“Reading is food for my soul. Walking into a bookstore feels exactly like walking into a candy store as a kid,” Ambassador Johann Sattler, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the European Union Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated on Tuesday.
Being new in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have not yet had the time to visit local bookstores, but it is in my plans. I actually hope to soon be able to read contemporary writers from BiH in their own language and Martina Mlinarevic will be on the top of the list.
The first time I heard about this woman from Herzegovina, she was described to me as a brave writer who overcame numerous professional and personal hardships with incredible strength and grace; a writer admired for her witty and unapologetically honest writing often challenging society’s major taboos.
I finally had the pleasure of meeting Martina last week, but unfortunately, there was no time to discuss our literature preferences or her new book. Instead, she told me about threats and the most brutal attacks against her and her family, because of her beliefs and the ways she chose to live her life.
It has truly been disturbing to read some of the threatening messages and inflammatory comments made on social media against her. A glance is enough to understand that her attackers do not engage in constructive dialogue to prove her wrong. What these keyboard warriors seem to do instead is use the most profane and despicable insults targeting her womanhood. To my mind, it is violence.
Violence against women and girls is among the most widespread and devastating human rights violations in the world. On this day when we mark International Human Rights Day, it is important to condemn all forms of such violence – whether physical, psychological, economic or sexual. UN data released only a few days ago show that as many as one third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and violence perpetrated against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for those of reproductive age, as cancer.
One third! This means all of us know a woman or a girl that has experienced some form of violence. All of us! The prevalence of the issue is alarming. Half of the women in BiH have experienced some form of violence since the age of 15. Gender-based violence is not a “private matter” and Martina is right to speak out freely about it.
This needs to change and we can all contribute in some way: support the objectives of the global campaign “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” ending today on the International Human Rights Day; fight against damaging stereotypes in your own environment; teach children about a respect for every human. Report all violence, including online abuse. Authorities must investigate such allegations and adequately sanction the perpetrators. Many of them do not even hide.
Gender equality and the fight against the gender-based violence will remain high on the list of EU priorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we will continue working with local partners to improve the protection of human rights. This is the obligation of us all.
When I met Martina, she had a huge smile and talked about life’s simple pleasures despite the grave topics we touched upon. There was something particularly impressive about her.
I realised later what it was.
It was her look of a winner.
And that, she certainly is.
“Samo tvoje je ono sto ti odlucis da ce biti*,” from Martina Mlinarevic’s message to her daughter, published on November 10.