Human Rights House Foundation

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Image: Women in political life of BiH

Women in political life of BiH

Woman and Society Center recently conducted a study where they have analyzed the presence of women in political and public life, during the general election year 2010 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thursday, 09 December 2010

The starting point of the study conducted by dr. Nada Ler-Sofronic, president of the association ''Woman and Society Center'', was that the media have at least a dual role in connection with the participation of women in public and political life.

First, the media are a mirror of the ruling perceptions (and stereotypes) about the role of men and women in a culture, meaning also role of a woman in public and political life.

Secondly, the media are the manufacturers of the conscience and the guardians of certain cultural concepts, including (patriarchal) concepts of gender roles in which a strong role of women in public and political life and in decision-making processes, is not particularly welcome. In this way the media indirectly influence the behavior of people, in this case voters during the elections.

‘’The study gives only some results of the print media monitoring and certain aspects of media images in general. However, these results served as solid ground for our prediction that women in this election year are likely to end up badly, even worse than on the last general elections, in year 2006’’, stated dr. Nada Ler-Sofronic.

Results of the monitoring show that:

·         Women in the media, were as usual, much less represented than men, and the the covers were mostly dominated by men (in the roles of important figures, the protagonists of the public sphere, politicians etc.);

·         Women were more or less depicted in a traditional way (closely related to the private sphere, and public space mainly for show business; they were quite often portrayed as a victims of male violence, usually in the black chronicles, and as generally victimized characters, refugees, the sustainers in poor families, etc.); 

·         Space given to a woman in her professional role and the role of politician as an autonomous subject, briefly - in the role of protagonist, was negligibly small; 

·         Women's photographs in the print media, were mostly of female body and female bodily attributes, a woman in showbiz and the like. There were almost no major general photos of women on which she was important figure in the public and political scene. This is not related only to women politicians, but to women who still exist in the public area, and which remain anonymous and marginalized (such as, women workers who are under hunger strike, and were presented in the media only as "workers" - the masculine term, never in a prominent place or with a comment that those are women protesting in public);

·         During the election campaigns, almost no woman was presented as a significant political entity, nor was her possible candidacy for a significant place anywhere announced, except for rare exceptions; 

·         Almost negligibly small number of women appeared in roles that were directly or at least indirectly related to the elections, even in these cases, a woman was usually a transmission: she was representing a party, posing with (male) leaders, spoke on behalf of the parties with the ruling discourse of the party.

Statistics: General elections and women in BiH

Out of 8149 candidates on the General Elections in October 2010, 5145 were men (63.13%) and 3004 women (36.86%). Analysis of the lists of the candidates show that: 

a) it is nominated just as many women as prescribed by Law and that the parties which nominated more women than they had to, were quite rare; 

b) male candidates were more present in the media, textually and visually, than female candidates and that it seems that after the publication of candidate lists, the marginalization of women as political subjects, was even more intensified; 

c) even after the publication of lists of candidates in the media that Center for Woman and Media has followed, the women, candidates from the lists, appeared only about a dozen times in the media world, even during the month September, right before the elections when the election campaign activities were the strongest. One name however, appears as an exception though (Borjana Kristo);

d) many women who began appearing on posters from the official start of the election campaign, were not previously present in the media, and many were completely unknown to the public. 

Therefore, by the dominant discourse that the media used a few months before the election, and that they have continued to use  it in the election campaign, it was not difficult to assume the behavior of the electorate and that women will end up badly on these general elections, again. 

As for the appeals that were heard before the elections and which were made by the NGO sector in BiH and gender centers to vote for women, they have found themselves in serious socio-cultural and media vacuum. There was no critical mass of women in public and political sphere, the largest number of women from the lists of candidates were not known to the public, that is most of them were not present in the media before. 

‘’There was an indirect message for the voters of BiH from the NGOs and Gender Centers, to vote for women just because they are women, although they do not know anything about them. This could be one reason why such and similar campaigns are often not having the desired effect'', said Mrs. Ler-Sofronic in her study.

According to the study results, the public and political life in BiH during the election year 2010 (like during any year so far), were strongly dominated by masculine figures, and women continued to be represented in a sphere which is out of BiH politics and its public life.

*The project study was supported by H. Boell Foundation.

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