Austrian Ambassador: We can all do something to ‘orange the world’

Austrian Ambassador: We can all do something to ‘orange the world’

SARAJEVO, November 24 (FENA) – We can all do something to “orange the world”, said Austrian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ulrike Hartmann to support the campaign “16 Days of Activism” against gender-based violence within the UN Women campaign “Orange the World”, the Austrian Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina said.

2020 is a year of important anniversaries. Perhaps most significantly for BiH, it marks 25 years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords that concluded the war in BiH. It is also the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which is of particular relevance to BiH, especially in light of the targeted use of sexual and gender-based violence during the war in the 1990s. Furthermore, 5 years ago, UN Women spearheaded the “Orange the World” campaign to promote “16 Days of Activism” against gender-based violence (GBV) from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, up until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

For BiH, as for the rest of the world, 2020 has also been a year that – due to a pandemic of unparalleled dimensions – cannot be compared to any other. Everyone has been affected by the “new normal”. For many, including myself, this has involved changing previous routines and adapting to working differently – mostly from home. It is safe to say that this has not been easy for anyone. Despite the ever increasing virtual connectedness, online interactions are simply not the same as real world physical meetings and it is, at times, difficult not to feel afraid, lonely and isolated during these times.

She further emphasized that for victims of gender-based violence (GBV), primarily women, as well as members of the LGBTIQ+ community, the transition to life under COVID-19 restrictions, in particular during lockdown circumstances, has not only been difficult, but a day-to-day struggle – sometimes for survival. In many cases, this is a silent struggle, not shared beyond one’s own four walls. According to a recent study of the OSCE, around 50 per cent of women in BiH have already experienced violence. Almost four out of ten women (38%) have experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence from their partners, husbands or other perpetrators, while merely three per cent of those affected report the violence to the authorities. Underprivileged and marginalised women are particularly affected, such as women with disabilities or women from minorities such as the Roma, and LGBTIQ+.

This is why it is extremely important to openly speak up about GBV and to be very clear about one thing: no person in BiH – or anywhere – should have to endure any form of violence, in particular, based on their gender. Too many individuals feel like they have no choice but to put up with GBV for a variety of reasons, including financial dependencies, lack of alternatives or widespread scepticism towards institutions and fear of social stigma, even within their own families.

While it is one thing for the necessary laws prohibiting any form of GBV to be in place, effective law enforcement and public institutions protecting from such forms of violence are of course key. These mechanisms and services must be aligned with EU standards on the way towards European integration. It is also important to highlight the crucial importance of civil society in the fight against GBV – in BiH, there are numerous CSOs, as well as protective shelters, such as the eight safe houses for women and children in BiH, who do exemplary work providing help to those who have faced violence.

UN Women, as the lead organisation in the international community on the topic of GBV, have developed a set of excellent recommendations for further building upon the existing service for women who have experienced violence (see: VIDEO). But it is also necessary to remind ourselves that as members of society, we all have an important role to play in countering GBV, stated Ulrike Hartmann.

How can we all do something to orange the world? Here are six points that form a non-exhaustive list of how we can aim to do our part:

· Notice and listen: GBV can be hard to spot, as many victims try to hide their suffering and most perpetrators are close relatives or spouses. However, statistically, we are all likely to know a person affected by GBV. If the slightest suspicion arises that a person in your own circle is subjected to GBV, try and find a way to speak to the person and find out if they need help. If it seems appropriate, let them know about ways how they could seek help (emergency numbers, counselling, support through specialist organisations, etc.).

· Challenge and speak out: We all encounter situations in which inappropriate remarks or jokes are made based on gender or gender stereotypes. When denigrating language is used over and over again, it can make violence seem acceptable – it is important to call out and challenge any such forms of gender discrimination – and to think twice about how we express ourselves.

· Raise awareness: Awareness-raising and education on gender equality are crucial in countering GBV. We can all contribute to awareness-raising by keeping ourselves well-informed and sharing fact-based information with our colleagues, friends and family.

· Encourage: We can all do our part to encourage girls and women to speak out and actively counter discrimination, which will also help them reach their full potential. Women role models are particularly important in this context – be it in politics, where there is still much room for more women’s participation (notably, only three women out of over 140 municipal and city mayors were elected in the recent local elections in BiH), the private sector or family life.

· Include boys and men: While evidence shows that most perpetrators of GBV are men, this also means that boys and men are a crucial part of the solution to ending GBV, and must be engaged to become agents of change. On an individual level, we can all do our part in raising awareness by sensitizing our own sons, brothers and husbands.

Countering all forms of gender inequality is not only an Austrian foreign policy priority, but – as the first female Austrian ambassador to BiH – of particular importance to me. Achieving gender equality, protecting women’s rights and empowering women are vital in order to construct a sustainable future for BiH society; it also goes hand in hand with European integration and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. This is why the Austrian Embassy in Sarajevo will contribute to the “Orange the World” campaign again this year by lighting up the Embassy in orange colour from 25 November until 10 December 2020.

During the first wave of COVID-19, the Austrian Embassy Sarajevo financially supported an online-counselling centre run by the Academy for Women, which provided free professional psychotherapy for women in BiH, who were in need of psychological support and advice due to domestic violence. In October 2020, the Austrian Embassy also supported a campaign celebrating the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in BiH, stated the Ambassador of Austria to BiH in the article “16 days of activism” against gender-based violence within the UN Women campaign “Orange the World”.