The Shadow Report for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Implementation of CEDAW
Thursday, June 1, 2006 4:05 PM

The Shadow Report for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was presented to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at its 35th session this month. The report is a follow-up to a 1999 study and is intended to update and expand those findings. The report addresses five areas of concern regarding the status of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

  • The economic position of women;
  • The position of women in political and public life;
  • Issues of violence against women and specifically trafficking of women and girls;
  • Discrimination against women with disabilities;
  • Health and reproductive rights.

The report found that although Bosnia and Herzegovina has made considerable progress in formally addressing gender inequality, a gap exists between law and practice and discrimination is evident in every facet of life. The toll that war has taken on the country and its current transitional position have led to general instability and aggravated the ability of the government to address human rights abuses. The vulnerability of women has emerged as an issue of serious concern within this environment.

Economic speaking, inequality is rampant both materially and regarding access. Professional and business organizations are largely male-dominated, and even those sectors which employ women (such as health and education) do not often include them within the higher echelons of the organizations. In addition, men are predominantly the owners of private property, inhibiting income generation and entrepreneurial options for women. The lack of education afforded girls, who are often kept at home while their brothers attend school, decreases women’s chances of finding viable work and increases their economic dependence on men.  

In the political realm, the report found that the current political system does not engage meaningful female participation. This is manifested in the fact that women have limited access to decision-making processes and are grossly underrepresented in elected bodies and state institutions. As a result, the report notes that social power is unequally distributed, despite formal guarantees of equal access and participation.

Violence against women is another area of particular concern. Although a huge number of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina are victims of domestic abuse, ineffective court systems and unresponsive state institutions fail to provide battered women with the services they need. This is aggravated by underlying social mores that consider domestic violence a family matter and not a responsibility of the state or the legal system. Familial and economic pressures also conspire to discourage women from leaving abusive households. The report also identifies the trafficking of women and girls as a component of violence against women deserving special attention. It notes that economic hardship has caused many women to be lured into the trafficking business under the guise of employment opportunities. In addition, the presence of foreign troops since the war has created a new market for sexual exploitation and Bosnia and Herzegovina has emerged as a destination for traffickers from Eastern Europe.

Women with disabilities are largely ignored by society, subject to all the above hardships in addition to being isolated for most of their lives. Those that are unable to reproduce and take care of a household are often further marginalized by their society, which places utmost emphasis on the familial and domestic role of women. Although formal equality exists, discrimination is rampant.

In terms of health and reproductive rights, the report indicates that economic dependence makes it difficult for women to pay for health services. Social mores prevent easy access to contraceptives and men are usually the ones to determine if they will be used. Further, existing laws do not address the specific health needs and vulnerabilities of women like their susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence.

The report ends with recommendations in these areas. Most notably, it suggests the development of gender-sensitive employment policies and training programs to help integrate women into the economy. It calls for laws that address the inadequate representation of women in political and public life. In regard to violence against women, the report calls on Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide protective measures legally and in the form of counseling and shelter services; it also encourages the implementation of preventative measures like educational programs to discourage violence and help change attitudes about the status of men and women. It also calls on Bosnia and Herzegovina to enact anti-trafficking laws and to tailor existing statutes so as to address the needs of disabled women and to better respond to women’s health needs.

Despite Bosnia and Herzegovina’s internationally recognized obligations and the existence of its own constitutional framework, much work is needed to fill the gap between law and reality and to uphold the country’s commitment to CEDAW.   

Compiled from: Shadow Report: On the Implementation of CEDAW and Women's Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 2004.