On Monday, 8 March 2021, the City of Women – Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture announced the prize winners for feminist heroines – the WoW Awards!
Out of this year’s 180 nominations, the five-member committee again selected five winners! The following are the WoW Awards winners for 2021: the activist in the field of support and solidarity with refugees Zana Fabjan Blažič; the International Feminist and Queer Festival Red Dawns – Rdeče Zore; a fighter for the rights of the erased, the unemployed, migrant workers, and refugees Aigul Hakimova; a sexologist, gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Gabrijela Simetinger, and Lezbomanija – the lesbian and LGBTQ+ radio show by Radio Študent.
The WoW Awards, in 2021 bestowed for the second time, are a response to the systematic erasure of women (we understand the term women to signify women, trans- and intersexual persons), their work and achievements from the historical canon. The awards are presented with the following motto in mind: If we want history to be written in our name, we have to write it ourselves. They are thus awarded with the purpose of highlighting and exposing the invisible work, stories, courage, and determination of individuals as well as collectives, those fighting for a better world, and feminist heroines
Last year, the winners of the WoW Award were the pioneer in the field of work with imprisoned women and active drug users Sabina Zorec; the director of the institute Pekarna Magdalenske mreže Urška Breznik; the Č I P k e Initiative for Women with a Touch for Technology, Science and Art; the No-Border Craft self-organized initiative against racism, sexism and for open borders; and the cult Radio Student feminist radio show Sektor Ž!
In recent weeks, a selection of more than 180 suggestions were received in the web campaign for nominees, which includes individuals, feminist collectives and initiatives. The five-member committee chose five winners from the diverse selection of nominees for social justice. Among the nominees, which include well-known names, are many women who have not yet been recognised for their work and efforts, while some of them frequently even work in less than tolerant conditions.
The WoW Awards will not only be bestowed in Slovenia, but also in Croatia. They are awarded within the European Women on Women project, in which together with our partners (Vox Feminae, Tiiiit Inc., Outlandish Theatre Platform) we test new models of solidarity and knowledge exchange between different communities and celebrate the achievements of women with the help of nominations, portraits, and collective staging, the mapping of places, artistic actions in public spaces, and with the formation of artistic programmes that reflect the cultural diversity and reality of contemporary societies.
Introductory speech of the City of Women Committee for the selection of winners* WoW 2021
Once again, yet this time even more intensely, last year revealed how women mostly appear in historiography in gender stereotypical roles—or do not appear at all. The pandemic that enclosed us within four walls has pushed numerous women even deeper into the expected social roles, as the organisation of family life in the new circumstances has much too often been on the shoulders of women. For some women, living between four walls became life-threatening, since they did not have any place to hide from violence. Simultaneously, the pandemic most severely affected the caring professions: nurses, health workers, teachers, in which, once again, mostly women engage. Therefore, the pandemic has laid bare numerous gender inequalities against which feminists have been warning for years, and has unfortunately even made them stronger.
Hence it is even more important that we shed some light on the stories of fighters for social justice, their efforts, and courage as well as the immense amount of invisible work their strivings demand, including with mechanisms such as are the WoW Awards. In the fact that many individuals, institutions, and collectives have proposed more than 180 nominees for the WoW Award, we see the expression of urgency for the stories of these women to be ripped from under the cloak of invisibility and the achievements of our feminist heroines celebrated. We would like to add that many of them work in intolerant and often openly hostile, misogynistic environments.
During our decision-making about this year’s five winners of the WoW Award, we were guided by the desire to set out the most diverse practices. It was not until the end of the selection that we noticed that our choice of winners from the perspective of their work fields unintentionally, yet intentionally on the unconscious level, synchronised with current fights for freedoms we have witnessed in the last year, both at home and abroad: fights for the right to free media, autonomous spaces, making decisions about our own bodies, artistic creations, and safety from state violence; it also connected with the omnipresent class struggle. The common denominator of the enumerated fields is the constant, wider fight against patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and other forms of inequality; However, we should stress that this year’s WoW Award winners have been fighting these battles for many years. It is their long-running perseverance that we can today, when our freedoms are decreasing from one day to another, rely on to help us find the courage to move forward.
The awarded WoW fighters are our inspiration for daily fights against oppression and the point where we connect in the struggle for true equality. Even though we are praising individual WoW fighters today, it is a celebration of all our common revolts; present, past, and those that are yet to come.
Katja Kovač, Urška Breznik, Ada Černoša, Klara Otorepec, and Jelka Zorn are the City of Women committee members for the WoW Awards 2021.
Katja Kovač is an economist and volunteer. She has participated in various workshops for children in the asylum centre, humanitarian actions, and workshops in the field of gender-based violence. Currently, she acts as a volunteer at VGC Morje Koper, where she works with children and young people with special needs.
Urška Breznik is the director of the Pekarna Magdalenske mreže institute, in Maribor, where she is in charge of the socially critical programme and encourages the self-organisation of inhabitants within the Iniciativa mestni zbor initiative. She is also active in the ZaŽivali! and Center za družbeno raziskovanje societies.
Ada Černoša is an LGBT activist and president of the Kvartir society, the feminist queer collective that works in the fields of bisexuality, transgender, and LGBT culture, community, and health.
Klara Otorepec is a journalist, radio technician, and publicist. Since 2014, she has been co-editing the Sektor Ž show on Radio Študent. In recent years, she has been organising the Feminist seminar together with Katja Čičigoj, the seminar devoted to reading classical feminist works and discussing current feminist topics.
Jelka Zorn is an associate professor at the Faculty of Social Work in Ljubljana. She is a No Border activist, who is also active in the movement of the erased. Her research and pedagogical endeavours focus on the fields of social work and migrations.
Zana Fabjan Blažič
Zana Fabjan Blažič has been active in the field of support and solidarity for refugees since 2015. Within the framework of the Ambasada Rog collective, she has been offering them the legal, emotional, political, and other support necessary for survival in recent years. Together with the mentioned collective, Zana has crucially contributed to making Ambasada Rog a safe place, outside racism and market relations. It was a space of socialising, freedom, mutual care, legal support, joint preparation of lunches, and common adventures, as well as a space for planning strategies of freeing people from the claws of the centre for foreigners and deportation. She was present at Ambasada Rog every day from its beginnings to the recent eviction. She has collaborated with individuals in their preparation for interviews in the international protection procedure, supported them in preparation for legal processes upon complaints about denied international protection, cooked lunches, and organised numerous community events. Zana is a tireless fighter for a world without borders, racism, and incarceration of people. Her experience in avoiding state violence is too vast to record fully. Even though Rog was torn down, its premises taken away and their hearts broken, they did not stop Zana’s anti-racist work. She continues to establish relationships with people who are detained in the centre for foreigners and seeks ways to expose this despicable, violent institution. This includes her constant readiness to search for ways along which people could be led to freedom. Zana fights against racism and capitalism both on the structural level and in everyday interpersonal relations.
Rdeče Zore (Red Dawns)
Rdeče Zore is an international feminist and queer festival, which has been taking place for the last 20 years in the days around March 8. It is marked by a wide selection of artistic and activist events, including lectures, performances, exhibitions, musical performances, and other forms of public expression.
The festival began in 2000, when the initiators decided to organise a festival on International Women’s Day, 8 March, which would open the public space for gathering and expression of women on the non-hierarchical, non-exploitational, and anti-capitalistic foundation. They derived from the fact that at Metelkova women performed the larger part of the creative and organisational yet invisible work which forms the basis for the operation of such a large autonomous cultural centre. The festival continues to work non-hierarchically, mostly voluntarily and with a DIY (do it yourself) approach, by which it gives the room to the most diverse feminist artistic and activist practices.
The recurrent theme connecting the exchanging members of the Red Dawns programme committee through the years is the examination of the position of women in the inseparable network of art, culture, politics, activism, and everyday life. They do not burden themselves with the search for women’s “essence” and the obscuring the view on current problems by determining common biological or even character traits of women, but rather focus their attention on everyday underestimation and exploitation of women and men in the neoliberal patriarchal society.
Even though autonomous spaces where such festivals can be held gradually keep disappearing, Red Dawns does not give in and is planning this year’s on-line edition of the festival.
For the last 20 years, Aigul Hakimova has been recognising the potential of emancipatory liberation movements and is simultaneously their driving force. She primarily participates in those which unite people from the margins of the society: the erased, unemployed, migrant workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. She is a tireless fighter against the closing of Trdnjava Evropa, participates in numerous movements and initiatives, including in Dost Je!, Svet za vsakogar, Nevidni delavci sveta, Protirasistična fronta brez meja, Socialni center ROG, Info Kolpa, Second Home in Exile, and Gmajna. Without her engagement, the issue of exploitation of migrant workers in Slovenia would never have attracted as many young generations of activists and votes of support from the wider public. She has also brought attention to this issue by participating in a documentary entitled V deželi medvedov (2012) about the unbearable position of migrant workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, together with her fellow activists, she also put together in the today unfortunately torn down Rog factory.
Recently, Aigul has been working on organising the migrant community, especially community premises, which offer refugees the feeling of equality and inclusion. She collaborates with incentives on the Balkan Route, reports on the events happening at borders, especially the push-backs (another systematic violation of human rights), and informs the wider public about the meaning of migrations. At the same time, she constantly re-examines the established patriarchal social patterns and norms and fights against capitalism.
Dr Gabrijela Simetinger
Dr Gabrijela Simetinger works at the Novo mesto General Hospital, where she is a gynaecologist and obstetrician. For nine years now, she has also been working in the sexological outpatient clinic, to which women with sexual intercourse-related issues turn for advice and potential therapy. She is also the president of the Slovenian Sexological Association. In her work, she often encounters different sexual stereotypes and expectations society has towards women and their sexuality. The latter are frequently the reason for the problems due to which women turn to her for help. Her approach is based on interdisciplinary collaboration between medicine, sociology, and feminism. She teaches women how to get to know their body, how to accept their own desires and needs, how to get rid of feelings of shame and guilt connected to (physical) self-image and sexuality, and how to set boundaries in (sexual) intercourse. Dr Simetinger is one of the few gynaecologists and healthcare workers in Slovenia who raises the awareness of the public and educates on vaginism. Her active efforts to change the deeply rooted beliefs and social dogmas about sex encompasses a different perspective on both the female and male sexuality and acceptance of different sexual identities and sexuality. At a time when an increasing number of stories about sexual harassment and abuse of women are made public; at a time when the reproductive rights of women are being increasingly scrutinised by neoconservative misogynists, it is all the more important to have doctors and other healthcare workers of Gabrijela’s stature working in a public healthcare system accessible to everyone.
Radio show Lezbomanija
Lezbomanija is a monthly radio show on Radio Študent. It has been aired continually since 1998; at first, it was edited by Nataša Sukič, and after 2015, by Urška Sterle. The show discusses the lesbian, but also wider LGBT community, policy, and culture. Every edition brings local and international news and a deep insight into a current topic accompanied by topical music.
Due to the lack of financing, the LGBT media in Slovenia have a hard time maintaining a continuous existence: for almost every year of Lezbomanija’s existence, we could enumerate one LGBT publication that stopped being published. If we add to that the shrinkage of the media space under the current government, pressures on journalists, the commercialisation of the media, long-running attempts to shut down Radio Študent, and hate speech towards the LGBT community, which in the mainstream media often finds its place under the pretext of balanced reporting, more than two decades of uninterrupted broadcasting of the lesbian show prove to be an exceptional achievement. Lezbomanija not only reports about lesbian and LGBT culture but also co-creates it. It offers it a space where it can develop, write its own history and (self-)criticism; it is a space for content from the community for the community, and is part of a radio station listened to by the wider public. Thus, Radio Študent and Lezbomanija communicate that the lesbian community is an indispensable part of the wider cultural, progressive, and alternative scene.
* we understand this to signify women, trans- and intersexual persons