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Bosnia, a mirror to look at: bringing local experience to global change

July 29, 2016

As the world’s oldest international feminist organisation, with an aim to ensure real and lasting peace and freedom by non-violent means, WILPF seeks to effectively support women’s grassroots organisations in multiple ways. WILPF’s unique local-global-local approach, which forges strong linkages between international, national and local efforts, makes our engagement not only innovative but also thoroughly tailored for each local context.

This article is part of a series of articles showcasing different aspects of how the local-global-local approach works in reality.

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In February 2014 WILPF partnered up with likeminded organisations, such as the Swedish Foundation Kvinna till Kvinna and MADRE, and with support from OAK Foundation, to organise a feminist solidarity dialogue between Syrian and Bosnian women activists.

The aim was to empower women from these two countries to work together for peace by identifying and analysing the root causes of conflict and to develop their own strategies for addressing those causes in the context of both: the war-affected Syria and the post-war Bosnia. The experiences of Bosnian women during the war in the 90’s and their post-war struggle for sustainable peace served as a starting point for the discussion that evolved around women’s participation in peace negotiations, gender based violence and justice.

The conference between Bosnian and Syrian women activists proved to be an example of good practice upon which the solidarity and women’s participation in peace building can further be built on. Since then WILPF has continued to use this method as a means to connect the diverse grassroots experiences to each other and to elevate the analysis done on the grassroots level to the international diplomatic arena.

Lessons learned

_SV08701WILPF’s Crisis Response Programme has been supporting women organisations and activists in Ukraine in their analysis of the conflict, creation of strategies for ways forward and facilitating their contact with the international diplomatic arena. One of the tracks in that support was to use the lessons learned from the Bosnia-Syria conference, as a method of amplifying independent voices of women peace activists on conflict and peacemaking, and provide a platform for dialogue and exchange with other grassroots experiences.

In June 2016 WILPF, together with Kvinna till Kvinna, planned and organised for another solidarity meeting – this time activists from Ukraine were brought to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a three-day solidarity dialogue. In Ukraine, women activists, NGOs, and volunteer movements, in particular those close to the frontline, have spent the majority of their efforts in providing humanitarian aid, serving as implementing partners for aid agencies and coping with the multiple complex consequences of conflict, displacement and economic crisis. Many of the organisations are over stretched and have little capacity to increase their work. The engagement of civil society in the peace process has been virtually non-existent.

At the same time Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a situation where the effects of the past conflict have not yet been resolved and the austerity measures are deepening the conflict in the society. Such a development has led to a situation where peace more than ever needs the collective energy and efforts of women and peace organisation united around joint understanding what peace is supposed to be. 20 year post armed conflict there is still much to do, both in terms of dealing with the past (in the sense of addressing the harms from the war in 90’s) and preventing potentially a whole new conflict.

“I want to be responsible for that peace”

The solidarity dialogue that lasted for three days, revealed the interplay between deepened social, political and economic injustice, the austerity measures introduced in both countries and the inequality between women and men, leading the countries deeper into conflicts. This confirms once again the need for non-violent means of social transformation that enables the inauguration of systems under which social and political equality and economic justice for all can be attained to ensure real and lasting peace.

As one of the participants said “I want a peace in which I can realise all my rights. I want to participate in building the peace in my country, and in the region, and I want to be responsible for that peace, in all segments of the society. I do not want to be outside, because if I am outside then I do not have any responsibilities either”.

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