Peer to Peer: Advancing Women's Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina
From Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rural villages to its bustling cities, the CURE Foundation shines a light on the struggles of the country’s women in as it works to create an equitable society.
Nearly 30 kilometers from Sarajevo, members of CURE, a women's rights NGO, meet with rural school teachers to discuss the situation of women and girls in their communities.
One teacher shares a story of a young, talented girl facing a difficult situation in her community. “She is in high school and writes perfectly,” the teacher explains. “Unfortunately, she comes from a very traditional family. Her father and brother dictate every segment of her life. If she gets out of her community, she's going to blow. Can I maybe call her to come here?”
Everyone agrees to call for the girl, who arrives shortly thereafter. The teacher asks the girl to read her poetry. Timidly, the girl begins to recite it, the verses about family violence. As she continues, her face, breath, and expression suddenly change. The young girl becomes bolder and more confident with each sentence.
“She had that kind of spark,” CURE’s Vedrana Frašto recalls some years later. “It was a story of rebellion.”
Soon after, CURE members invite the girl to join their peer education workshops. She is shy at first but grows more confident with each subsequent workshop she attends.
“She was the quiet one. Now she's the loud one,” Frašto says. “We knew that if we empower[ed] her, she will empower others.”
Learning From Peers
Empowering women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the key goal for CURE, which means “girls” in Bosnian. For more than 17 years, the organization has advocated for gender equality and women’s empowerment through education, research, and feminist activism.
CURE uses peer education to promote its goals and those of young women from diverse backgrounds and communities. Training is led by other young women from local communities, and this is a critical component to building trust and understanding between trainers and trainees. It also permits greater openness and honesty in conversations about the issues facing women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
CURE provides participants with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to advocate for their own rights and those of all women. Peer education helps enable the young women to shape their own futures and become community leaders. They learn about gender-based violence, reproductive health, and economic empowerment, among other issues relevant to promoting the role of women in society. They overcome stereotypes and misconceptions about women.
CURE also provides trainers with ongoing support and mentorship to develop their skills and increase their community impact.
The results of peer education are significant. Participants acknowledge a newfound sense of confidence and self-worth, and feel more equipped to advocate for women’s rights. Many who complete CURE’s training do, in fact, become community leaders. Some even found other organizations that work for gender equality and women’s rights, important work in a country where such rights are still not fully recognized. CURE and groups like it aim to create a more equal and just society for all women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, thereby offering young women a brighter future than their mothers and grandmothers faced.
The Next Generation
Despite CURE’s critical work, the organization lacks financial support. Staff acknowledge that donor interest in women's rights issues has declined in recent years as focus shifts to other problems. And most project funding that CURE receives runs for only one year, leaving little time to deepen the work. This presents short- and long-term challenges as CURE's work on women’s rights may take years to achieve full impact.
"They think we're done with education, but every year a new and younger generation comes along. With issues like gender-based violence, you have to work over long periods of time," says CURE’s Medina Mujić.
"For example, when we ended the project this year, some educators wanted to continue. And we are faced with the problem: What do we do now? We have knowledge, we have made good experiences last year, but we can't continue because we no longer have project funds. Continuous work with young people is necessary if we really want to work on eradicating gender-based violence.”
At the same time, new problems consistently emerge, particularly through social media.
Increasing exposure to hate speech and idealized portrayals of women negatively impact young girls, Mujić explains. “I'm really afraid for the new generation because there is a need for action in regard to the problems that many young people face, and that are not recognized at all in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Despite the evident need, feminist activism in Bosnia and Herzegovina faces an uncertain future, Frašto notes. “My goal is to raise the next generation of activists and feminists. But I fear that this will be hard to succeed. If we as a women's movement don't act now, we will see a great gap.” The country’s political and social polarization could also undermine feminist activism and the progress made toward gender equality.
Shortly after being interviewed, Frašto and Mujić, with their colleague Enida Čamdžić, rush to prepare for a demonstration. Several women, young and old, have come to the office to join them for the protest. With banners and flyers, they hurry to a square near parliament in Sarajevo’s city center.
Once there, they distribute the flyers to passersby and speak with journalists who have come to cover the protest. There is no pause in spreading the word about the fight for a better future, especially for this next generation of feminist activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.