Violence against women has risen steadily in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina with new patterns of victimisation emerging. Denisa Kostovicova, Vesna Bojicic-Dzelilovic and Marsha Henry look at what a gender-based violence approach could enable in this context and why acknowledgment of how war economies continue to define local post-war conditions is critical in preventing this continuation of violence and patriarchal practices.
In February 2019, Edin Gačić, a former member of a notorious El Mujahideen Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, murdered a shopkeeper near the central-Bosnian town of Konjic. The hunt for Gačić ended in the death of a policeman and the wounding of another. Gačić, who was killed in the police intervention, had been recently released from prison where he had served 17 years, originally sentenced for the murder of his fellow soldier. From 2002, he had served a combined sentence for the additional murder of his mother, whom he killed while on leave from prison.
This pattern of violence captures some of the effects of a toxic mix of institutional dysfunction (officials knew that Gačić’s release could have deadly consequences); the ready availability of wartime weapons still in circulation; unresolved and unaddressed conflict-related traumas; joblessness and economic insecurities in the 20+ year economic crisis in the region; and a normalised culture of misogyny. All of these relate to the political economy before, during and after the war. Yet few studies take stock of gender-based violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through a framework that illustrates the complex conditions that perpetuate the continuation of such patriarchal practices after the war.
The suffering of women over the three years of violence in the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995 was profound and included systematic rape. Since then, violence against women has risen steadily, and new patterns of victimisation have emerged. Victims of violence are increasingly younger including school-age girls; violence within families is inflicted by small arms, such as “Kalashnikov” rifles, kept by fighters after demobilisation or sourced through informal (and illegal) means. At the same time, trafficking patterns have shifted. During the war and in the immediate post-war period, female victims of trafficking came mostly from outside Bosnia, from countries, such as Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. After the war, women from Bosnia are trafficked both internally as well as abroad.
Such pattern of violence in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina exemplifies not only the political economy and material basis of women’s victimisation, but also the continuum of gender-based violence across war and peace, and time and space. This concept is used by scholars to capture that the war’s end does not herald peace for women. Men too are victims of gender-based violence during and after a conflict. Our primary interest in violence against women is motivated by a contribution to emerging work on women, peace and security which aims to make visible women’s often marginalised experiences of war and of its aftermath in an effort to make changes to policy and practice.
With that in mind we set out to examine what a continuum of gender-based violence approach might enable in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to expand our understanding of the structural dimensions of violence. In our research visits which included interviews and interactions with practitioners working in the field of gender-based violence, the economic dimension was continually highlighted as the most prominent cause of the continuation of violence against women in the postwar period. But, it is precisely this structural dimension of the continuum that is less well understood, in the context of multiple causal factors that also include culturally enduring patriarchal practices and the associated stigma attached to women who challenge violent men in various post-conflict contexts.
In our research visits which included interviews and interactions with practitioners working in the field of gender-based violence, the economic dimension was continually highlighted as the most prominent cause of the continuation of violence against women in the postwar period
Existing understandings of the economic dimensions of the continuum are fragmented. We know that women’s unemployment and dependence on male breadwinners makes it difficult for women to leave their violent partners, or that economic precarity may force women into sex work; similarly, former fighters suffering post-traumatic stress disorder may be exacerbated by continued joblessness and contribute to violent outbursts towards partners; likewise, women’s vulnerability as a result of unbridled neoliberalist policies and their gendered effects have been analysed; so has their exposure to the unregulated informal sector because of poor employment opportunities, and their vulnerability to predatory transnational criminal networks.
In these accounts of gender-based violence, it is not clear how these disparate economic dimensions and incidences of violence are interconnected. At the same time, it is not possible to separate analyses of gender-based violence during the war and after the war.
Ultimately, to date the literature has lacked sufficient explanations for the material basis of gender-based violence that is simultaneously shaped by an enduring war economy and post-war economic policies. The focus on the material basis of violence allows an understanding of how different incidences of violence and their structural underpinnings are interconnected. For example, the poor protection women victims of violence face because of a lack of implementation of gender-sensitive legislation. The lack of enforcement of laws has to do with competing pressures on state budgets as well as corruption that is directly linked to the survival in state institutions of war time actors many of whom were prominent figures in the war economy.
Ultimately, to date the literature has lacked sufficient explanations for the material basis of gender-based violence that is simultaneously shaped by an enduring war economy and post-war economic policies. The focus on the material basis of violence allows an understanding of how different incidences of violence and their structural underpinnings are interconnected
Since an understanding of the political economy is at the root of war-to-peace continuums and cycles of violence are widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina, problematising and understanding the structural dimension of gender-based violence in post-conflict zones is essential. We show that the incentives for profit formed during the war have long-term adverse consequences especially for women’s welfare and security in so far as post-war economic and political governance is profoundly shaped by war-time actors. As such, war economies continue to define local post-war conditions including formal institutions tasked with implementing globally-mandated neoliberal reforms. Such a structural perspective is concerned with who actors are, what incentives they encounter, and what types of economic/political/cultural structures they rely on.
Ultimately, we demonstrate the need to be attentive to the wider political contexts of localities whose material basis is defined by war even in a post-war period, and to global governance ideologies interacting with those local conditions in order to improve our understanding of the continuums and of persistent gender-based violence, both against men and women.
Research for this article was supported through the Strategic Network on Gender Violence Across War and Peace funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund. This blog was first published in the International Feminist Journal Journal of Politics Blog.
Image credit: Andreas Lehner (CC BY 4.0)
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) only, and do not reflect LSE’s or those of the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security.