Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gendered Values and Attitudes among Rural Women in Croatia

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gendered Values and Attitudes among Rural Women in Croatia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Studies following the collapse of socialism have shown that transition fostered a renewed public emphasis on traditional values, family life and religion, leading to what has been called 'retraditionalisation' (Kligman, 1994). Analogously, in Croatia, restoration of statehood and nationhood promoted a public emphasis on the retraditionalisation of gender roles and deliberate reinforcement of traditional values and attitudes. This article, based on ethnographic research in a rural area of Croatia, explores to what extent we can talk about a 'return to tradition' in rural villages following transition. It asks whether there was ever really a departure from traditional gendered values and attitudes during socialism and whether these gendered values and attitudes have subsequently been given new meaning in the post-transition/war period. Principally based on rural women's accounts of their experiences, this article presents the prevailing gendered values and attitudes by examining cultural patterns, expectations, roles, ideals and practices in these communities and questions whether they stem from the past.

Four explanations have been offered by scholars for the rise of traditional gender attitudes and subsequent decline in women's status throughout Central Eastern Europe (see Kunovich & Deitelbaum, 2004: 1091-2). First, issues of gender equality in these countries were closely linked to discredited communist regimes (Jaquette & Wolchik, 1998; Nowakowska, 1997; Ramet, 1996; Verdery, 1994). In other words, many were quick to dismiss policies that promoted gender because it was not only communism but anything that was associated with this system that was rejected. Second, researchers have argued that the lifting of multiple burdens of employment, child care, housework, and politics might have led to the retreat of women into the private sphere (Lobodzinska, 1996; Milié, 1993; Szalai, 1998). Third, the gender issue was ignored by politicians because of the number and severity of problems during transition (Lobodzinska, 1996; Ramet, 1996). Namely, gender issues were seen as less important in comparison with inflation, increasing unemployment and redistribution of state-owned resources. Lastly, churches throughout the region gained a great deal of power with the collapse of communism (Alsop & Hockey, 2001 ; Glass & Kawachi, 2001) and have played an active role in the propagation of traditional gender ideologies.

In addition to these four explanations, war in Croatia (1991-95) following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia relentlessly complicated transition processes that had already begun at the beginning of the nineties. Undisputedly, this further aggravated the economic situation as well as strengthened patriarchal and nationalist attitudes that subsequently worsened and marginalised women's position. Women's issues were not prioritised as funds that were needed for defence and reconstruction as well as for the care of refugees and displaced persons were of national priority. Leinert-Novosel (2000: 7) identifies a number of transitional effects, which primarily have had an impact on the position of women in Croatia. These include: job loss, longer periods of unemployment, a decrease in financial family support, a lower standard of life, a growth of domestic violence, as well as the disappearance of women from the higher levels of political power. Besides adverse conditions produced by transition, Kunovich and Deitelbaum (2004) in their work on ethnic conflict, group polarization and gender attitudes in Croatia argued that nationalism and conflict promote out-group polarization (i.e. distrust of Others') that encourages a return to traditional values and beliefs, including traditional gender attitudes. Beyond doubt, transition and war undoubtedly worsened women's situation as they had to forfeit many of the 'rights' (family rights and allowances (maternity leave, child endowment, state-funded nurseries and kindergartens) they had been entitled to during socialism. …

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