Fighting to make Bosnia-Herzegovina's constitution acknowledge women
For several years, Bosnia and Herzegovina's constitution has been under political discussions for reform. Now, for the first time, women's organisations from both of the country's entities, have joined forces to make sure that gender equality isn't forgotten this time around.
Constitution from peace agreement
Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of the two political entities Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republica Srpska.
The current constitution was part of the Dayton peace agreement, which was signed on 14 December 1995. Its lack of gender perspective and the consequences this has on women's rights, is further elaborated on in Kvinna till Kvinna's report Engendering the Peace Process.
In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina's constitution discriminatory, since certain electoral posts – like the presidency – only can be held by Serbs, Croats or Bosniak Muslims. This is a serious obstacle for Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress towards EU membership, but although lots of time has been devoted to negotiations, Bosnia and Herzegovina's political leaders are yet to agree on a solution. This lack of progress has now made EU halve its financial support to the country.
Female president not included
However, Bosnia and Herzegovina's constitution doesn't only discriminate against other ethnic groups than the above mentioned. It also lacks a gender perspective. Something that deeply affects the country's women.
”The absence of a gender-inclusive language makes us as women unrecognized by our own constitution! The word ‘president', for example: We have a word for female president, but it's not included, only the word for male president. This means that women don't exist at all on a political level,” says Svjetlana Markovic from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation's partner organisation Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Banja Luka.
”Another example: we have a law on gender equality which includes a political quota at all levels. But the quota isn't met today, the law is not being respected. We think that if it's put into the constitution things would have to start changing.”
Platform for gender equality
The Platform Priorities
1. Application of gender-inclusive language in the Constitution of BiH;
2. Introduction of affirmative action principles in the Constitution of BiH to work towards full gender equality;
3. Amendments to the existing catalogue of fundamental rights, to include provisions with respect to common health care services, social and family care;
4. Affirmation of a higher level of judicial and legal protection of human rights and liberties, and
5. Introduction of the principle of direct democracy in the process of constitutional reform.
And with the process of constitutional reform taking place, a window has opened for addressing these issues.
This opportunity has been seized by women activists, who have formed the intiative Women citizens for constitutional reform and presented a platform with priorities and amendments to ensure a gender equal constitution.
The process leading up to the platform, was very important in itself, for the outcome to have the right bearing, explains Svjetlana Markovic, whose organisation is one of architects behind the initiative.
”It was crucial for us that the group working with this document would consist of different civil society organisations from all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so there wouldn't be any questions afterwards concerning who had been allowed to participate,” she says.
This has also made the platform a landmark initiative, as it is the first time that a large group of women's NGOs from all of Bosnia and Herzegovina has acted together on constitutional change.
17 civil society organisations from both entities have signed the platform and many more have voiced their support. The initiative has already attracted media attention. Now, the focus is on presenting the platform to political parties and leaders and to Bosnia's different parliaments, as well as to the international community. Another parallel process is to make it known to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
”We will go to small cities and present it on a local level. If you want to talk about these issues, it's no good talking only with the political elite. We want people to be aware of the process and that this document exists,” says Svjetlana Markovic.
”All our priorities will probably not find their way into the constitution, but we will push for them all because they are really important to us! When so many civil society organisations stand behind them, they become more than just words on a piece of paper.”