By Zlatan Hajlovac
Gender equality was central to the sustainable development framework discussed last month in New York. It’s an issue at the heart of WFD’s activities, too, as our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows.
The destruction and ethnic tensions which accompanied the bloody conflict of 1992-95 continue to have a significant impact on the way politics is conducted in the country. But 20 years of peace have resulted in some progress. Landmarks like the meeting of the 40% quota for female candidates at the 2014 elections highlight just how far Bosnia and Herzegovina advanced on the road toward inclusive democracy.
However, there is still a long way to go. Despite the introduction of quotas only one woman, alongside 17 male candidates, ran for the Presidency. There is a greater focus on local, rather than national politics, which has had a significant impact on the level of representation of women in decision-making positions.
With the formal adoption by world leaders of the sustainable development goals at the United Nations summit, we have to ask: what is WFD doing to address the gender imbalance present in the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina? How are we working towards implementation of Sustainable Development Goal Number Five: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all girls’?
Our ‘Promoting women in politics in BiH’ project aims to tackle the problem that women are significantly underrepresented in different governmental bodies on all levels. The WFD Bosnia and Herzegovina team are supporting a range of different activities including training courses and public debates involving women politicians from local councils. These will feature discussion of concrete issues affecting their local communities. We’re also running activities which boost confidence in women’s ability to effectively participate in politics. Following a public discussion in the Visoko municipality earlier in September this year, the participants told us that the public discussion was a great opportunity for women elected in the municipal bodies to speak directly to citizens concerning their political activity without the interruption of their male colleagues.
We work with the media to ensure balanced media representation of women politician’s campaigns during the pre-election period. Moreover, through our party-to-party work, WFD is working directly with the main political parties in the country to make sure they are implementing their commitments toward gender equality. The overall aim of the WFD project is to ensure an increased representation of women in the decision-making process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a result we cannot assess until the 2016 local elections take place.
In the meantime we continue or work to help achieve positive results for the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including shaping the future of their country. It is an apt time to consider the reflections offormer MP Besima Boric on the important impact women had in the post-conflict situation when engaging in politics:
“Women were the first who had a normal conversation with two MP’s who were on the other side of the war. In ’96 and ’97, this was a big deal: women talked and worked together – women from two entities.”
The impact women can have in politics should be felt more broadly, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but globally. The SDGs call for “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” – and we hope we’re contributing to ensuring that in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
Having an equal proportion of women and men in politics and in governmental bodies is critical in order to achieve an inclusive democracy. To achieve this goal, the programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has developed the free publication “Politics in Our Backyard”.
This gives basic and detailed information on the local level of self-government including the authority of local self-government, the description of duties and rights of elected officials as well as other useful information for potential candidates and the general public.
The publication was handed out to visitors, participants and speakers on all public events under the organization of WFD, as well as to all local offices of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina including Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Brcko and Banja Luka. It was also distributed to participants of events in the organization of Inicijativa 50% – an initiative for equal gender representation of councillors in the 2016 local election. The electronic version of the publication was distributed to political parties working with WFD in the programme and was published on official websites and the social network profiles of SDP, SDA and Naša stranka. The publication was also promoted by Mreža Mira (Network for Peace) and non-governmental organizations such as the Boris Divkovic Foundation and Youth Initiative for Human Rights. This approach resulted in a substantial reach of the publication to many people all across the country who are interested in the local government system and its status within the governmental system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We’re also providing campaign training for potential women candidates and sharing sister party expertise from the UK with engaging sessions that took place earlier this year. During those training sessions we trained 20 bloggers and 40 potential candidates for the 2016 local election who appreciated the user-friendly format of the training and experience from the UK councillors, as well as gaining knowledge on general information concerning the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and tips on how to have a more successful political campaign.
These practical steps to empower women in politics engage multiple political parties, the various legislative tiers, universities and the media. By broadening the range of policy issues addressed by women in politics and better capturing the relevance and value of their work through media, their role in politics can be more widely promoted and gender stereotypes challenged.
Here at WFD we’re committed to helping women become more active in parliaments and political parties across the globe, because we believe this fundamentally contributes to more legitimate and inclusive democracy. Many of our programmes globally encourage greater gender cohesion, including the inspiring work our colleagues have been doing in the Ugandan parliament and within the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women.
The next phase of project activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will include public debates in local communities on topics that will help connect with the local community. We want to increase the dialogue between women councillors and potential candidates and the community which they represent to the arena of women in politics. These debates will involve elected women from municipal councils, representatives of women’s organisations, NGOs that focus on human rights and potential candidates for the upcoming local elections in 2016. We want to encourage any interested individuals to come along and participate in an active discussion about what women politicians can do to shape local politics.
And now is a good time to do so, for 2016’s local elections are not very far away. WFD will launch an advocacy initiative with the major media outlets in the country, aiming to secure their commitment to feature women and men candidates equally and fairly in their coverage. We’re already engaging with political analysts and bloggers to ensure their work covers women candidates and their issues in an inclusive manner in the campaigns to come. As the global development community turns its attention to how to make progress on the new SDGs, WFD’s programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has already got its work underway.