This initiative is dedicated to support women survivors of wartime sexual violence from Bosnia and Herzegovina who were affected by floods and landslides in May 2014. The solidarity fund was created to make sure that women survivors of wartime sexual violence are not left alone to deal with yet another traumatic experience in their lives. We are trying to ease women’s traumatic experiences caused by this natural catastrophe by securing the emergency provisions in terms of food, hygienic products and clothing, provision of funds for temporary housing (until they are able to go to their permanent homes) as well as assisting them to overcome the material damages caused to their houses by floods and landslides, e.g. furniture, electrical appliances, fixing or rebuilding the houses etc.
Our first call for solidarity support for women survivors of wartime sexual violence went via e-mail to our friends and colleagues and the response was really great. Since we really wanted this intervention to be as transparent as possible we decided to start this blog so everything we receive and deliver is visible and accounted for.
This is also an opportunity to call upon all of you who are interested to join this initiative so we are all together able to continue to provide support to women until all the consequences of the catastrophe are gone.
Finally we would like to use this opportunity to thank all who supported this initiative thus far.
In the separate section of this blog, under the heading “Stories” we provide you with the description of the individual situations women are in. We have also included sections on individual donations (under the heading “Donations”) as well as a section on what, and in which way, donations are delivered to women (section “Delivered”). Finally, there is also a separate section for instructions on how you can send your financial support or how you can contact us.
About the initiative
During the mid May 2014 Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with Serbia and parts of Croatia have been hit by the worst catastrophe since the war of the 1990s. Devastating floods, caused by torrential rains, have flooded 13.200 km2 of land in Bosnia only, while all together the flooded area in Balkans covers 22,900 km2. In these unprecedented floods in the Bosnian history entire cities and villages are under water, people have died as a result of this, and they have lost their homes both to flooding and landslides.
According to the media 1.36 million people in Bosnia were affected by this catastrophe. The response of Bosnian people to this tragedy and the solidarity they have shown across ethnic divisions and political propaganda has been truly inspiring. Also, the solidarity of the countries in the region and wider, sending tons of aid and manpower has been enormous. At the same time, our government has once again proved incompetent and impotent to provide any real assistance.
While the rain stopped, and the water withdrew, the acute situation for the people living in the flooded areas remains alarming. Due to flooding several hundred landslides have been activated and people have had their houses completely buried under ground. Several villages have completely disappeared.
Since we have for several years now, in different capacities, been working closely with women survivors of wartime sexual violence, we were contacted by one of the victim associations from one of the flooded areas and were asked to help 6 women who were forced to leave their houses due to flooding or landslides. We immediately reacted to the maximum of our capacities collecting and delivering donations in forms of smaller amount of money and clothes, hygiene articles, food etc., but we also decided to write an e-mail to our friends and colleagues asking for support.
When we first visited the association it turned out that apart from the six women that we were told about, seven more women from this association were affected with landslides. To this day some of these women continue to live on active landslides, resisting to leave their houses since, for them, it would mean becoming refugees once again. This is something that strengthened our resolution to try to support them as much as possible in order to try to reduce new traumas.
Parallel to provision of assistance to these women we also started enquiring about situations in other affected areas where we knew that some women survivors lived. Given the stigma and silence surrounding survivors of wartime sexual violence this is still an on-going process. At the moment we have succeeded in reaching out to five more women affected by floods. If the number of women increases we will report that in the section titled Stories.
There is a difference between the interventions targeting those that have had their houses flooded and those that have completely lost their houses in landslides, or who have houses on landslides that are still active.
Responding to damages caused by floods is simpler compared to damages caused by landslides because once the water withdrew women were able to return to their homes. They found their homes in horrible conditions, all their furniture and all the housing was destroyed, as well as their clothing, laundry, linen, blankets, toys for their children (level of water was over 3 m in some parts) but at least they had a roof over their head. Immediately after the floods the urgent intervention meant securing food supplies and hygienic products as they were temporarily displaced. However, once the water withdrew they were able to return to their houses and our primary concern became helping them with house appliances, furniture, clothing, maybe windows, and anything else that would facilitate their return to normalcy.
The interventions with respect to landslides are more complicated as these women had their houses completely destroyed and had thus permanently lost a roof over their head.
At the moment we know of 11 women whose houses are affected with the landslides. Two women were forced to entirely leave their homes with their families since the houses were completely destroyed. Our intervention towards them was focused on supporting them financially through paying the rent for their temporary housing, as the municipality did not offer them adequate shelters. Other 9 women are currently living in damaged houses and on active landslides. Some of them returned to their partially destroyed houses as they did not have other choices once the temporary housing provided by the municipality became unavailable and are at the moment feeling better there than in any form of temporary housing. However, once the rain season starts and autumn and winter approach many will have to move to the temporary solutions for safety reasons.
At the moment all women that are affected with landslides come from the same municipality. Our activists organized a meeting with the representatives of the administration of that particular municipality on 23rd of June 2014 and were informed of the following:
– the full extent of the reaction of the Municipality will be known in September 2014 once the Municipality finalizes the assessment of damages and needs;
– At the same time criteria upon which assistance will be provided will be finalized
Concretely, the assistance the Municipality authorities were talking about can be summarized to provision of land and free construction permits to the affected families, dependent on whether they fulfill the criteria that will be determined. In addition, dependent on availability of funds/donations the Municipality will build new houses for these families.
As of this month (July) there are no administrative barriers for the municipalities to hand out land and free construction permits as the Parliament of the Federation of BiH recently adopted a decision that allows municipalities to hand out state-owned land.
If we succeed in securing enough funding for building of houses for these women we can approach the Municipality authorities asking them to award women with land and proper building permits (at the meeting our activists attended with the municipality officials we were able to raise their awareness about the immediate needs women were facing as well as to remained them that the survivors of wartime rape are, according to the law, eligible to priority housing and should thus also be on the priority list once the criteria for handing our land and building permits is under way).
The social and economic situation for the survivors of wartime rape was bad even prior to this catastrophe. Inadequate laws and poor financial situation in the country have impeded their access to health, education, employment opportunities, psychosocial services etc. Their overall situation is expected to severely worsen by the catastrophic effects of the flooding.
This is why we ask you to please help in any way you can. We are going to monitor situation and deliver our assistance to them continuously in the upcoming days and months. But the assistance we can provide to them as individual activists can only be limited while more sustainable solutions for the women need to be found – donations for reconstruction of their houses (if possible) or building new ones, donations for furniture and everything else you can imagine if you are starting from scratch and have no means to pay for them. If there is a way for you to assist the women we kindly ask you to do so.