Women’s Rights in Bosnia
by Humanitarian Practice Network, from a report produced by the International Human Rights Law Group June 2003

The International Human Rights Law Group’s Women’s Rights Advocacy Project has just published a national report on women’s human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The following is based on the Introduction to this report.

BiH is party to the Women’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Women’s Convention) by virtue of having signed the Dayton Peace Agreement. In addition, the Federation Constitution (in its Annex) directly incorporates the Women’s Convention among a list of 21 international documents similarly incorporated into Federation Law. As part of its obligations as a signatory to the Women’s Convention, the Federation is required to submit periodic reports to the Convention’s supervisory body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Law Group’s Women’s Rights Advocacy Project developed a set of guidelines to assist women’s NGOs in the creation of alternative, ‘shadow’ reports which CEDAW welcomes as a complement to the official national report.

Although BiH is not due to submit an official report to CEDAW at this time, the Law Group believed it would be worthwhile to begin a process of discussing women’s human rights and gender-based analysis with women’s NGOs, and to collect information, however general, about the status of women in BiH. The many reports on the human rights situation in BiH have generally not included detailed (or even general) accounts of women’s rights concerns. Neither has gender-specific information or gender analysis been included in sections dealing with particular issues of concern to human rights, such as violence against women.

Among the objectives of creating an NGO report on women’s human rights, therefore, were the opportunities that such a report would create for public scrutiny, confronting government at all levels with an evaluation of the protection of women’s rights in law and practice based on international human rights standards. At the same time the report sets out the need that clearly exists for the government to collect and provide appropriate data on the situation of women.

The Law Group initiated this process in late 1998. It did this through leading a three-day training workshop focusing on women’s human rights and gender-based analysis. Resources and time required that the report focus on only a few areas of concern. These were: economics and employment, education, violence against women, health and reproductive rights, and public life and politics. The group split into five to collect information on each of the identified issues. At their individual meetings each group also discussed the nature and objectives of the gender-related recommendations that should accompany the report.

Two follow-up meetings – in January and March this year – served to finalise the report, though many other meetings were held inbetween. There was also input from a Croatian NGO that had written a shadow report to its state’s official submission to CEDAW.

In addition to the overall objective of presenting the BiH government with an account of its obligations under international and regional human rights instruments, the report set out to:

  • assess and describe governments’ accountability with respect to those rights in terms of domestic laws and practices;
  • draw attention to those areas where de jure and de facto violations exist so that they may be addressed effectively and changed;
  • serve as a tool to monitor government actions to honour its commitments.

The recommendations in each section thus establish benchmarks of governments’ commitment to, and progress towards, ending violations.

As well, the report is directed towards the wider (international) community in the sense that this community can and does play a significant role in moving the government to a position of greater responsibility to enforce and protect human rights.

The report notes that, under existing conditions in post-war BiH, NGOs and international agencies carry much of the burden in obtaining and analysing data, and providing services and resources to meet the needs of women. The responsibility for these activities rests ultimately with the government and, at the very least, the government should acknowledge and support the role of NGOs.

For more information, or for a copy of the report, contact:
International Human Rights Law Group, Bosnia Project
Marsala Tita 8, II
Sarajevo 71000
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tel/fax: (+387) 71 205 319
Email: ihrlgbih@bih.net.ba

This report was produced in association with the following women’s NGOs:

  • Antonija – Liga Zena Glasaca (Bugojno)
  • Lijepa Zena – La Bella Donna (Srpsko Sarajevo)
  • Biro za Ljudska Prava (Tuzla)
  • Buducnost (Modrica)
  • Centar za afirmaciju ljudskih prava i sloboda (Livno)
  • Lara (Bijeljina)
  • Liga Zena Glasaca (Banja Luka)
  • Liga Zena Glasaca (Sarajevo)
  • Li-Woman (Livno)
  • Medika-Infoteka Projekat (Zenica)
  • Srcem do Mira (Sanski Most)
  • Udruzenje Gradanki Zene Zenama (Gorazde)
  • Udruzenje Gradanki Zene Zenama (Sarajevo)
  • Udruzenje Zena Bosnjakinje-Brcko (Brcko Maoca)
  • Zenska Akcija Vidra (Banja Luka)
  • Zena BiH (Mostar)