Changing attitudes to sexual violence through education and awareness-raising in Bosnia-Herzegovina

‘…someone will say to me: “Go away, that is the one who was raped”’ (words of a Serb survivor)

‘I don’t know, it’s like I have been marked’ (words of a Bosniak survivor)

More than 20 years after the Bosnian war ended, some survivors of conflict-related sexual violence continue to face stigma or to engage in self-stigmatization. While the problem has been widely acknowledged in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), few efforts have been made to tackle it. This project, led by Professor Janine Natalya Clark, seeks to address this gap through an emphasis on education and awareness-raising.

Positioned within a broader transitional justice framework, and underlining that there are crucial attitudinal dimensions of dealing with the past, the project aims to contribute to building a more socially-supportive environment for male and female survivors of sexual violence in BiH. 

This project is indirectly linked to Professor Clark’s ongoing ERC project: A Comparative Study of Resilience in Survivors of War Rape and Sexual Violence: New Directions for Transitional Justice.

Project Phase 1: Posavina Canton

Wanting to actively make a difference in a country where she has been doing fieldwork for the last 11 years, in 2016 Professor Janine Natalya Clark started an innovative project in BiH to engage young people in the fight against sexual violence-related stigma. Working in close collaboration with the NGO Snaga Žene in Tuzla, interactive talks on conflict-related sexual violence were delivered high schools across BiH (the Federation, Republika Srpska and Brčko District). An overwhelming majority of students who participated found the talks useful and wanted further discussions on the topic.

Following the success of the talks, Professor Clark sought to find a way of integrating them into high school curricula. Professor Clark and Thomas Stocks developed a Training Manual on Sex and Relationship Education that would provide a crucial and valuable contextual framework in which to situate discussions about sexual violence and stigma. In 2018, the Ministry of Education in Posavina Canton formally adopted the Manual under the new name, Manual on Human Interpersonal Ties and Relationships. Snaga Žene is facilitating the implementation of the Manual in Posavina Canton.

Project Phase 2: Sarajevo Canton

In an exciting new stage of the project, Professor Clark has started an important collaboration with Association XY in Sarajevo. Established in 2001, and with 16 years of experience of working at the State level, the NGO is focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights, healthy lifestyles and violence prevention. One of its key areas is Comprehensive Sexuality Education, and in 2013 (and in collaboration with the Ministry for Education, Science and Youth in Sarajevo Canton) it introduced a new subject, Healthy Lifestyles, into primary schools in Sarajevo Canton. Healthy Lifestyles is now being taught in 15 primary schools within Sarajevo Canton and it covers six broad topics, including reproductive health and gender questions, development of lifestyles and inclusion.

The collaboration with Association XY will focus on two core goals. The first is to widen the scope of the existing Healthy Lifestyles subject, by incorporating within it elements of the aforementioned Sex and Relationship Education Manual – and more specifically the topics on Sex, Myths & the Media, Rape and Sexual Violence, Rape as a Weapon of War and Supporting Survivors. As part of this collaboration, Association XY will organize training sessions to enhance the knowledge and skills of teachers from both elementary and high schools to deliver the new elements of Healthy Lifestyles. The second goal is to launch an innovative campaign aimed at tackling sexual-violence related stigma in BiH, thus extending the project’s focus beyond schools. Young people who volunteer at Association XY as peer educators will play a key role in the development of the campaign. A small number of survivors will also be invited to contribute ideas and to identify key messages that they would like the campaign to promote. 

Project team

Outputs and resources

Association XY Youtube

Clark, J.N. (2018). ‘Transitional Justice, Education and Sexual Violence Stigma: The Results of a Schools-Based Study in Bosnia-Herzegovina’, Journal of Law and Society 45: 509–537.

Clark, J.N. (2018). ‘De-Centring Trauma: Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the Importance of Resilience Discourse’, International Journal of Human Rights 22: 801–821.

Clark, J.N. (2017). Rape, Sexual Violence and Transitional Justice Challenges: Lessons from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Abingdon: Routledge).

Clark, J.N. (2017). Engaging Young People in the Fight against Sexual Violence Stigma: Results from a Schools-Focused Project in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Clark, J.N. (2017). Angažovanje mladih u borbi protiv stigma seksualnog nasilja: Rezultati projekta orijentisanog na srednje škole u Bosni i Hercegovini.



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