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Reclaiming Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina

1 September 2014

This year we have seen many new and old conflicts arise around the world. As usual, the narrative surrounding these conflicts has been focused on men with guns. While men with guns have a prerogative to have their interest represented in peace talks and negotiations, the perspective of the civilian population suffering from the violence, predominantly women and children, is ignored and their voices silenced.

Since 2013 WILPF has been spearheading a ground-breaking initiative called ‘Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia and Herzegovina’. The initiative focuses on the importance of representing the experiences of women who went through, or are going through, an armed conflict. It works to change the dominant narrative that women are victims and rather bring to the forefront their vision of peace.

Through this initiative we advocate for women’s rights to be represented at all levels in the peace building process, we put the spotlight on the peace activism of women during war, we defend the human rights of women and promote social, economic and political justice.

Our vision of peace

This summer, as a continuation of the activities organised under this initiative, Bosnian women peace activists met to discuss how they could reclaim their economic, social and cultural rights that were so seriously circumscribed in the Dayton Peace Agreement and whose lack of implementation is threatening the peace in the Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The workshop was focused on three particularly vulnerable categories in the country – survivors of wartime sexualised violence, families of missing persons and internally displaced persons and returnees. The overall discussion was on how the society can reclaim economic, social and cultural rights in a situation where access to them is being hampered by the lack of political vision and outright looting of Bosnia by political elites, resembling mafia more than anything else.

The workshop was introduced by WILPF’s General Secretary Madeleine Rees, who gave an overview of economic, social and cultural rights and spoke of how their implementation appears in post conflict societies, what it should look like, why it is not like that and what needs to be done in order to change that situation.

Her introduction was followed by Bosnian activists on how access to economic, social and cultural rights looks in Bosnia today from the perspective of the three groups mentioned above.

Strategising for the future
BiH flags_Flickr Jennifer Boyer
Credit: Flickr/ Jennifer Boyer

The discussion highlighted many problems arising when reparations for victims of war are placed in the context of the social protection system that is inadequate to fulfil non-war related needs, and insufficient to fulfil those needs stemming from the gross human rights violations that took place during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.

The discussion also showed that although the three categories mentioned above are the most vulnerable, the access to economic, social and cultural rights is hampered for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While some of the economic, social and cultural rights do exist within the Bosnian legal framework, many of these rights are inaccessible due to complicated administrative set-up of the country and poor implementation of the laws.

The inability of local politicians and the international community to deal with the situation where too many Bosnians find themselves in dire poverty is a serious threat towards the process of building sustainable peace in the country. Bosnian activists concluded that immediate action is required if a complete collapse of the Bosnian society is to be deterred.

It was thus decided that in the absence of a political vision for how to resolve the many economic and social problems the country finds itself in, the organisations and activists gathered around this initiative will start working on their own proposal for reparations programme for the victims of war.

This programme will constitute a first step towards ensuring appropriate and effective legislative and administrative procedures for fair, affective and prompt access to economic, social and cultural rights, removing the competition between the different groups in need that is currently built in the Bosnian social protection system.

Please read the report for full summary of the discussion and conclusions.


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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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