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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Women, Violence and War: Wartime Victimization of Refugees in the Balkans
Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic

Budapest: Central University Press, 2000
250pp. Biblio. Index. Pb.: 13.95; ISBN 963-9116-60-2.



This was originally published in Serbia in 1995 by the Institute for Criminological and Sociological Research. It provides an interesting Serbian perspective on the recent Balkan wars. It is written by the main author with three other women (all criminologists and sociologists). The war is presented from women's point of view, and considers their suffering without regard to ethnic origin. The focus is not to describe the suffering of women in terms of numbers, but to consider individual experiences or narratives from a feminist perspective. War is seen as essentially a masculine construction which takes place within the context of patriarchal societies. The authors oppose written history written from men's perspective which, they claim, focuses on "stories about victories and defeats, enemy losses, heroic battles and heroes, usually men". They attempt to redress the balance by taking an oral history approach. Around 70 women who lived through the war and experienced violence were interviewed. They mostly came from Bosnia and settled in Vojvodina during the war. The book is essentially a record of this study.

The first chapter is a brief history of Bosnia-Herzegovina from its origins to the 1995 Dayton peace accords. This has been added for the English edition and is clearly intended for a foreign audience. The chapter stands alone, and anyone familiar with Bosnian history can safely omit it.

Subsequent chapters examine a range of issues relating to women's experiences of abuse in war, specifically how to define violence and the experience of women, the methodology used, sexual violence, the Hague Tribunal and rape, physical abuse and homicide, psychological violence and fear, family separation, refugees, adaptation to new environments and strategies of support and help.

This is a wide ranging study which attempts to take into account the experiences of women during war and their physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. Throughout the book there are vivid descriptions which illustrate the points the authors wish to make. For instance, the chapter about sexual violence discusses rape from a number of perspectives; during military conquest, abuse in camps and prisons, revenge, war strategy, prostitution, etc. This effectively integrates the suffering of women into the social and political context.

The book is well-structured and provides a coherent account of the issues. The feminist focus is enlightening for those of us used to the descriptions of war we normally experience in history books and through the media.


Dr. Nigel Hunt, Nottingham Trent University



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