It has been almost quarter of the century since the end of the devastating ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Changes are happening slowly here and the patriarchal tradition prevails. It is visible in many aspects of life, ranging from the lack of coherent and effective legislative framework for victims of wartime sexual violence and rape to poor implementation of laws tackling all forms of gender-based violence inflicted upon women today in the times of hard-negotiated peace.
Recently with a dose of reservation, some female activists, coming primarily from women’s rights organizations are speaking up about their experiences and inviting others via hashtag #SadaKažem (English: #NowISay)
Having in mind that Bosnians still constitute a very conservative society sensitive to old “wounds”, related to wartime sexual violence, the issue of sexual assault in present times still remains a taboo. Bosnia does not have a history of open discussions, in which individuals could share their experience in safe environment and would be accepted and addressed with appropriate help. Instead, they are additionally stigmatized. Because of this difficult context, they choose to remain silent.
We seem not to have learned much from the past, and even less from the bloody conflict. No platform was ever created, which would allow older and younger generations with different backgrounds could interconnect and re-conciliate in an effective manner, in order for future generations like mine to be aware of the potential dangers posed to young women, sisters, mothers, wives, teachers, workers…
This veiled reality was shaped due to various factors. After the collapse of communism, religious communities became very influential in Bosnia. Right after the ratification of Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the so-called ‘Istanbul Convention’), different religious fractions in the country strongly opposed the non-formal education in schools on gender based-violence, gender equality or sexual and reproductive education, as in their view it reflected and reproduced ‘gender ideology’ that would challenge existing gender norms in the society. Sadly, in Bosnia, education on religion remains a part of the educational system — in some parts of the country even throughout all levels of education. Youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina are in that sense excluded from taking part in sessions on human rights and democratic values.
What happens in real life, and what formal education seems to neglect, is that girls are victims of sexual violence. According to research conducted by Women’s Interactive Rural Centre every fourth woman falls a victim of gender-based violence, including sexual assaults. This is largely due to lack of proper education in public and private life of individuals, lack of adequate protection of women and large amount of stigma within the community, which later leads to secondary victimization of females not just among their family, relatives and peers, but also among state officials, with usual questions such as: “what was the clothes you were wearing” and “how did you provoke him.”
There is still so much to be done in Bosnian community during this year when it comes to the aftermath of the campaign.
After the launch of the #MeToo campaign, Bosnian community followed, in silence, articles, trending hashtags and various initiatives, with no incentive to join the campaign. However, recently with a dose of reservation, some female activists, coming primarily from women’s rights organizations are speaking up about their experiences and inviting others via hashtag #SadaKažem (English: #NowISay). The campaign started in Macedonia and grew regionally. It received a harsh backlash from both women and men, ranging from ‘slut-shaming’ to discussions and comments on the future ‘appropriate’ behavior of a male person in the presence of female.
There is still so much to be done in Bosnian community during this year when it comes to the aftermath of the campaign. If we take into consideration the slow pace of development, the prospects are negative in the context of the campaign’s outreach and growth of the movement within the borders of the country. The campaign must be planned carefully and tackle all important stakeholders, from state institutions, non-governmental organizations, citizens to media.
Still, it is upon us, human rights activist, to speak up, remove the constraints of taboo, break the chains of conservative patriarchal society, lift up the burden of communistic education of obedience, open our minds toward respect for every victim and inspire others to talk for the sake of those who are silent.
#NowISay let’s break the tradition of silence!