Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina Today

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Dr. Nada Ler-Sofronić is one of the first feminist scholars and woman's rights activists in former Yugoslavia. Photo: private.

Dr. Nada Ler-Sofronić

Socio-economic, socio-political and societal climate

The post-Dayton, transition-laden Bosnia and Herzegovina is an economically devastated and impoverished country. Politically, it is a country structurally burdened with ethno-national divisions and tensions. They dominate the public sphere and impact both its institutional arrangements (such as the Election Law) and the overall societal climate. Since economic poverty and ethno-national tensions render the climate very bad for the promotion of women's rights and create fertile ground for retrograde rather than progressive solutions, gender equality and women's rights are far from being a priority on the democratic reform agenda in BiH.

De iure and de facto situation: economy, public and political life, decision-making processes

In 2003, Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the first transition countries in the region to adopt the Gender Equality Law; in 2006 BiH adopted the Law on Prohibition of Domestic Violence, and finally, in 2009 it adopted the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. It has signed and ratified the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, women are still exposed to discrimination as well as new and brutal forms of exploitation in the informal labour market. Women are also often exposed to sexual exploitation and trafficking and to widespread male violence, suffered only because they are women.

Women are marginalised and frequently totally excluded from places where important decisions are made. Just like in most other impoverished countries in transition, in this country too women are the weakest social stratum. In massive unemployment (there are some 500,000 registered unemployed in a country of an estimated population of 3,800,000), women make up the majority of the unemployed labour force and are predominantly 'sucked into' the black and grey labour market. Many of them have been de-qualified, and due to their husbands' unemployment or war-caused disability, many of them have become the primary or the sole breadwinners for their households. They usually work with no social, health or pension benefits, and they are often happy to have any kind of job.

Participation of women in public and political life is dismal, with a tendency towards further deterioration. There are no women in the State Presidency, and following the 2010 general election, only eight women entered the State Parliament, same as in 2006. At the same time, there are now in the Parliament of the Federation BiH eight women fewer than in 2006.

Women are almost entirely excluded from centres of power and decision-making; they have been excluded from peace processes; they have been excluded from post-war reconstruction programmes; they have evidently been excluded from the European integration processes.
Men are usually appointed to management positions in state-owned companies; they dominate various governing boards and executive bodies in the state economy.

Focus on violence against women and girls

Although these are the burning problems that women in BiH live with, I would still like to dedicate the centenary of the International Women's Day, 8th March, to the overall problem of male violence against women and girls. Taking into account data provided by NGOs, as well as the fact that according to a report by the Ministry of Security, 80% of all the victims of crime are women and 90% of all perpetrators are men, it is easy to conclude that the phrase 'gender-based violence' in reality means violence against women and girls.

As it is known that women (as well as other victims or witnesses of domestic violence) are generally reluctant to report violence, including its worst forms, it is easy to conclude that there is much more violence against women and children than the competent authorities are able to record, and the actual numbers we have are often just the “top of an iceberg”.

Although violence against women and children is the paradigm of the most drastic and the most brutal form of violation of the very basic women's human rights, there seems to be the lowest social and cultural sensitivity towards it and perhaps the least amount of (political) will to finally move it from the margin of the public interest towards its centre. The spirit of domestic laws and international conventions prohibiting violence against women and girls is crushed against the thick walls of culturally deeply rooted tolerance towards violence against women.

Unfortunately, there is no real awareness in BiH or in its society of the deeply patriarchal and misogynist roots of violence against women.

Thanks primarily to the persistent efforts of NGOs and international organisations that first raised the issue of gender-based violence in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is becoming more visible and it is slowly being perceived more and more as a public problem and a legitimate issue that needs to be discussed publicly.

Also, however with difficulties, there is a slow-growing awareness in the public and in the competent institutions that it is the state that should provide women with freedom from any form of violence, intimidation and threats of violence, and that it is the state that is responsible for women not having adequate protection or for perpetrators not suffering adequate sanctions and treatment. However, this awareness is growing very, very slowly in the state structures and there is no real will to accept such responsibility. So, it is on civil society and women s movement in this country to make them accountable.



Dr.Nada Ler Sofronić  (Sarajevo, 1941)  is one of the first feminist scholars and woman's rights activists  in former Yugoslavia. She was a conceptual creator of the historical First International Feminist Conference in Eastern Europe, held in Belgrade 1978.   She was lecturer  in Social Psychology  at Sarajevo University, and one of the founders and  the lecturers  in Woman/Gender Studies in the region.
Main issues in her recent  investigations, publications, essays, articles and public lectures , are gender equality, women’s human rights, democratization and civil society in post socialist countries in transition
Dr Nada Ler Sofronić is a founder and leading person of the independent, nongovernmental and nonprofit organization- Research, Policy and Advocacy Center «Woman and Society» in Sarajevo.



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