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Southeastern Europe: Women Demand A Role In Balkan Stability Pact

Female parliamentarians and representatives from women's groups across southeastern Europe issued a declaration yesterday in Sarajevo, demanding the inclusion of women as full and equal partners in the development and implementation of the Balkan Stability Pact. The women say gender discrimination must be banished from the Balkans if the region is to take its rightful place in the world community in the 21st century. Our correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports ...

Prague, 30 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Women from countries across southeastern Europe say they are no longer willing to be the victims of what they call "male politics" in the region.

In an appeal issued yesterday in Sarajevo ahead of today's Balkan Stability Summit, female representatives from eight countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Romania, Albania, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Croatia and Macedonia) said that women have been excluded from Balkan politics for too long. They say that peace in the region can only take root if their voices are heard.

The declaration calls for a more active and prominent role for women in the Balkan Stability Pact process. Among their demands, the women leaders are asking that a woman chair the human rights and democratization table under the pact.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) actively supports the demands of the coalition of Balkan women.

Tanya Domi is a spokesperson for the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She says that discrimination against women takes many forms in the Balkans, from bias in the workplace to rape and sexual war crimes committed against women. Domi:

"The women have disproportionately suffered in this region. Its documented. The international community owes it to these women, and if this region has any chance at all, theyve got to embrace at least half of their population. They don't have a person to waste if they want to join the world community in the 21st century."

Domi says discrimination against women is symptomatic of the political ills that have plagued the region:

"There needs to be greater civil society participation across the region. One of the reasons that these nationalistic leaders like [Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman and [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic and others been able to operate unchecked is that you have a weak civil society and the opposition parties have been weak."

For the opposition parties to succeed, says Domi, they need to appeal to a wider population. That means running more women candidates.

She points to Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example of positive changes happening in the Balkans. In 1990, women represented less than three percent of the seats in parliament. As a result of new electoral procedures established by the OSCE last year, women now hold 25 percent of the seats in parliament.

Senka Nozica was a Republican candidate in Bosnia's presidential elections last year. In an interview yesterday with Emir Halilovic of RFE/RL's South Slav Service, Nozica said the increased role of women in Bosnia's parliament demonstrates the possibilities for women in Balkan politics. But Nozica also stresses that equality will not happen overnight and that women must make the most of whatever they are given. Nozica:

"We don't think we are better than men, but we think that we have natural right to participate with them on the same level in the solution of those questions regarding the future of the region. We think that our right comes from the fact that [although] we didn't make any decisions to start the wars in the region, we were very often the victims of these wars. And we also have a right (because of) everything we did after the war to break down barriers and build bridges -- our willingness to [deal] with the problems. We think that our contribution in the realizations of the Stability Pact will be important."

Nozica says that electoral systems throughout the Balkans must change and include more women as candidates for executive positions. According to her data, women represent only seven percent of government positions in the region:

"We don't want to be observers. We don't want to be marginalized, because we are struggling not only for us but for future generations, for our children. We would like to have a region where they could prosper in all spheres of life according to the standards of Europe."

But Nozica says women cannot expect for their local governments or the international community to do the work for them. Women themselves must campaign for inclusion in regional politics. She said they must form coalitions in their countries, join their voices and votes, and demand to be heard.

Naida Skrbic of RFE/RL's South Slav Service contributed to this report.