Emina Bošnjak, Jasmina Čaušević and Aida Spahić presenter the book "More than a label. On women who love women" in Sarajevo. Photo: SOC
Emina Bošnjak, Jasmina Čaušević and Aida Spahić presenter the book "More than a label. On women who love women" in Sarajevo. Photo: SOC

Bosnian activists challenge homophobia

2013-03-18

Lesbian and bisexual women have since long been an invisible group in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is something the organization Sarajevo Open Centre want to change. In a new publication they give space for the non-heterosexual women’s own stories.

– A book like this has never been published before, it’s the first in its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina, says Emina Bošnjak from the human rights organization Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC).

SOC had seen that lesbian and bisexual women were discriminated on several grounds – both related to their gender and sexuality – which gave rise to the idea of publishing their stories.
– The lgbt community, especially lesbian and bisexual women, is not visible in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We wanted to give these women the space to share their stories, says Emina Bošnjak.

Difficult to be open

The book, financially supported by Kvinna till Kvinna, consists of 15 interviews with women and a theoretical background about lgbt issues. ”Coming out” is a recurring theme in the women’s stories. Many describe how they have gone through a tough time, but now they want to send the message that it is ok to be who you are.

The discrimination of lgbt people in Bosnia and Herzegovina is widespread. Many encounter homo- and transphobia from the family as well as from social institutions, and some are victims of violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Bosnia-Herzegovina there is an anti-discrimination law which, among other things, aims to protect the rights of lgbt people, but the state doesn’t implement it.

Several of the book’s participants has chosen to appear anonymous or with an alias.
– The situation is very difficult. Most of the lgbt people can’t come out, for example at work or in school, because of the discrimination they encounter, says Emina Bošnjak.

During the project she soon realized, though, that the participants were really proud of themselves. She describes them as strong women with an articulated sense of responsibility to lgbt activism.

Finding participants wasn’t easy, but through personal contacts, SOC managed to find 15 women from four different towns.
– At first, they don’t liked the idea of speaking about their personal life face to face. But later on they felt it was fine, they just needed some time, says Leila Huremovic, who did the interviews.

Recognition

So far the book has been presented in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Tuzla. Leila and Emina says that far more people than they thought appeared to be interested in the publication.
– We were all surprised how many showed up. We’ve got comments from many people who say that they recognize themselves in the stories of the book, says Emina Bošnjak.

Some women wondered if they have an essentialist perspective on gender and sexuality, given the focus on lesbian and bisexual women. According to Emina Bošnjak the idea from the start was to focus on these groups, but as the project went on it became clear that the participants identify themselves in many different ways. Some, for example, identify as queer.
– In the end, it was about women who love women, says Emina Bošnjak.

None of the 15 interviewed identify themselves as transgender. Emina and Lejla says, though, that they would have welcomed involvement by transgender people.

The publication, called ”Vise od etikete. O zenama koje vole zene” (in English: ”More than a label. On women who love women”) is available in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, and it will be distributed to lgbt organizations in the region. One copy has also been sent to all public libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which means 130 libraries.
– This is a way for people in smaller communities to get access to these stories, says Emina Bošnjak.

Karin Råghall

Download Vise od etikete (pdf)