Support to Returnees’ Communities has to be Stronger: Economic Empowerment of Women is Essential for Preventing Violence

On the eastern outskirts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a small place, Skelani, where association “Podrinjka” is helping in economic and social empowerment of women returnees at Srebrenica area. War trauma, apathy and life in remote areas distant from the local administration, are burden to their everyday life which they want to change, by starting their own businesses, at the same time being at the new start themselves. Their work is voluntary and they expect stronger support from the local authorities for their activities.

A returnee herself, Mevlida Mehanović found her life mission at Skelani, where she is helping other returnee women to build a new and better life after the war. “Our mission is to empower women returnees to start their own business, since not a single association in this area is dealing with them and their challenges. Now, we are a group of about 40 women, most of them are housewives, doing some agriculture, handicrafts, rural tourism, fruits and vegetables production or collecting herbs”, says Mehanović.

She stressed their expectations from the local authorities to provide substantive support to their activities, especially to their idea of production of authentic Bosnian handcrafted carpets. It would be tremendous support to their sustainability since they already have two members who could educate younger women, and help turning Bosnian heritage into a market-oriented brand that could economically empower these women. “Five years after my return and two years since the creation of the association, my conclusion is – women’s economic empowerment is a key priority since only economically independent women can fight against any sort of discrimination or violence”, concludes Mehanović.

The association is supported through regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds”, funded by the European Union and implemented by UN Women and civil society organizations. The Association has enabled these women to build a relations and friendship. They see each other monthly, and through workshops they discussed about gender, sex, partner relations and domestic violence prevention. On top of everything, they built a circle of trust where they have women that lost their loved ones from both sides of the conflict sitting next to each other. “That is the true success of our Association!” say women of “Podrinjka”.