The Sarajevo Open Center (SOC) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation marked the International Women’s Day on Thursday with a discussion about the working-class women of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The discussion titled ‘Working-class Women - Then and Now’ (‘Radnice: Nekad i sad’) took place in the ‘Networks’ business center. Participants discussed the situation of the working class in the former Yugoslavia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina today, highlighting the specific problems related to working-class women.
Moderator Besima Boric, an expert on social politics and gender equality, reminded of the beginning of the fight for women’s rights in the world and how it played out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, especially in the former Yugoslavia. She stressed that a process of renewal of the patriarchal society in BiH followed after the war in the 1990s. Boric said that workers' and women’s rights were neglected and violated on a daily basis.
Long-term activist and member of SDP Croatia Karolina Leakovic discussed the situation in Croatia, but highlighted the fact that the situation in all the countries in the region was similar. She said that the term ‘worker’ had been replaced in the 1990s with the term ‘employee’ and ‘entrepreneur’, making the discussion about the working class seem outdated. Leakovic explained that the narrative for the youth presented the idea of a successful business-owner and not a ‘worker’. She stressed that one could not live a good life solely from their work in Croatia. Leakovic said that workers did not have their political representatives right now and their status got worse with every change to the Labor Law.
Activist and nutritionist Suada Karic compared the conditions at work for women in the real and the public sector. She said that women in the real sector had numerous issues: the 40-hour work week is not respected by many employers, the right to a proper holiday is not fulfilled completely and the relation towards mothers is discriminating and demeaning. Many workers in the real sector do not have a choice when it comes to conditions at their workplace, and they are forced to accept everything that is given to them. As a result of this, workers - especially women - work in poor conditions that endanger their health. Karic noted that the work in the public sector did come with benefits like a fixed working schedule, regular salaries and proper conditions for mothers.
Furthermore, Karic noted that mobbing in the workplace represents a major recurring problem in the public sector. This is defined by law, but the law is not implemented in an adequate manner; therefore, many women suffer in silence and they develop medical issues because of the increased stress they are facing, concluded Karic.
Legal advisor and independent researcher Lejla Gacanica compared the life and conditions of the working-class in the former Yugoslavia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina today. She explained that the workplace used to define identities, economic interests, social status and political loyalty. For example, textile industry was a massive part of the economy of Yugoslavia; workers in the textile industry were mostly women, who used to receive low wages. However, the job offered healthcare, regular holidays and trips to companies’ holiday resorts, and all other necessary conditions for the workers to be able to perform their roles as mothers and women as well.
Gacanica stressed that the textile industry had been present in some peripheral parts of the country and it had an emancipatory effect in these areas. Today, according to Gacanica, the situation is different: the job security is almost non-existent, with fixed-term contracts, the salaries are very low and contributions for healthcare and pension insurance are not being paid, while marginalized groups of women like Roma, returnees and LBT women face increased discrimination at the workplace. Gacanica presented results of research about the experiences of women at job interviews and their jobs. She concluded that workers, especially women, experienced discrimination and their rights were undermined and violated on a regular basis.