURE
Last week at my internship I spent a solid 20 minutes scrolling through photos of sculptures of topless women on the internet. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned working on this summer, but it turns out that sometimes when you’re looking for information on feminist sculptors, much of the available content is visual. And I can’t complain about receiving academic credit for it.
Fondacija CURE is a feminist activist organization in Sarajevo with an extensive list of projects. I stumbled upon the stone breasts while researching an artist who will be attending CURE’s annual feminist art festival, to assemble her bio for the website. Researching some of this year’s guests has been my main project for the last couple of weeks, as the festival is about three weeks away. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to see it, but this event is a pretty big deal for the organization.
They invite NGOs, a variety of officials from Bosnia and Sarajevo-based embassies, and the media to the opening of the festival. I’m told that in addition to the attendees from all parts of Bosnia who come, there are regular contingents of (primarily) women who make the trip from neighboring countries. There are great efforts taken to ensure that young women, economically disadvantaged women and women from marginalized communities can attend the festival, and to ensure that they are represented on the stage.
In addition to celebrating feminist art, CURE’s activities include monitoring of policy and lobbying of political leaders, coordinating activist demonstrations in Sarajevo, holding educational workshops for youth around the country, and various other projects, such as screening the textbooks used in public school for content which normalizes domestic violence. In short, they’re kind of a catch-all for feminist causes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Which you kind of have to be when you’re one of the only organizations doing this kind of work.
One of my personal frustrations while learning about Bosnia’s history has been my perception that women are not adequately represented in much of the material or public commemoration of the violence in the 1990s. There are many reasons for the way in which the culture of memory has developed, and it’s certainly not my place to come in and dictate how someone else’s experiences should be memorialized. As any self-aware feminist in development should know, it’s not the outsider’s place to impose their beliefs on another community; a well-meaning foreigner who dictates how women (or any marginalized group) should act just perpetuates their oppression in a different manner than the power structure that has oppressed them in the first place.
In my role as an intern, it’s my duty to listen to my supervisors at work and then decide how I can best assist with what they need, in their context. Not surprisingly, the best contribution I can make looks different in practice than I might have imagined it to look prior to being here. While it seems to me that assembling an issue brief or research report would be my optimal work output, sometimes what my supervisors actually need is for me to sift through the nude sculptures to find the background info. And if I want to contribute to the feminist movement in Bosnia, or to the field of international development in general, this is how I feel I can best do it responsibly.
But, aside from taking the opportunity to condemn imperial forms of feminism, I mention the issue of women’s representation here to illustrate the importance of an organization like Fondacija CURE. They’re a small NGO created and run by Bosnian women with the intention of elevating the voices of other women to create a gender equitable society. On the front page of their website right now, there are links to articles about female survivors of sexualized violence, rural widows, and queer women in Bosnia. They design projects and events that suit their communities, using tactics to mobilize and empower local women in their own lives, while also advocating for institutional change in Bosnia. Rather than trying to achieve gender equity by enforcing it on the unreceptive masses from a position of power, CURE works directly with marginalized groups to determine how best to serve and advocate for them. As with anything new, they encounter some resistance from the more conservative elements of society, but their fight is their own. And who better than Bosnian women, of various intersectional identities, to create and define change that will benefit Bosnian women?