Publications of Helms, Elissa
The gender of coffee: Women and reconciliation initiatives in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina
This article explores the gendering of reconciliation initiatives from the perspective of Bosniac women active in women’s NGOs in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. I illustrate how established patriarchal gender relations and socialistera models of women’s community involvement framed the ways in which some women’s NGO participants constructed essential ethno-national and gender differences, in contrast to dominant donor discourses. This leads to exploration of how gender patterns embedded in the institution of komsi= luk (good-neighborliness), particularly women’s coffee visits, provided both obstacle and opportunity for renewed life together among ethnic others separated by wartime ethnic cleansing. Distinguishing between the two concepts, I show how, from the perspective of women’s roles and experiences, “life together” may be all that displaced women want or expect out of “reconciliation” initiatives, and that even this may be beyond the capacity of many displaced people to forego talk about injustices and guilt stemming from the war.
Women as Agents of Ethnic Reconciliation? Women’s NGOs and International Intervention in Post-War Bosnia-Herzegovina
This article examines how women are represented by women's nongovernmental organization (NGO) activists and their foreign donors in postwar reconstruction initiatives in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I argue that dominant donor representations of women as peacemakers and natural agents of ethnic reconciliation present a paradox for the women they target. Women are charged with achieving the very political goals of ethnic reconciliation and refugee return, yet the essentialist constructions used to encourage women's peacemaking roles effectively marginalize them from formal political power. When local women activists use similar ''affirmative'' gender essentialisms, they risk closing off women's potential for influence in the formal (male) political sphere. However, I argue, given the moral and political climate of postwar Bosnia, in which politics is perceived as a corrupt, male sphere, this strategy allows women to gain moral authority and real, though indirect, power with which to achieve their often very political goals.