Women’s Empowerment in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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SEATTLE — With one of the worst gender gaps in Europe, stringent measures to provide women access to equal opportunities are making their way across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unlike some other former communist countries that have made great efforts in cutting the wage gap, women in Bosnia and Herzegovina make roughly 54 percent of their male counterparts. However, increased government tendencies to provide equal opportunities are pivotal in developing women’s empowerment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The agriculture sector has been an integral part of reducing the inequalities gap. The Bosnian government has taken the initiative by creating schemes to empower women who are predominately homemakers in order to overcome traditional gender roles. One 58-year-old woman from the town of Samac had recently lost her job as an accountant and needed to find a new way to provide for her family. With the assistance of an agricultural plan, she began to cultivate strawberries on the 500 meters of land she had.

Additionally, one woman recently defied patriarchal stereotypes by leaving her old position in order to start her own business. Erna Sosevic, who had a stable job at a consultancy agency, left to create her own online platform that would focus on serving companies from the country to promote their next business venture. Even though most women are not inclined to pursue high-level positions because of social stigmas as well as a lack of confidence, women in Republika Srpska are proving otherwise. According to the Institute of Statistics, there are “39,627 entrepreneurs registered – and 19,075 are women.”

It is clear that Erna Sosevic is not an anomaly, as her courage in bridging the inequalities gap will provide increased accessibility for women who have been phased out of the business community. She noted that her business is “an investment in changing the perception that women are not fit to be business leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Her drive in altering the status quo by eradicating the notion that women could not own or manage land is a crucial step in developing women’s empowerment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, not all women are as fortunate as Sosevic, with many not being able to pursue a career because they have to stay at home and be the household caretaker to provide for family members. This impedes women’s empowerment in Bosnia and Herzegovina and reinforces gender roles, ultimately feeding into the persistent patterns of poverty that exist.

Foreign governments have also played a key role in development projects that may enhance employment opportunities. The Turkish government has made significant efforts to provide assistance for Bosnian women in the agricultural sector. One of the most recent operations, known as the state-run Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, is “aimed to diversify and improve their income.” The project, which was launched on September 27, 2017, will target approximately 500 people all around the country. Not only does this project emphasis women’s empowerment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it also includes plans to promote greenhouses, as well as introduce vertical farming applications and organic walnut farms to rural farmers.

Some reasons the gender gap has not progressed since the end of the Cold War has been attributed to a post-war social structure and economic woes that have kept traditional gender roles intact for so long in society. Aside from the immense rural and urban divides, education seems to be hindering women from acquiring high-level positions. Five percent of women are pre-literate or have only completed primary school. Additionally, the World Bank has pointed to “patriarchal values and the remnants of the communist order as key obstacles to the development of women’s rights and prospects in general.” Despite the fact that more women graduate from universities than men, they are still outnumbered when it comes to obtaining PhDs, paving the way for men to acquire better-paid positions, particularly in the education field. If the government is to take equality seriously, thereby reducing poverty among women, then they need to reevaluate the services that are impeding women from excelling in the workforce. In addition to foreign investments and development projects, Bosnia and Herzegovina may need to amend some of their outdated social norms that have favored men for far too long.

– Alexandre Dumouza
Photo: Flickr

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Alexandre Dumouza

Alexandre lives in Mamaroneck, NY. His academic interests include international affairs and Sociology. Alexandre has lived in four different countries, is trilingual, and is currently learning Catalan.

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