We conducted a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) with our research assistants. Our team consists of eight young female college graduates who have studied literature, law, pharmacy, languages. They are quick learners,  articulate, funny, talkative and have an excellent work ethic. They readily admit they prefer sitting and talking with friends over coffee to all other activities. In a discussion to demonstrate how to conduct FGDs, Jacquie Stone (an MPH graduate from BUSPH, former TA and student of mine) asked them: “What should I tell my friends about Bosnian women?”

They replied:

“We are educated. We are strong. We are not savages. We are traditional and modern.”

“Our women are gentle, motherly, beautiful. Angelina Jolie loves Bosnia! Finally, people like to laugh. We cook very well. Okay our older women cook very well. We cannot keep them out of the kitchen!”

These women were young children when war broke out in Bosnia. Some stayed and others were fled with their families. However as Bosnians, they all witness the strength of the women war survivors:

“For those women who were raped during the war, I go down on my knees for them. Our women went through war and they moved on. Those women were usually impregnated and you must be strong to love that child.”

The team also reflected on their mothers’ advice to them. Regardless of the war, their mothers tell them ‘don’t be like me — fight for a better life’. This means professional jobs, finding and making fun, and only agreeing to marriages with equality.

Despite the degrees and intellect of our team of twenty-something year olds, the struggles of young Bosnia women can not be minimized, particularly given the economic situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where unemployment is nearly 50% (See World Bank for snapshot of Bosnian economy). In this context, our female team talked about egregious sexual harassment in universities and the work place. From less pay to simply not getting the job if a man applies, women are discriminated against both at home and in the work place. It is the “rare, modern man” that allows a woman to participate in decision making. Women are expected to marry, have children, get a job, and do *all* of the work at home.

I can’t help but think of these young women as my younger sisters, students, or mentees. I want to see them find fulfilling jobs, advocate for women, and fight gender discrimination. But how? How can they push for equality at home and at work? What are the concrete steps they can take? Keep in mind, BiH is changing. The economy is growing. The political situation is complex. Multi-national businesses are emerging. How do women get a seat at the table?

On another note, the overt gender discrimination in Bosnia helps me see the subtle gender discrimination in Boston much more clearly. But that is for another post…

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