"Exhibiting You" - Story

Mostar Women’s Citizen Initiative

One Year Later

By: National Democratic Institute
Submitted: 08/08/2008

The city of Mostar, in southern Bosnia, presented a particular challenge. An ancient trading center, Mostar historically was symbolized by the Stari Most (Old Bridge), an exquisite Ottoman-era conveyance over the river Neretva. The bridge was destroyed in the war, and with it went any means of dialogue between the city’s main groups of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. More than 10 years later, the bridge has been rebuilt, but the old town at the center of Mostar remains shattered, as are the lives of many of its citizens on both sides of the river.

Banding Together to Protect Young Mothers
With the support of the NDI Women’s Program, the Mostar Women Citizens Initiative (MWCI) was born around a problem common to women in each ethnic community: the absence of legal protection for working mothers against unfair job termination and employment discrimination. Many young mothers in and around Mostar were let go from their jobs upon revealing their pregnancy or following their maternity leave. United behind this important cause, women from Mostar’s different ethnic groups came together under MWCI and undertook a high profile advocacy campaign that succeeded in amending local law on social care to protect the employment rights of working mothers.

The success of this initiative, featured in Building Bridges, coupled with the Mostar women’s extraordinary collective efforts as a new multiethnic women’s advocacy group, earned them the honor of being the first recipients of the Madeleine K. Albright grant, bestowed by NDI in April 2006. This $25,000 grant has served as a platform to provide funding for their current initiative -- “Women United Against Drug Abuse” -- to combat the growing drug addiction throughout the Mostar community.

Tackling the Issue of Drug Abuse
Entering into its third year, MWCI continues to grow and is widely recognized in the city. New parties have joined the group and started to contribute and work together. With strong momentum from their initial success, the Mostar women have started a campaign to address the problem of drug abuse awareness and to provide support for drug addicts and their families.

Drug addiction is growing at an alarming rate throughout Mostar, affecting all ethnic groups similarly. Like many communities suffering economic depression and a limited awareness of the true consequences of drug abuse, a growing number of young people seek escape through recreational drugs. Invariably, these young people find only addiction and despair with little hope of gaining assistance to regain control of their lives. Addressing this collective, city-wide problem calls upon Mostar’s leaders to transcend ethnic division and work together.

Educating Children about Drug Abuse
Based on research conducted in cooperation with the Center for Mental Health and Center for Public Health, MWCI has joined forces with a group of medical experts and the local community to design a drug abuse prevention program that uses theater and interactive workshops in local schools. MWCI first discussed the program concept to local officials, school leaders, parents, and student councils. The response was positive. Now underway, the program educates children about the negative consequences of drug abuse and building the confidence of children in dealing with drug abuse in their families and their communities.

After a series of interactive workshops set to last for six weeks, each selected school, in collaboration with the “Forum Theatre”, will present a theatrical performance designed entirely by students to raise public awareness about the problem of drug abuse in the Mostar community.

Strengthening Drug Abuse Counseling
MWCI began preparations in March for the training of drug abuse counselors through a series of train the trainers (TOT) activities. Upon completion of this program, an emergency hotline and its counselors will be available to Mostar residents struggling with drug addiction problems. MWCI also plans to collect and analyze available statistical or other historical data on drug abuse in Mostar to help advocate for a campaign to establish cross-community assistance and a resource center.

Seeking Better Legislation
The final plan for increasing public awareness of drug abuse in Mostar involves empowering communities to demand greater attention and assistance from their government to treat young people addicted to drugs. MWCI plans to establish round tables and public discussions for the next phase of the project in hopes of achieving a change in public policy regarding the State Parliament’s newly adopted Law on Prevention and Prohibition of Misusage of Drugs. The law’s implementation has so far foundered. MWCI hopes to lobby state and local government to amend the law’s provisions to ensure proper enforcement.

MWCI believes that a comprehensive, community-based approach is the only effective means for reducing the number of new addictions and treating those suffering from drug dependency. Using this common ground to strengthen its capacity to affect community development, the mandate of the Initiative is to network and organize various organizations, NGOs, institutions and political activists from all parties to educate, train and treat the drug addiction issue in the Canton of Mostar.

Once this is achieved in Mostar, the group is committed to continue its work in addressing this issue in other cantons and municipalities throughout the rest of BiH with the common goal of providing a safer environment for all families and communities regardless of identity.

Donate Online »