The workers’ movement developed with different speed among the Yugoslav nations depending on the industrialization process and on which state they previously belonged to (something that also influenced divisions within the workers' movement itself). Demands for full social and economic equality of women were heard in Yugoslavia, same as in the rest of Europe, simultaneously with the acceptance of scientific socialism of Marx and Engels as the theoretical basis for the political struggle of the working class. There were quite a few factors that played a role in introducing this issue to the Yugoslav peoples. Great women and labour rights activist John Stuart Mill’s essay "The Subjection of Women" was translated by Svetozar Marković and published in Serbia in 1871, as well as August Bebel’s "Woman and Socialism". In addition, the activism of Klara Cetkin, Lenin's works and speeches, as well as the achievement of equality for women in the Soviet Union after the victory of the October Revolution were of great importance for clarifying the issue of women’s rights.
With the breakthrough of socialist ideas and the development of the workers' movement, women’s rights were increasingly recognized as a social issue of general importance. Within the organized struggle of all workers, besides fighting against capitalist exploitation, women workers began their parallel struggle for equality with men. In labour organizations, strikes and other activist actions, they demanded equal rights to work, equal pay and better working conditions for all workers. However, the Marxist notions and their theoretical and practical implications regarding the position of women workers and future of the society were not always and everywhere smoothly and quickly accepted, even within the workers' movement itself. In this context, Svetozar Marković, the great visionary of the workers' movement who spread socialist ideas in economically underdeveloped Serbia of the 1870s and 1880s, played a very important role with his ideas and his activism. He was trying to raise awareness about poor treatment of women in families and the negative impact of patriarchal mentality, not only on women from the bourgeois classes and on the upbringing of future generations, but also on relations in the society as a whole. He advocated for the solution of this problem and claimed (in 1871) that "the issue of women's liberation is inextricably linked to the social transformation as a whole, with the liberation of mankind from all evil, disillusions, tyranny, and slavery" and that "not only is it not too early for us to deal with the rights of women, but this should be the first thing on our agenda".
First women workers' unions emerged within the socialist workers’ unions. The women workers emphasized that they did not belong to the civil feminist movement, due to the fact that its manifesto did not contain the demands for the abolition of exploitation of workers. One of the prominent leaders of the Serbian Social Democratic Party Dimitrije Tucović, returning from the International Women's Conference in Copenhagen (which he attended as a delegate at the General Meeting of the Socialist Second International), reported on the conference at the Great Socialist Women’s Assembly in Belgrade in late 1910. He spoke about the importance of the women's movement, about Clara Zetkin’s speech and about the decision to celebrate International Women's Day. That is also when the Central Secretariat of Women Socialists was established. Immediately after the establishment of the 8th of March as International Women's Day, in 1911, many cities in Serbia saw mass demonstrations of women workers against exploitation and demanding political equality for women.
The editorial of the first issue of the periodical “Jednakost” ("Equality"), written by the Central Secretariat of Women Social Democrats (October 1, 1910) states the following: "We, the working women, cannot reduce our demands to the agenda of those ladies from the bourgeois circles who want more rights for women as long as the current social order is preserved – the order which gives only rights to ones, and only duties to others. Our struggle is only one part of the social democratic struggle to which we belong, since better future for all mankind will be born, not from the struggle of women against men, but from the energetic and persistent struggle of the oppressed social classes against their oppressors."
After the prohibition of the work of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) in 1921, following its great success in the Yugoslav elections, bans of many progressive organizations and trade unions started, including women's unions close to the CPY. During the period when the CPY worked illegally, many women provided material assistance to the party and helped the communists with organizing party meetings. The goal of the CPY was to attract as many women as possible, and it, therefore, openly promoted economic, social and political equality between the sexes. The other political parties at the time neither offered opportunities for women to be politically active, nor included the rights of women in their programs. The CPY was the only one that offered entirely new possibilities to women.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a society pervaded by deep internal political, social and inter-ethnic tensions. It can be stated that this society was dynamic only in the demographic sense. However, if we take the position of women in a society as a criterion of one country’s emancipation and modernization, the results are disastrous. At the time of its establishment, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had six different regions with different laws within its framework. During the entire existence of this state, no harmonization of civil law was ever carried out. Thus, Serbian Civil Code from 1844 remained in force in the territories that belonged to the Kingdom of Serbia before the war. This law proscribed husband's authority over wife. Marital law recognized the husband as the head of the house. The wife was obliged to obey the husband's orders, to help her husband, maintain order and cleanliness in the house, and care for the children. In case of a divorce, she had the right to keep male children until the age of four, and the female children until the age of seven. After that, she was obliged to hand over the children to the father for care. The privileged position of a man as per Serbian Civil Code is also reflected in the fact that the legislator forbade paternity tests at birth of extra-marital children.
The husband was, therefore, allowed extramarital life, unlike his wife, which indicated the existence of dual morality. Within the property law, the inability of a married woman to work is particularly highlighted. An unmarried woman was granted the same working rights as a man while a married woman was equated with minors and mentally challenged. The subjection of women was particularly obvious in the field of the inheritance law. The matrilineal inheritance principle was considered only after all the heirs from the father’s side up to the sixth cousins were exhausted. The right to inheritance belonged firstly to male descendants and their descendants and only then to daughters.
The involvement of women in the social and political life of Yugoslavia met with great resistance. One of the most prominent examples is the case of Ksenija Atanasijević. She was the first woman to get a PhD at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Belgrade in 1922. She was also the first woman to be appointed as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Belgrade in 1924, only to be removed from her position in 1936. Her position at the university was never restored to her, and she spent the rest of her working life, until 1941, as a teaching inspector for the Ministry of Education.
Until 1945, women, who made up more than half of the total population of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, had minor participation in political, economic and cultural life.