Azra Hasanbegovic – Bosnia and Herzegovina

Linked with the Association “ŽENA BIH”, Mostar, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hopes Betrayed, and with Trafficking Women and Children.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Everyone has duties to the community in which a free and integral development of one’s personality is possible”.

Azra Hasanbegovic - Bosnia and Herzegovina rogné.jpg

Azra Hasanbegovic – Bosnia and Herzegovina

She works for Žena Bosnia and Herzegovina/Žena BiH.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Mostar in April 1992, Azra Hasanbegovic helped organize small groups that assisted people most badly struck by the war. She initiated the women’s association Žena BiH, whose main mission is to struggle for women’s right to work. She also established the Agency for Free Legal Aid and Services and an SOS hotline. At the same time, she worked on documentation of the suffering of Mostar and Prozor women and submitted a detailed report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.Since the beginning of the armed conflict in Mostar in April 1992, Azra Hasanbegovic endeavored to establish a life, “a bit close to normal,” in a city suffering from chaos.

At that time, she participated in organizing small groups that provided assistance to those most badly struck by the war. In September 1993, she was expelled from her apartment in Mostar and was given refuge by a Jew who helped her to hide. Owing to his efforts and freedom of movement, the two of them were able to bring 109 tons of food to the completely blocked and isolated East Mostar. At that point, there grew inside her a wonderful feeling of fulfillment in being able to help.

In February 1994, Azra Hasanbegovic was forced to leave Mostar as her life was threatened. Together with a convoy of Jews, with forged documents and under a Jewish name, she escaped from Mostar and went to Zagreb in Croatia. As soon as she arrived in Zagreb, she engaged in the activities of Žena Bosnia and Herzegovina (Žena BiH), an association established by women refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although it was considered impossible at that time to conduct peace gatherings, she was able to participate, together with other women from all over the world, in a peace meeting in Vukovar.

In 1994, she returned to Mostar East and immediately organized the women’s association, Žena BiH, whose main mission is to struggle for women’s right to work and earn an income. The association started with 32 members, which then grew to 700 members over three months and shortly afterwards became 2000. Most of the members were women refugees. Azra also gathered together 250 former women prisoners of war and established the Agency for Free Legal Aid and Services, as well as the SOS Hotline. She has mobilized women to supervise these projects. At the same time, she worked on the documentation of the suffering of Mostar and Prozor women, prepared a detailed report and submitted it the United Nations Human Rights Commission on 25 May 1995.

She has taken part in numerous peace conferences and other conferences organized by women activists, in Budapest, Hungary; Mantua and Pisa, Italy; Switzerland; and in Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Zenica, and other gatherings organized all over the former Yugoslavia. In 1998, she became a member of the CWA (Coordination of Women’s Advocacy) working group from Switzerland. At that time, the group focused on women from Bosnia and Herzegovina, while today the focus is on women from the Kosovo region. At the end of 1999, she completed her mission to Kosovo. Assisted by the International Law Group for Human Rights, she took an active part in the drafting of the first Bosnia and Herzegovina National Report on Violation of Human Rights of Women.

She has always been active in the inquiry into the trafficking of women and children in the area of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. She is a member of the NGO South East Asia Refugee Assistance Network (SEE-RAN) pilot project assisted by the Danish Peace and Stability Fund (FRESTA) and the Danish Refugee Center (DRC). The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina elected her as a member of the Advisory Board of the Bosnia and Herzegovina NGO Foundation. Through her work experience, she reached the conclusion that women are facing a much worse position than men, particularly in the realm of the economy. There is significant poverty and a high percentage of unemployment among women.

At the same time, she has been constantly pointing out that women suffer from lack of information, passivity in the political scene, as well as indifference to the increased violence inflicted upon women in public as well as in their private homes. Decision-making and power positions are practically out of their reach due to prejudice against women. This is why, together with the other women professionals from her organization, she has been trying to implement programs that will make women stronger, regain their self-esteem and economic independence and establish support and educational groups. She has put together income-generating projects (sewing workshops, beauty center, herbs, cleaning services). The Beauty Center is being run completely by women members.

Azra Hasanbegovic has always advocated tolerance and reconciliation, as well as the affirmation of women as a moving force in the development of a democratic society, free from armed conflicts and where every man or woman takes center stage. In June 2004, after ten years of involvement in Žena BiH, and in the partnership with an organization from Spain, she opened the Center for Women, which is comprised of an SOS Hotline and Information Desk for domestic violence and trafficking. In the near future, she plans to expand it to include a department to assist women with special needs. In 2000, she published a woman’s magazine, LAM, the first of its kind in Herzegovina. She was also the editor in charge of this magazine. The main purpose of LAM was to inform, inspire and support every woman to enhance the world around her by the graciousness of her soul.

The Shelter for Women that she initiated was constructed and has been operational since January 2004. There are only three such shelters in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A woman can find a safe accommodation there to heal her wounds, find peace and renewal. Moved by shocking stories of women, especially young people, and assisted by the other NGOs from all over the world, she collected life stories of victims of trafficking and published a book “MARGUERITE – she could be your sister, daughter, girlfriend…” in August 2004. The purpose of the book is to clarify the relation between cause and consequence, activity and result and to improve the process of dialogue. It also aims to disseminate the plan of action to combat trafficking.

These ten years of activism at various levels came as the result of her own need to reach out to other women. She has put all her effort into reaching out to all women — the women from her neighborhood, women from rural households, factory women, women pilots, captains of ships, women in politics. Her ultimate goal is partnership with men, based on mutual respect and acknowledgement. Today, only ten years after the beginning of Azra’s engagement, she has clearly directed all her activities towards a feminist policy of peace. She is dedicated to the encouragement of women to stand and speak in public, regardless of whether they were victims of violence or some other form of discrimination, or whether they support the public engagement of a woman. Today, her efforts are focused on a public-awareness campaign related to these issues. Azra’s life slogan is taken from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 29: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of her personality is possible”. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

links:

Žena BiH on OneWorldNet;

Anti-Trafficking.gov.ba;

Woman BH;

Peacewomen Newsletter 04/2003;

… on FOZ;

UNHCR in Bosnia and Herzegovina;

BiserInternational.ba;

Mission MAG;

SIROMAŠTVO OČIMA ŽENA BIH;

NGO Council.

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