Women in the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement: An Overview

TitleWomen in the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement: An Overview
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1981
AuthorsJancar, Barbara
JournalStudies in Comparative Communism

The role of women in the Yugoslav Revolution and Civil War (1941-1945), referred to by the Yugoslavs as the national liberation struggle (NOB), is of tremendous significance not only as one of the decisive factors in the Partisan victory, but also for the more general study of women in the process of social and political change. In the Yugoslav National Liberation War, women demonstrated unequivocally that they were excellent organizers, administrators, and mobilizers of provisions, money, and people in the rear areas. More importantly, they were capable fighters at the front in one of the bloodiest amphitheaters of World War II. Official Yugoslav sources set the total number of women involved on the side of the Partisans at 2 million. One hundred thousand were recruited into the National Liberation Army (NOV) and Partisan units, 2,000 of whom were made officers. Of the 1.7 million people who lost their lives, 620,000, or 36 percent were women. In all, the war took around 11 percent of the Yugoslav population. Some figures suggest the scope of the toll on the female population: from 1941 to 1945, 8.5 percent of the total female population died; among those who joined the Partisans, 25 percent died; but among women members of the National Liberation Movement, 31 percent died. Clearly, the mobilization of women in the war was a key factor in the Communist victory. The high degree of female participation raises several important questions as to the role of women in revolutionary movements in general. First, to what extent was the contribution of Yugoslav women the product of a Party program and conscious mobilization; to what extent was it a spontaneous patriotic response to the demands of the moment? Second, how can one account for the fact that, given both the political and military importance of women's contribution, women receded into the political background almost immediately after the war? Third, can one draw general conclusions from the Yugoslav experience about female participation during times of crisis, war, and national survival? This paper addresses these questions in primarily historical terms.

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