No Europe without women’s human rights

Advocacy trip to Brussels. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna

Recently, 14 women’s rights activists from the Balkans, together with Kvinna till Kvinna staff, visited Brussels to advocate for women’s human rights. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna

Violence against women and lack of justice for battered women is still a huge problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  At the same time, the country aims to be part in the EU. Sometime in the future. It is a golden opportunity for the EU to make demands and put pressure on the country to make a change for gender equality and women’s human rights! That is the message when women human rights defenders visit Brussels.

The new 2014 Bosnia and Herzegovina Progress Report*, recently published by the European Commission, was evaluated as the worst one so far. As expected, it reflects the lack of the collective political will by the government to implement reforms necessary for joining the EU.

Just like in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Commission keeps marginalizing issues concerning the protection of women’s human rights and gender equality, reducing them to a few general statements in the section of human rights. In dealing with other important topics, such as social policies, public health and trafficking in human beings, the report does not have a gender perspective at all.

In the beginning of November, a group of activists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania had a chance to visit Brussels, thanks to support by Swedish foundation Kvinna till Kvinna. The activists meet with officials of EU institutions, talked to member states representatives to the European Union, visited the European Parliament and talked to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I was part of this team of amazing women who have been cooperating for decades, without any political, national, ethnic or other obstacles. We are directly responsible for a series of successful peace building initiatives at both national and regional levels, and have contributed to the inclusion of women’s rights in laws, enhanced support to women and the increased visibility of women’s issues and problems.

According to the Progress Report, the EU states that there has been a progress in the field of domestic violence. This alleged progress is not documented by any clear indicators. Bosnian and Herzegovinian women are still exposed to domestic and other forms of violence on a daily basis.

The alleged progress does not reveal the failure of courts to protect women and the fact that the punishments for violence against women are extremely mild and completely inefficient. Lack of women’s access to justice and possibility to live their lives free of violence and discrimination, which is a basic human right, is just one of many problems.

What I and the other women human rights defenders highlighted in Brussels was that the European Union needs to establish well defined criteria and demand that the Western Balkans governments implement the formally guaranteed women’s right in practice.

As activists, we need to continue insisting and communicating with members of the European Parliament, showing that women’s voices are important and need to remain strong in order to ensure the visibility of violations of women’s human rights and state tolerance for violence against women.

The European Union will not accept new members in the next five years. Politicians in our countries need to know that women’s organizations will keep “communicating with Brussels” and reveal all those things they are trying to cover up.

Without EU’s firm position and pressure on governmental institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina to put an end to continuous failures and ensure protection of formally guaranteed women’s rights, there can and will be no progress.

If that does not happen, our laws, strategies and action plans, the conventions that we have signed and ratified, will be just plain documents in the drawers of the Parliament, state agencies, centers, offices and contact persons. Bosnian and Herzegovinian politicians will keep using them as a proof of success during official visits and meetings in the country and abroad, but they won’t feel any shame that the lives of women have actually not improved one bit.

Aleksandra Petric, activist from Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation United Women Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina

* Each year the EU Commission writes the so-called Progress Reports, where they present their view of what countries aiming to be included in the EU has achieved over the last year.

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