Bosnian PeaceMaker discusses passionate work for refugee women

By Jackson Somes

After war broke out in her home country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sabiha Husić tried desperately to return to her family. Husić went to Montenegro to pursue higher education, but upon hearing about the war in her home country, she decided to return home. Despite her efforts, she was continuously denied entrance to her home country because she did not a have a passport. Requiring passports for entrance into the country was a new policy established by the Bosnian government after the outbreak of the Bosnian War. With hundreds fleeing the Bosnian war zone, Husić was of the very few trying to enter the country. “Nobody believed me that I wanted to return to Bosnia,” Husić said. Eventually, Husić, was able to return to her family in a bid of desperation by paying a smuggler to get her into Bosnia.

Husić’s efforts to return to Bosnia were one of the tales shared by her during the discussion with her on Sept. 12. Husić, a psychotherapist, Islamic theologian and interreligious peacebuilder was featured as a part of the Women PeaceMakers Program series held by the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. The event was located in the IPJ Theater from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Bosnian War lasted from 1992 to 1995 and took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina. War broke out as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia and was fought between several entities including the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnian Serbs forces, Bosnian Croats forces, Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia. Ethnic cleansing, systematic mass rape and bombing of cities and towns were widely used tactics in the Bosnian War.

When Husić finally reached her family, it quickly became apparent that they were no longer safe in their hometown of Vitez, so they left and sought refuge in the city of Zenica. It was at the Zenica refugee camp where Husić became a women’s leader and peacebuilder.

Husić worked to organize and help the women of the refugee camp, many of whom were victims of sexual assault and rape. She would help the traumatized women by having them share their experiences and work to restore their dignity. “Women who survive sexual abuse need to be respected,” Husić said.

Her work with these women was soon recognized by the NGO Medica Zenica, who work to provide help for women and children survivors of war. Husić would eventually rise to become the director of Medica in 2007.

The work of Husić not only provided much needed relief to the women of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also broke many social taboos that became recognized by the government as criminal. Domestic violence was one such taboo. “We did not speak of domestic violence” Husić said.

During her work in the refugee camp, a man came forward to Husić to say that his daughter had been raped by her boyfriend and needed help. The daughter was a fifteen year old girl who was eight months pregnant. Husić spent time with the daughter, helping her cope and developing trust. After building trust, the daughter finally began to open up to Husić.

The daughter revealed that it was her father who had sexually abused her, not a boyfriend. Husić then worked to see the man prosecuted. The father was sentenced to 16 years in jail in what Husić said was the first public case of incest.

After this one case, more women started to come to the organization Medica seeking help for their own cases of domestic abuse. As a result of these new cases, Bosnian legislation was adopted against domestic violence.

Another facet of Husić’s work is improving interfaith dialogue. According to Husić, before the war, interfaith activity and dialogue were healthy and positive. During the war, religion was manipulated in order to promote conflict and further violence by political leaders. With the war now over, Husić is working to achieve reconciliation among different religions. Husić emphasized the importance of understanding and respecting different religions. “I believe God creates all of us” she said, “to learn from each other.”

To help promote religious interfaith dialogue Husić brings together women from various communities and utilizes workshops on trauma, dialogue and conflict resolution. She also is a co-leader of the European Project for Interreligious Learning. This organization unites Christian and Muslim women to achieve interreligious appreciation and respect.

A Muslim herself, Husić said, “religion helped me continue in my life.” Many of the survivors Husić has worked with use religion as a coping mechanism.

Recently, Husić was awarded the Active Citizen of Europe Award for voluntary activism as well as for her professional work with Medica Zenica by the group Volonteurope. On the achievements of her work and organizations, Husić said, “we achieve a lot, step by step.”