Ema Camo on the uneasy peace in Bosnia

TW: Rape, sexual assault

I was born after the end of the Bosnian War but my parents lived through it. They never discuss what went on. I just know that my mother lost her parents so it’s very hard for her to talk about. I’ve heard awful stories from friends though – stories of women jumping from buildings because they didn’t want to be raped. It leaves me speechless.

These days, people in my country are starting to talk about war again. Will it happen? Will it not? When the tensions first started up, I was reading a lot about it in the news but now I try to avoid it. It makes me anxious. So many people in my country today stay separate, keeping to their ethnic or religious groups. It’s sad but that’s how it is day to day. I can talk to the people in my life and try to change their perspective, but what about the others? Are they going to stay in their own zone and not connect with other people? Are they not going to put the past behind them and look towards the future? Divisions cause war, and I have seen what that has done to people. I don’t know what good another one could possibly bring.

In 1993, an organisation called Women for Women International was founded to support women survivors of the war. Now they work in many post-conflict countries, but the branch here became an independent organisation in 2015 – Žene za Žene ("Women for Women"). It still supports survivors, but now also runs programmes for young women like me.

In 2020, I joined their Democracy Academy, which brings together young women from different ethnic and religious groups. I expected to develop my knowledge and skills, especially public speaking, but I also gained a whole new perspective on life. Even though we were from different ethnic groups, we became close friends and realised that women everywhere have so much in common. I shared an unpleasant experience I’d had at my first job when a man around my father’s age had harassed me. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone at the time but sharing it made me stronger.

The others thanked me, and I realised some of them had faced similar situations. After it happened, I had questioned myself, worrying it was my fault or that I was misinterpreting it. Talking about it made me feel like now I know how to act if anything like that happens again. It was a very powerful moment. We were just a group of ambitious young women, connecting and supporting each other regardless of our backgrounds. It changed my whole outlook on the world.

At a time when the talk is once again of war, the peer to peer social network I gained from Žene za Žene made me realise that women are never alone – and I want all girls to know that.