Opening remarks by UNDP Resident Representative a.i. in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms. Narine Sahakyan

Gender Equality Barometer of Bosnia and Herzegovina Launch

April 22, 2024

Narine Sahakyan, Resident Representative a.i. of UNDP in BiH


Respected Ms. Filipović-Hadžiabdić, esteemed guests, ladies, and gentlemen,  

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, it is an honour for me to welcome you all to today’s launch event of the Gender Equality Barometer. It is with great pleasure that we present this important study, conducted more than two decades after the launch of the first Barometer.

In recent years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has undergone significant political and social changes, yet gender inequalities persist, limiting women's economic and decision-making roles.

The recovery from recent crises has been sluggish, exacerbating economic disparities. Yet, economy has never been more reliant on use of resources that women provide in the form of invisible, unpaid and undervalued care-work. A joint UNDP and Agency study from last year revealed widening gender gaps in the labor market and political participation. Anti-gender movements pose further threats to gender equality.

To counter this, the Agency for Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina partnered with UNDP to establish the Women Forum for Development, providing a platform for women leaders to drive positive change in their communities, social sectors, and labor markets.

The Forum convenes feminist movements and leaders, organizing four issue-focused coalitions: Decent Work, Care Economy, Transformative Leadership, and Knowledge Powerhouse. Through the online platform "Liderke za Razvoj/Leaders for Development," it brings together over 1,800 women leaders, civil society members, activists, grassroots organizers, experts, practitioners, and academics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Knowledge Powerhouse Coalition emphasized the need to address root causes when progress is slow.

Therefore, listening attentively to the recommendation of activists of the Forum, driven by our desire to keep up to date to be able to navigate the societal shocks and changes - we partnered with the Agency for Gender Equality to assess the state of gender equality in the country. 
Data in this report tells a story of how social conditioning shapes opportunities, choices, and wellbeing of women and men. By unraveling the origins of stereotypes, auto-stereotypes, and internalized misogyny, and by deconstructing them- we can understand how to challenge and change the social norms that block the progress. 
Yet, the report transcends mere statistics. It amplifies the voices and sheds light on lived experiences of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, providing a platform for voices of both, leaders and women on the margins. In doing so, it examines critical indicators of education, employment, care economy, political engagement, and gender-based violence. 
Barometer reveals significant changes in the shift in awareness compared to 2002, when the last survey was implemented. Today 90% of respondents believe that situation of women has changed for the better since putting in place the institutional and legal framework for gender equality. A conviction that greater participation of women leads to higher quality and fairer policies in society is now a mainstream discourse. 

Overwhelming majority declaratively agree that both genders are equally capable of being political and business leaders; they would vote for woman in elections; have no issue if their superior is a woman or if a woman earns more. 

Barometer shows it has become a common knowledge that a woman is not to blame for violence; most citizens feel comfortable reporting violence if it happens to first door neighbors.  However, despite declarative support to gender equality, the reality is different. The Barometer offers answers as to why is this so. 

The study, therefore, goes one step deeper to explore how strongly rooted stereotypes are in the collective psyche, and how traditional gender regimes operate to maintain patriarchy and the status quo. The Barometer also identifies the key points of resistance to progress and major shifts in power dynamics and structural changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

When delving deeper, it's evident that traditional social norms heavily influence women's career decisions. Women are incriminated if they show dominant and entrepreneurial personality traits. Women in politics are exposed to double standards and the public is more critical of women. Unlike men, when a woman politician is criticized, the focus is on physical appearance and personal life rather than words or actions. About a third believe men are better suited for managing large companies, while nearly 80% think women are better suited to running small businesses due to the flexibility it offers for family time. This underscores the enduring influence of societal expectations on women's choices. 

Data also reveals the disproportionate burden of domestic and care work on women, with them spending 6-7 hours daily on unpaid tasks. Data confirms that career choices women make are often directly dependent on quality of the care-economy offer in our society. Underdeveloped, inefficient and unaffordable social services narrow down and limit the career options for women as well as diminish their agency in political and public life. This is one of the key reasons that women also tend to end up working in fields that leave more time for family. 
Marginalized women face even greater challenges. Additionally, societal attitudes perpetuate stereotypes, hindering reporting of violence and perpetuating misogyny. 

Gender Equality Barometer findings emphasize the need to address these issues through open dialogue and challenging stereotypes. This aligns with the Women Forum for Development's mission, which will use the Barometer's findings to advance its agenda and promote gender equality.

On the concluding note, I am pleased to reinforce commitment of UNDP to gender equality. Globally, UNDP is committed to working with partners to mobilize an additional $100 billion for gender equality by 2025. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are dedicated to working synergistically with the Agency for Gender Equality to reach the national priorities articulated in the Gender Action Plan (2023-2027). 

Let me proudly announce UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been officially certified this month with the Gold Gender Equality Seal. We are the only new office in Europe and Central Asia that reached the highest corporate standard of excellence in gender equality.  Today, we are having an important dialogue with our development partners on most effective ways for paving the path to positive transformation where women can reach their full potential and participate on equal terms and in equal numbers in all places where decisions are made.

Most of all, together, we will work towards a future where every man, woman and child transcend the confines of harmful stereotypes, building society where social norms reflect the ideals of justice, equality, and human dignity.

Thank you!