From where I stand: "Economic empowerment of women is essential for preventing violence"

Mevlida Mehanović is the president of ‘Podrinjka’, a recently established association working to economically and socially empower returnee women in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small municipality located on the eastern border with Serbia. A returnee herself, Ms. Mehanović found her calling in the village of Skelani, where she is helping other returnee women to build a new and better life following the war. The association is currently partnering with the NGO, ‘Vive Žene Tuzla’, to train local women on key concepts of gender equality and ending violence against women. It is part of the regional programme, Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’, implemented by UN Women and civil society organizations, with support from the European Union.


Mevlida Mehanovic
Mevlida Mehanović is a returnee supporting other returnee women in Srebrenica Municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: UN Women Bosnia and Herzegovina

We established the Association in late 2016, primarily to empower women returnees; at the time, there were no associations in the area working with women to help them overcome their challenges. Now, we are a group of about 40 women, mostly housewives, engaged in small-scale agriculture, handicrafts, rural tourism, fruit and vegetable production and collecting herbs.

All of them live in remote rural areas, 40 kms or more from the nearest local administration. In my village, for example, we don’t even have access to the national public television service. Most of the women experienced some sort of trauma during the war. Many of them lost their closest relatives. Our mission is to motivate them and support them to start their own small businesses, to develop their economic independence. The Association is run by volunteers because, currently, we don’t have any regular source of funding, from either donors or the local municipality.

Five years after my return and two years since the creation of the association, I have come to the conclusion that women’s economic empowerment is the main priority, since only economically independent women can fight against discrimination or violence.

Visits to this area are rare, so we are glad that we have established this partnership with ‘Vive Žene’ and are now part of their regular activities – organized under the UN Women regional programme. Thanks to this partnership, we were able to organize a number of workshops to create a small community of women looking for new opportunities.

Women were particularly interested in the psychosocial workshop, where they were able to discuss, for the first time, topics such as gender, sex, partner relations, domestic violence, traumas they had suffered during the war and even their memories from childhood.

Returnee women participating at a gathering in Skelani.
Returnee women participating at a gathering in Skelani. Photo: Courtesy of Podrinjka

At these gatherings, we talked about marriage, about health and prevention of certain diseases. We encouraged each other to recognize our strength and the efforts we make within our families and communities, to help build our self-confidence. Our success can be measured by the fact that some of the women now leave their home alone without their husbands, and all of them are eager to attend again – they are asking when the next workshop will be!

The Association has enabled these women to build friendships. We see each other every month, visiting each other occasionally, and keep in regular contact through our Facebook group. On top of everything, we have built a ‘circle of trust’, where women who lost their loved ones, from both sides of the conflict, are now sitting next to each other. This is the real success of our Association!”

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The association Podrinjka’ is partnering the with NGO, ‘Vive Žene Tuzla’, under the regional programme, Implementing Norms, Changing Minds’, implemented by UN Women and civil society organizations, with support from the European Union. The work of association ‘Podrinjka’ contributes to the empowerment of women returnees. Ms. Mehanović’s work relates to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which includes a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. It also relates to SDG 8, which aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men.