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Žene za Žene: A Story of Our History

By Jenna Presta, Women for Women International Communications Intern

Twenty-four years ago, thirty women affected by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina enrolled in Women for Women International's very first training program. Their country was at war, and women were suffering at the hands of physical and sexual violence, psychological abuse, and social isolation. Since our inception, Women for Women International has served nearly 62,000 women in Bosnia and Herzegovina across 50 communities of various ethnicities.

In 1993, Women for Women International was founded with the mission of helping these displaced women. Although the war came to an end in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still plagued by ethnic tensions and an economic system that disadvantages women. With few educational or market opportunities available in their communities, our program helps women learn vocational skills and connect to other networks of strong women for support.

Participants in our Bosnia and Herzegovina program reported an increase in their personal income from an average of $1.12 per day to $3.52. Women like Huma, a successful agriculturalist, and Fazila, the owner of a flower shop, recognize their potential and gain confidence in the value of their work. Supporting women in these endeavors is especially important. We now support women survivors of conflict and violence in seven other countries, but our roots lie in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We don't empower women, women empower themselves. Those who have graduated from our program in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to inspire other women and younger generations. Huma's success inspired her daughters to finish school and achieve financial independence. One of them followed in her mother's footsteps and became an agricultural engineer. Fazila helped found the Mothers of Srebrenica Association with other widows to support one another, raise awareness for what happened to their families and find solutions to common issues like claiming their property, rebuilding their homes and creating economic opportunities. She also reached out to Women for Women International's team in Sarajevo that ran the program she graduated from and convinced the organization to expand to Srebrenica.

Today, women make up 34.5% of Bosnia and Herzegovina's labor force, a percentage that has been gradually increasing since 2006. Women for Women International is dedicated to creating economic stability and opportunity. Our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina supports more than 30 women's associations started by those who graduated from our program. It all starts with one: one idea, one woman, one sponsor, one mission. As Fazila said, "Those who listen to us might send the message to someone else and in that way the truth will go all around the world."

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