The town of Hajderovići is located 12 km northeast of the town of Zavidovići. And that place would remain the same as any other, if a phenomenal group of women who called themselves the Association of Women “Pašinke” were not active. “Pasha” is a nickname for a man, the “head of the family” which in deeply rooted patriarchal BiH society means that he takes all the blessings. And where are the women? Women in Hajderovići, out of revolt against the same system, called themselves “Pašinke” through the establishment of an association in 2017. The Association has 15 active members, as well as more than 20 associates who support all the activities that “Pašinke” conduct.
The leader, smiling and with faith in a better tomorrow, Mersiha Skejić, is the director of this Association.
Mersiha describes herself as a mother, a restaurateur and agricultural craftswoman by profession, but also an activist for women’s rights at the local level.
“Pašinke” arose from a revolt against the relationship of women in the community, as well as the lack of programs for the empowerment of women in the countryside, Mersiha points out.
Since its foundation, until today, “Pašinke” have been working on projects to improve the lives and working conditions of women in the countryside. Some of the active projects implemented by “Pašinke” are the fight for the drinking water supply, and education in the use of the Internet and modern technologies, as well as education in the domain of agriculture. They regularly work on securing space for women to exhibit their agricultural products at fairs. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Association was at the service of the citizens of Zavidovići through the masks they sewed and distributed in their local community. They launched an initiative to build a children’s playground in the area of the mentioned municipality, and on October 15 – Women’s Day in the Countryside, they celebrated through a visit to elderly women from Hajderovići and donated basic foodstuffs to them.
After surveying more than 380 respondents from the area of Hajderovići and its surroundings, the Association determined that 36.4% of respondents had not had a gynecological examination for more than 5 years. This motivated them to advocate the accessibility of preventive gynecological examinations for women, since many women from the countryside are not able to pay the co-payment for the health service or transportation to the city.
We initiated and brought many initiatives to an end, and some are still current, but we are proud to have provided water without reduction and we are still working on it, she says confidently.
One of the biggest problems for rural women, Mersiha sees in the lack of targeted programs for upgrading knowledge specified by areas of interest. They receive support for their work from individuals, as well as from the municipality of Zavidovići and the Health Center, but all this is insufficient for long-term results.
There is no program for the improvement and empowerment of women in the countryside, everything is only on paper. Unfortunately, there are also too few or no women in positions of community management or in decision-making positions, she concludes.
Mersiha is a positive example of investing in the welfare of the local community, not only in activism but also in the entrepreneurial waters in which she has been “swimming” since 2008. The trade run by “Fruits and Tradition” was born out of spite. After losing her job, Mersiha decided to plant 1,200 rosehip seedlings with the support of her family. This is how rosehip jam was created, which Mersiha promoted at the United Nations Traditional Products Fair in Vienna in 2018. Mersiha returned with second place for quality.
In April 2014, the German non-governmental organization Help Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe e.V. Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with the local organization NODAS, opened Špajz in Sarajevo, the first store of domestic products, produced by small producers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mersiha’s rosehip jam is on the shelves of this story.
Mersiha emphasizes that support is extremely important and that she received special support from the CURE Foundation and the Foundation for the Empowerment of Women, from whom she learned and “absorbed knowledge” in the field of women’s human rights and gender equality.
It is very important for every woman to get involved in the community, not to leave it to others to decide on issues concerning women and in general. There is no way to observe life and happenings without women. It is also recommended to follow what the legislative institutions have written for us, as well as many charters. The struggle is difficult, one encounters various obstacles, but one should never give up, concludes Mersiha.
“Pašinke” continue to create and launch local initiatives for the welfare of women in Hajderovići, and Mersiha, with her combination of activism and entrepreneurial spirit, will remain an example of the combination of an economically strong woman who does not allow anyone to say and/or do something in her name.
Vildana Džekman, M.Sc. iur. is a long-time activist, feminist and fighter for women’s human rights. She has a master’s degree in international law at the Faculty of Law, University of Sarajevo. She currently works in the German organization Help – Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe e.V. BH and considers writing a part of personal and public responsibility for changing social reality.
Success stories are realized within the “Local Works” Project, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).