We talked about the importance of sensitizing and responsible work of institutions, the media, and inclusion of the education system, but also gathering as many citizens as possible at protests and various activities, to systematically recognize and solve the problem of femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the workshop “Let’s talk about femicide”, organized by the “Forgotten Children of the War” Association, November 23rd in Sarajevo.
Murdering a woman just because she is a woman and patriarchal gender roles dictate that her life is not valuable in itself, but that it belongs to a man, usually a father or a partner, has always been present in our society. Only in the last few years, has femicide been discussed in society and the media, not as a private matter that should remain in the “circle of the family”, but as a political problem, one of the leading reasons for the mortality of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Emphasizing the importance of women gathering around social and political issues and expressing gratitude for the large number of women who joined us at the workshop, Ajna Jusić, president and member of the association, opened the event and introduced one of the great lecturers, Majda Halilović from the Atlantic Initiative.
In her lecture, Majda used the research results collected in the Bulletin of the Atlantic Initiative on Femicide, related to the social, legal, and media context of Femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
First of all, it was important to make it clear to young women what femicide is. Majda talked about the fact that murdering a woman because she is a woman has long been treated as an isolated act, like any other murder. The fact that femicide is the ultimate and most brutal act of exposing the victim to various forms of violence, usually for many years, was not taken into account. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the greatest danger to a woman is her partner or ex-partner. In most cases, they are the perpetrators of femicide.
Halilović emphasized the enormous importance of the institutions’ response to the abusers’ death threats to the victim because they are very real. Due to such threats, the social service would have to provide the woman with adequate protection and report it to the police, who must approach the case responsibly and open an investigation. It is essential to check whether the abuser has a firearm, which is most often used to commit femicide, and to take that weapon away from him. Special caution and careful risk assessment are required in situations when the victim leaves the abuser.
The victims emphasized that the first reaction of the police was crucial for their empowerment to persevere in getting out of a violent relationship. Despite sensitization and education, and manuals that relevant non-governmental organizations maintain and create for members of the police, we still hear experiences of irresponsible behavior in cases of domestic violence. Sometimes it happens that during the investigation, due to the report of violence, the police try to “reconcile” the abuser and the victim or minimize the violence, which keeps the woman in an environment where her life is threatened, and sends the message that she was not taken seriously and that, if she dares to take a very difficult step, to leave the abuser, no one will protect her.
One of the participants pointed out that it would be very important to educate students in elementary schools about gender-based violence. Patriarchal beliefs, in the environment in which we grow up, are adopted from the youngest age and it is important to provide adequate education to children and young people, to prevent the growing up of new generations who normalize violence and teach women to endure violence.
The improvement in media reporting on femicide was also mentioned, where to a lesser extent than before, the murder of a woman is reported sensationally, and more with a critical review. The media create the image and attitudes of society about problems such as femicide, and responsible reporting is important.
Jadranka Miličević from the CURE Foundation pointed out that in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is no regulatory body for monitoring femicides, even though according to the non-governmental organizations’ statistics, since 2015, 70 to 75 women have been murdered.
The punishments for perpetrators of domestic violence, as well as femicide, are very small, due to various exculpatory circumstances that are taken into account, that should not be considered. In a large number of cases, abusers are acquitted or get to pay a certain amount of money in exchange for an already minimal prison sentence.
The precedent was the verdict of 35 years in prison in the case of Alma Kadić, who was murdered by her ex-husband in 2021 in Sarajevo. Alma sought protection from the police several times, due to the verbal threats and physical abuse she endured, and in those 4 years, the abuser did not serve a single day in prison but instead received restraining orders, which he regularly violated. Even in this case, had it not been for the women’s gathering and pressure on the judiciary, the perpetrator would have had his murder conviction overturned and would have been acquitted.
Jadranka emphasized the importance of gatherings, and as mass protests as possible because changes begin and are brought about precisely by the perseverance of citizens on the streets. It is important that we do not sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to stand up for the problems in our community, but that we unite as much as possible, in solidarity for each and every one of us.
Finally, there was a question as to why, due to femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, only a few dozen women gathered at protests, namely activists. One of the participants expressed the opinion that it is not a matter of people not engaging in issues that do not directly concern them, but that our society does not like women, so it is not in its interest to fight for their lives.
For young women to not feel unwanted and unloved in their environment, and they stop fearing for their lives, it is very important that we gather in greater numbers, talk, and jointly activate the entire system to fight for the elimination of femicide.
The workshop was realized as part of the “1325” Movement Initiative, with the support and cooperation of the Federal Republic of Germany Embassy in Sarajevo.