Within the campaign ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence’ and HeForShe campaign, UN Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina will publish interviews with men who advocate gender equality in their community on the campaign website www.16dana.ba. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views of UN Women or any other agency of the United Nations.
Davorin Semenik has worked as Secretary of the Commission for Gender Equality of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina for eight years. He believes that small steps can lead to big progress. He finds inspiration in his colleagues whose work he appreciates and recognizes the efforts they invest. Read what he finds to be the greatest achievements in the field of human rights in our country, and why he recognizes civil society as the government’s key partner in achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls.
What does your work on combating gender based violence consist of?
My work involves everything that the Commission for Gender Equality of the Parliamentary Assembly deals with, therefore all activities related to raising awareness, building standards in the fight against gender-based violence, reviewing strategies and implementation reports, and making recommendations. Everything goes through my office and therefore I am involved in everything.
Tell us about the impact your work has had on the progress of women in BiH.
I immodestly think that eight years of work as a Secretary of the Commission has made a mark. This is the third mandate of the Commission of which I am secretary, and in every mandate attention was given to combating violence against women and domestic violence. Two to three focused sessions on this issue were held every year and recently it has been recognized that our support to ratifying the Istanbul convention left a mark. The fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the sixth country to ratify the Convention was largely the result of this commission’s efforts because we started working from the moment the Convention was signed and ready for ratification. We prepared a seminar that promoted the Convention in partnership with the Agency for Gender Equality. For this occasion, we have gathered a large number of institutions and non-governmental organizations and prepared everything that comes along with the ratification of the Convention. We also asked the Presidency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our foreign affairs commission to speed up the methods for ratification and we succeeded. We had a thematic session at which a framework strategy for the implementation of this convention was presented, and I think it created good conditions for implementation regarding legislation and monitoring so in two years we can see the majority of the convention implemented.
You mentioned non-governmental organizations. In your opinion, what is the importance of the non-governmental sector?
When I started working for the Commission in 2007, I didn’t know much about this matter, and I considered the Agency for Gender Equality the most important partner of the Commission. I managed to create a great relationship with the agency, we are in contact on a daily basis and together we plan a variety of activities on combating violence against women, but that is not the only field of interest for the Commission. I’ve always thought that civil society deserves a lot of credit in terms of organizing the struggle against domestic violence. They raise awareness about the institutions and demand mechanisms for combating violence to be established, mechanisms such as entity laws. The significance is evident in the field of implementation because safe houses certainly would not exist if there were no non-governmental organizations. SOS phone lines would not exist without the dedicated work of women and men in non-government organizations and I regard them as such because everything done by the Commission for the situation in areas covered by the Gender Equality Law includes NGOs. We have accepted every initiative suggested by NGO’s. When it comes to discrimination of Roma women, we had a thematic meeting organized in partnership with ICVA and RIGHTS FOR ALL. We had a thematic session dedicated to women’s political participation in partnership with Sarajevo Open Centre, which is extremely active.
What do you see as the key priorities for women to gain the same opportunities as men?
We can’t take big steps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there is progress. We witnessed success in the previous mandate when we raised the quota from 33 to 40 percent female candidates on election lists through the Election Law. The Election Law will be fully harmonized with the Law on Gender Equality through 50 percent participation of women in candidate lists and the establishment of mechanisms for women to represent at least 40 percent within the legislative bodies. The priority of the Commission is political participation and women’s empowerment in politics. I believe focus should be redirected away from legislation and towards political parties. A number of capable women work for the parties and these women must start becoming representatives of legislative and executive government.
When talking about combating gender based violence, we must mention the framework strategy. Its realization is a priority and is implemented through measures arising from the strategy, which also implies incorporation of standards from the Istanbul Convention regarding domestic law and practice. I was at a conference in Podgorica, Montenegro, and implementation of the Istanbul Convention in the region was the main topic. That conference resulted in a declaration that will be offered for signing to the presidents of the countries of the region, which is proof of the continuous effort for the implementation of the standards of the Convention.
What harmful stereotypes about women are you aware of, and how do you think society should deal with gender based violence?
I think the classic division of male and female occupations is stereotypical. Unfortunately, this belief is first formed in the family when boys are not allowed to play with dolls, and it continues in kindergarten as well. Furthermore, stereotypes can be found in textbooks, and in our language occupations are all in the masculine gender, except maid and nurse. Education is the most important and I think we need to work according to that fact. We have managed to introduce gender-sensitive language into the Parliamentary Assembly through a project that involved language experts. The manual that we have made has been submitted to committees at the entity level, and the Gender Commission and center in Brcko, which were formed thanks to the initiative and work of our committee.
Can you tell us about a woman who inspired you in work or life?
Ms. Ismeta Dervoz gives the impression of a sophisticated person adorned with fine upbringing, a person that approaches any problem mildly as well as firmly and persistently. She was the main engine in the last mandate of the Commission, and I had the pleasure to work on that with her. We continue to cooperate on some projects and we have become friends, which is, for me, the greatest recognition. Ms. Dervoz is successful in everything she does.