From Where I Stand: “Women's voices are crucial in our civil society and can lead to change”

Radmila Žigić is the Director of Foundation Lara from Bijeljina in northeast Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which has been at the forefront of combating violence against women and girls, ensuring safe space for survivors, advocating for women’s rights and empowering women since its establishment in 1998. Lara was the first women’s organization in BiH that established a shelter for survivors of human trafficking in 2000, which provided support to close to 200 women in Bijeljina. While advocating for more effective legislation, educating law enforcement officers and preventing sexual exploitation of women and girls, especially among school-age youth, Lara has significantly contributed to the reduction of this form of violence against women in BiH.

Date: Monday, November 20, 2017

Radmila Žigić, Director of Foundation Lara from Bijeljina. Photo: Courtesy of Radmila Žigić
Radmila Žigić, Director of Foundation Lara. Photo: Courtesy of Radmila Žigić

“Foundation ‘Lara’ has been working for 19 years without taking a break. Our biggest achievement so far was opening a shelter for women and children violence survivors in Bijeljina back in 2011-2012. In less than a year, we managed to ensure funding, find a place, get permission from the local government, and train a team of experts. However, on a personal note, I feel the most fulfilled when I encounter former beneficiaries and they tell me that Lara has changed their life. Or, when politicians in our community publicly speak out about gender equality – which wasn’t the case before we were established. These are traces of hope that motivate us to keep on fighting.

Obstacles are many and often unexpected. For us, the hardest is when centers of social work end a survivor’s stay in the shelter, even though we know she still needs it and that sending her off means she’s at risk of being subject to violence.

Another barrier is the constant lack of funds. We keep running on because we know that, if we are silent and absent from the public sphere, we would not be able to improve the situation for women. We also work on improving the status of marginalized women to raise awareness of their rights.

We prioritize preventing violence against women. Laws are not good enough, they are not implemented, and there are no resources to enforce them. There are many prejudices and attitudes. There are efforts eliminate discussions about violence against women and "sweep it under the rug" as a problem that does not exist, or was "imposed" on us. That is why the priority should be the sustainability and stability of the work of women's organizations working on prevention of violence. This way, we can work further on providing voice for those who suffer from violence and establish centres where change begins. Women's voices are crucial in our civil society and can lead to change. I deeply believe in the meaning of our work.”

SDG 5: Gender equality

Foundation Lara is UN Women’s partner in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the project “Standards and engagement in preventing violence against women and domestic violence” financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). The work of Foundation Lara contributes to the empowerment of women, especially the ones living in rural areas. Ms. Žigić’s work contributes towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 target on ending violence against women