For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna


The conflict

Bosnia-HerzegovinaPopulation: 3 768 000

Average lifetime: 75

Infant mortality rate: 8/1000

Literacy: Women 96,4 %, Men 99,4 %


UNESCO statistics 2009

On 29 February and 1 March 1992 a referendum on independence was held in Bosnia-Herzegovina were a majority of the population voted for independence. The Serbian minority boycotted the vote and the tension in the republic was growing. Following the declaration of independence, the Bosnian Serbs attacked different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and formed Republika Srpska.

The borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina were a continuous matter of intensive debate. Croatia wanted to incorporate the areas inhabited by Bosnian Croats into Croatia, Serbia advocated incorporation of the Bosnian Serb areas into Serbia, and the Bosnian government, who mostly consisted of Bosniaks (i e Bosnian Muslims), wanted to keep Bosnia-Herzegovina intact. The increased tension lead to war.

In 1995  the warring parties entered into a ceasefire agreement after increased international pressure. 300 000 people had then died or gone missing and around 2 million had been made refugees. In the Dayton Peace Accords Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was separated according to the ethnic division. It now consists of two entities – Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, and one district – District Brcko.

Women’s participation in the peace process

Women’s organizations in BiH were very active during the conflict. They arranged for aid to war-affected women, took care of widowed refugees and their children, helped women organize income generating activities, organized the schooling of children and took care of the basic needs of the elderly. They were also in the forefront of the peace work and were the first to initiate meetings with people from ”the other side”, trying to find common grounds and ways to stop the violence.

But in the peace process the women were not welcome. There were no women from BiH present around the negotiating table and only one woman among the signatories. And the Dayton Peace Accords didn’t take neither CEDAW nor the Beijing Platform for Action into consideration, which led to a gender neutral peace agreement and a following gender neutral constitution.

Women have consequently been excluded from the processes of negotiations, peace processes, post-war reconstruction and the European integration process in BiH. More on this can be found in the Alternative Report on the Implementation of CEDAW and Women´s human rights in BiH.

How has the conflict affected women?

During the war women, as civilians, were killed and tortured and thousands of women were raped. Many victims later suffered from post traumatic disorders, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. A lot of these crimes have still not been prosecuted and there is no public dealing with the subject, a situation that has left the victims very stigmatized in their societies.

Gender-based violence

Research shows that many women have been subjected to domestic violence after the end of the war. A situation that has worsened due to the advancement of traditional patriarchal values. BiH has no unified system for collecting and analysing statistical data on this subject, but the BiH Ministry of Security reported that domestic violence accounted for 49,12 percent of all the cases of violence against physical integrity in 2007.

That the situation is quite serious can also be seen from reports by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) estimating that only 5 percent of all acts of violence against women are officially reported. And often the victims stay with their abusers because of their economic dependency of them (more on this under Economical self-sufficiency further down).


Trafficking increased during the war and post-war period in BiH and is still a problem, with young girls being sexually exploited within the country or taken abroad. These crimes have proved to be hard to put an end to, much due to an uncoordinated legal framework and the lack of a system for effective prosecution of the perpetrators.

Politics and decision-making

The constitution of BiH was drawn up as part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement and established a complex political structure with parallel institutions with the purpose to safeguard the rights of all three constituent ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs). Besides the two entities and the district, the Federation BiH is also divided into 10 cantons, each having its own government. A lot of the state budget is thus being spent on administration. Every election  is used as a platform for mobilisation along ethnic lines and due to entity and ethnicity veto, decision-making and reforms are constantly being halted.

No woman has held the position as the head of State within the three-member Presidency, or as BiH Prime Minister, and only three women have held a ministerial position within the Council of Ministers. The trend is the same at the lower levels of governance. Women only hold four of the mayor seats (2,85 percent) and 469 of the seats (14,9 percent) in local assemblies.

Economical self-sufficiency

Despite a legal obligation to apply gender equality in providing access to the labour market, there are no measures for effective protection from gender-based discrimination in working life, and the knowledge of judges and prosecutors in this field is low. Measures to protect the rights of single mothers or to provide services for working women are also missing. All this combined leads to a situation where women make up 51,7 percent of the working-age population, but only 37,1 percent of the employed are women. A reality that makes it impossible for many women to be self-sufficient.

Roma women

A group subjected to high levels of discrimination in BiH are Roma, for instance nearly 80 percent of Roma are unemployed. Roma women are even more subjected to domestic violence than non-Roma women. In a 2001 study by Medica Infoteka in the Zenica municipalities 33 percent of Roma women stated that they suffered long-lasting multiple abuses from their partners, compared with 24 percent of non-Roma women. A large number of Roma girls also does not attend school and is mostly illiterate. More on the situation for Roma women in BiH can be found in the Report on Response of institutions to domestic violence by the Roma Women for Life Without Violence program.