Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A woman to put 26.2 miles in perspective

Last March, I made a nervous phone call to a woman called Remzija, in rural Bosnia & Herzegovina. Last June I went to Benin to meet some inspirational entrepreneurs.
And in 2 weeks I’ll be running 26.2 miles through central London.

What do these three events have in common? of course!

 Working for Lendwithcare last year was truly a privilege, not to mention the opportunity to do so with their microfinance partners in Benin and Togo, where some of the entrepreneurs are based. Having supported CARE since a man knocked on my door when I was 17, it was tremendous to see face-to-face that they do what it says on the tin.

Dignity -  That’s it for me, in a word. It’s enough to sign me up to eight months of training, dieting and tired legs – not to mention my personal fundraising target of £3000.

CARE International don’t spend tons of money on advertising but they’ve been quietly getting on with the task of tackling global poverty for 68 years. Dignity and empowerment is at the heart of everything they do.
But back to Remzija Delic.  18 years ago, she lost her husband; he was murdered in the Srebrenica massacre. When she returned home, she had to rebuild her life from scratch – in a country where women’s rights have been forgotten. The loans she has received from Lendwithcare have helped her to do this and even to start a small business, you can see her profile on the website.

In perspective, running 26.2 miles is a pitiful challenge.
I interviewed Remzija  last year for a piece I was writing. If you need a reason to go to my fundraising page, don’t read my quibbles about putting one foot in front of the other, (although if you really want to, you can, this is my blog) read more about Remzija Delic' story  in the summary below or the full version in The Guardian.
The Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina

“On July 11th 2012, Remzija Delic will see her children again. For most of them it will be a long journey home - from Austria, the Netherlands and the USA. The family left after the war but every year they return to see their mother and remember their father. He was murdered with 8000 others in 1995, in a massacre later described by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as the worst crime committed on European soil since the Second World War.

In 2002 Remzija returned to rebuild what remained of the family home in Potocari, a small village nestled in misty mountain shadows, 6km north-west of the town of Srebrenica.  She returned alone, without a family and without a job.

When the Bosnian war ended in 1995 the Dayton Agreement was signed and the conditions for a multi-ethnic state were enshrined in the constitution. Today in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the institutional set-up remains the same.  Maintaining equal ethnic representation of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs has been paramount to the peace-building process in Bosnia & Herzegovina. But in the meantime, has equal gender representation and the rights of ordinary women been neglected?
The constitution of Bosnia & Herzegovina abides by the highest level of internationally recognised human rights and explicitly recognises the principle of gender equality. In 2003, the Gender Equality Law was passed to advance gender equality at every level of the country's administration.
Many laws were amended to bring them into line with the new legislation. Legislation, it seems, is not enough. In March 2012, Amnesty International published a report criticising the government for failing to honour its commitments to survivors of wartime sexual violence. It also commends the work of women's NGOs in Tuzla. One such organisation is Snage Zene, (Women Power).
With long-term unemployment such a chronic problem, self-employment can seem like the only viable option. Yet the 2009 UNDP National Human Development Report advises that starting a business in Bosnia & Herzegovina is more difficult than in any other country in the region.
"It comes down to tradition" declares Seida Saric, Director of Women for Women International in Bosnia & Herzegovina. "Our country has come from socialism. Entrepreneurship is not acceptable, and certainly not for a woman. If a woman starts a business that fails, the entire community will give her a hard time. Women are scared to death of failing. Legally, it is difficult, but socially, it is completely unacceptable."
When help arrives, it comes from women's NGOs. "We are playing the role of the state" remarks Seida. The organisation runs a programme that provides women with the business training and financial support they need to maintain their own economic livelihood and practise their rights.
Outside Remzija's house, a space has been cleared. It is reserved for the people who come to visit. But the people she reserves this space for do not come to socialise; they come to organise. She hosts community group meetings and they lobby the council for change.
In 2006, she completed Women for Women's programme. Today, she has two greenhouses in which she grows an array of flowers, vegetables and herbs that she sells in her local community. Remzija remains optimistic about the future. "The war is still part of the present but things are changing. Women are becoming politically active."

By Emma Howard

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