Women’s participation and leadership is not just good for women; it can benefit whole societies. This was the message delivered by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the Special Representative of the Slovak OSCE Chairmanship on Gender, during a three-day visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
At a meeting with staff of the OSCE Mission to BiH in Sarajevo, Verveer praised efforts to mainstream gender across all dimensions of the Mission’s work – from its engagement with security actors and work aimed at preventing violent extremism, to efforts to promote and protect fundamental freedoms and stamp out corruption. “Women must be given the space to contribute what they see, think and hear to decision-making processes. Otherwise, societies cannot get ahead,” she said. “The Mission’s work is, gradually, helping to make this is a reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Head of the OSCE Mission Bruce G. Berton elaborated on the country’s progress since Verveer’s last visit in 2016. “There have been some bright spots on the horizon, for example the adoption of new laws at the state and entity levels, dealing with issues such as discrimination and domestic violence,” said Berton. “However, these laws have not always been followed up by implementation, with the current political impasse significantly hampering progress,” he added.
During her visit to Sarajevo and Banja Luka, Verveer met with the Minister of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marina Pendeš, as well as officials of Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska.
Other meetings on her agenda included interactive discussions with civil society representatives from across the country – many of whom focus on reconciliation and peacebuilding, as well as domestic violence – , working lunches with businesswomen and women mayors, meetings with the BiH Gender Agency and gender centres from the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska . She also attended a brainstorming session with multilateral partners operating in BiH, as well as meetings with other ministries and officials at the state and entity level.
Speaking at a public event in Sarajevo, Verveer reflected on her first trip to BiH as a White House official during the conflict. Since then, she noted, the women of BiH have continued to demonstrate their resilience, determination and strength, including through their ability to “cross the lines” and promote reconciliation.
Verveer concluded with a message of unity: “When we start crossing our divides – our ethnic divides, our religious divides, and our divides between men and women – only then can we really move forward.”