“If You Want Freedom, You Have to Fight for It,” Says Jasna Baksic Muftic

“If You Want Freedom, You Have to Fight for It,” Says Jasna Baksic Muftic

Ms. Jasna Baksic Muftic has been Professor of School of Law at the University of Sarajevo since 2006. She teaches Legal theory, Structure of Law and Gender and Law. At the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies she teaches Gender, Human Rights and Mechanisms of Implementation. Before that she was a Teaching Assistant at the University of Sarajevo and taught courses on Theory of State and Law as well as Legal Clinic/Human Rights. Publications include the UNDP publication Sexual harassment in the private sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2012), the UN Women publication Gender sensitive budget (2012) and Socio-economic status of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina : an analysis of the results of research done in 2002 (2002). Among others, she has been a Fulbright Fellow in the American Studies Program at the Boston College, at the Baltimore School of Law and at the University of Graz. Professor Baksic-Muftic has a Ph.D. of Law from the University of Sarajevo. She wrote her dissertation on Women’s Rights in the System of Human Rights. She has an M.A. in Law and a B.A in Psychology, Sociology and Law at the Faculty of Philosophy from the University of Sarajevo. She is the wife of new Bosnian ambassador to Tehran, Kemal Muftić. We conducted an interview with Ms. Jasna Baksic Muftic, which you can read in full below.

AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with

Wife of Bosnia’s Ambassador to Tehran, Ms. Jasna Baksic Muftic

Where and when you were born?

In Sarajevo I was born in 1961, I will be 55 in few days.

 How did you pass your days being young? Where have you been active? What were you doing?

I’ve been grown up in Sarajevo, the primary school, the secondary school, the university finished in Sarajevo and after that I moved to many places. I was in London, at London School of Economics and Political Sciences, as Fullbright scholar in United Sates and moved around many conferences.

As you have studied law in university and then taught it there, we would like to know your background before university and higher education. What motivated you to study law in college?

My education and background is philosophy, sociology, literature and law. After obtaining BA degrees in these fields, I got a Master of Science, and a PhD in law. This was my path as I thought to connect all my own knowledge coming from philosophy, sociology, law in the fields that deal with theoretical law and philosophy of law, human rights, the gender, and similar questions.

What was your motivation to study human rights and follow it?

I was a student in communist times and it was a different educational system. The emphasis was on social and cultural rights rather than political, that remained limited. During my master studies, I was interested in connecting the two with the broad picture of human rights. When exploring my interests, I saw different points of contention. These were significantly visible during the war that took place from 1992 to 1995. The experiences of men and women differed in regard to violations of human rights, kinds of murders committed against them, kinds of violence; women were more exposed and targeted as victims of sexual violence.

This was the primary cause my attention was now focused on gender issues. Secondly, during the socialist period in Bosnia-Herzegovina, twenty six percent of parliamentarians were women. When I am using the term parliament, I mean with the all limitation from that time. But after the first free elections, percentage of women in the body dropped to two percent at state level and five percent on local level. This showed that women didn’t have the real political power due to social values which remained conservative and patriarchal.

Combined, the mentioned circumstances affect the manner in which politicians’ talk/ed about tragedies that took place. Simultaneously, women did not have many representatives to bring attention to their specific needs. There were few N.G.O.s, and communication on the level of Bosnia was lacking. My own research started at the grassroots’ level in Bosnia, later moving to international law and the position of women. The result were two books: System of Human Rights and Women Rights in the Order of Human Rights.

 You referred to the first elections in Former Yugoslavia where the percentage of women in the parliament dropped substantially.

Yes, these were the first free elections in the former Yugoslav Republics. Numbers I indicated above, refer to the parliament of, at the time, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

You said women’s percentage dropped; why did that actually happen?

Due to socialist ideological stand on equality of women and men, official seats were subjected to quota systems. This was reflected in reserved seats for women, but not solely as you had reserved number of official positions for other groups like the youth and minority populations. The number of seats did not represent real political power as it was much higher than real political power women enjoyed at that time. Of course this is in general. There were very powerful politically active women, like Milka Planinc who was the prime minister of Former Yugoslavia. There were very politically prominent women but the percentage of women participating in power and their real political power didn’t match.

What were you up to during the time of the civil war?

From the beginning of the whole event, not only the civil war but rather starting from the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, the war in Slovenia and Croatia in 1992, Aggression on Bosnia and the civil war that took place simultaneously, I was working at the University, I was married and I was mother.

 So you witnessed civil war and conflicts. Please tell us about what you saw in those days.

The war that took place was not only civil war in nature and the complexities of the conflicts stretch outside the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Taking my experience into account it is limited and directly related only to Sarajevo that was under siege at the time. Indirectly I had experience through refugees and internally displaced persons who came in Sarajevo; through their witnessing and stories. After the war, we opened, Sarajevo University opened, a law department in Srebrenica I participated in. Due to administrative and political reasons it was closed in a few years, yet it was a valuable experience.

The aggression was very extremely alike a movie and sometimes I considered myself as movie actress not as a real person because everything horrible you can imagine was immediately happening. At first, I was as a part of a European socialist country, a member of Non-alignment movement; a country we considered to be safe. I could have never imagined a war could happen there and I could be in it. Secondly, my personal experience was of two completely different things: The cruelty of the one side and extreme level of human solidarity on the other (sharing water and food supplies when there were barely any, and alike). Finally, it was a decision to stay in Sarajevo. My daughter was sixteen months old. My parents have had a second house in Croatia but I refused to go anywhere. I decided that, as a family, we should pass through the same destiny together. It’s not truly based on a rational argument, from a rational perspective. Before the war, if you asked me what I would do, I would tell you immediately that I would move. But when the war started, my focus and priorities changed and maybe at first I did not want to be humiliated as a person, scared and driven away; I did not want to be a refugee. People who became refugees from Sarajevo, had different kinds of the traumas and experiences. Personally, it was closer to me that we share experiences as a family. Of course, speaking of humiliation was just my own perception at the time. Staying meant waiting in lines for food and water, there was hardly electricity and other supplies. It was not a dignified life in any sense.

What made being in a dangerous situation easier, was being a part, a member, of a broader community that shared the common experience. In case of being a refugee, I felt I would be more alone, and my experience completely personalized. But sharing the destiny of people of neighbors, of my city I felt was easier. Finally, I wanted to contribute and I was very active in the NGOs, different organizations, I was talking to foreign journalists etc.

One of the significant matters we have learned about that period is the genocide that took place in Bosnia and mass raping of Bosnian women during the time of war. Did you have any observations regarding them?

At the time, I was a member of an NGO called Muslim Academic Club, organized by prominent intellectuals from all fields. Along with other members, I participated in public appearances on TV, radio; we gave statements for the press and heavily reflected on mass rape that was taking place. There were numerous reports and accounts by refugees and internally displaced persons, especially from Eastern Bosnia. One woman stayed as a distinct memory, with her personal and detailed account of sexual and other violence committed against her. At the time many victims did not want to publicly speak on the suffering they had gone through, so we took it upon ourselves to give them a voice and raise awareness of these terrible happenings. Moreover, we were speaking of pregnancies resulting from rape and children born as a result. These were social taboos we felt needed to be broken, and we had access to media. We had a public voice and gave it to those that needed to be heard. In October 1992, the aggression on Bosnia had commenced by this time (April of the same year) I spoke on T.V about these issues. The next day a bomb fell right next to our house. Despite the dangers, we were energetic and pushed to raise awareness and bring attention to violence against women; violence that was directed against them personally and at the same time affected the family as the basic societal structure.

As I mentioned, the situation was different in various parts of the country. As there was hardly electricity in Sarajevo, Muslim Academic Club in cooperation and with the support of Bosnian Islamic Community organized speeches at mosques.

The goal was to open dialogue and brake down taboos, presenting the audience different expertise and perspectives on the issues. I recall speaking at a small neighborhood mosque along with my colleagues. These were challenging tasks; you never know who is sitting in the audience and what their personal or family story, their experience was. Talking about sexual violence and children born of rape were extremely sensitive topics especially in those times. Main statements and messages we wanted to convey were: it didn’t happen only to individuals, it happened to us all as a community; we are targeted as a community, and we are all individually potential victims. We said the children born after the rape are our children and neither they nor their mothers should be excommunicated. There were very difficult discussions with some members of the audience. For example some very conservative members, said “OK I can’t exempt anyone, maybe she is my wife. But about the children, the genes and heritage etc. we cannot accept them” and so on. Once, after a speech and discussion, I went out and one woman approached me, took my hand and said: “Thank you for every word that you said. “ At that time I was very strong, I didn’t cry at all. But, now, twenty years after, when I look back to this event, I cry.

Sorry for asking questions which made you cry. This is part of Bosnian history that would never be forgotten.

This is part of my life as well.

Is there any official or unofficial number indicating how many Bosnian women were raped during that time? And how many children were born as a result of that?

The second question you asked me was about children. No one knows how many children are born as a result of rape. Jasmila Žbanic made a fantastic movie, GRBAVICA, she was awarded for at Cannes Film Festival. Recently Alen Muhic, a child born after a Serb soldier raped his mother, participated in the creation of two films about his life and his attempts to contact his biological parents.

It is impossible to know the certain number of raped women. Some of them wanted to speak, some of them still keep it as a secret. Some even from their family. Some consider it a personal shame, some families see it as a shame for them as well. There are estimations ranging from one to hundreds of thousands. Worse, many of the perpetrators are free and some are the neighbors of the victims, so the element of fear is certainly present. Whatever the case may be, these women are incredibly strong. Nowadays there are women’s association that deal with this specific problematic. Sadly they are target of humiliation from the society, especially those who affiliate with ideologies that were behind the war crimes. Ridiculous and hurtful statements of the “you are guilty, you provoked it” kind are present. Despite all this, these women are fighting for their respect in the society, for legal ramification for specific crimes.

There are new reports on the events that took place in the war time; these are difficult and emotionally strenuous things and time distance is playing a role. Shamefully, on the practical level, the procedures for obtaining reparations from the state or benefits on the basis of being a victim entails often cruel procedure of demanding details on the number of times a person was raped, the presence of witnesses etc. The administration is re-victimizing through its procedures in that sense.

The topic is not absent from public discourse of politicians who mention it in the context of suffering. Some using defending raped women as a token of political credibility. Finally, there is a gap between what is said and what is done.

Your experience and practice in the field of women including gender studies and legal studies are so extensive. We will shift to your activities as external representative of Bosnia and if you have any memory or point, you may mention it. Before Beijing’s Women’s Conference, had you attended any other conferences as Bosnia representative?

I didn’t have a chance to go out from Sarajevo, because we were under the siege. And then I only met the journalists, the human rights activists, different prominent person who came in Sarajevo, and like you are now, discussed with me. At the time, I wrote about this issue and it was made public by the International Center for Peace; paper was redistributed in Islamic Conference. In 1995, just before the Beijing Conference, I was a participant in UN discussion about women in war. It was a five-country panel to illustrate what is the situation of women in the armed conflict and I was one of the panelist. It was the first time I left Sarajevo since the beginning of war and I flew directly to New York. At the Beijing Conference, my presentation was taken as an illustration of conflicts taking place around that time in preparatory works for the Conference.

How have you been selected to present the report?

At that time, gender was not a problematized issue in Bosnia and did not receive attention. Focus was on defense, political events, etc. President Izetbegovic, who knew me personally, named me to be the representative at the Conference, despite my lack of connection the state and lack of official titles. There was an issue of what title should I carry, as I was not a minister, professor… Finally they created a position, since a very serious representative shouldn’t lie to be something that she is not.

Who was the second person with you at the Beijing Conference?

Amela Sapcanin. She worked in our mission in New York and we met in Beijing.

What is the origin of your familiarity with Izetbegovic?

My husband worked as an adviser to the President and I knew him from that context. There is another story, I didn’t tell you; I knew him before the war. When he was released from prison and started campaigning, we met in private circles and home discussions that were organized. It was before the official forming of the political party. I had published some articles, I was on the T.V., in the radio and very publicly visible.

How many international conferences have you attended as representative of Bosnia?

Beijing Conference and the work on the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education. At the time I already healed a position at the University.

In those conferences, did you have any opportunity to discuss with Iranian delegates?

I have. I was appreciative of how active Iranian delegates were at the Beijing Conference. We participated together in general sessions and the human rights sessions. The latter was divided into two subgroups; one dealing with human rights and women in conflict, and one on women’s reproductive rights. The Conference is the first international document to recognize mass rape as a crime against humanity. Together with, among other, Iranian delegates, I lobbied for this provision to be kept in the final document. I would also mention that, unlike our active participation, women from Arabic countries delegations did not speak publicly. While they were present, it was only the men who took active role.

What was your husband’s role in your activities in women and human rights fields? Was he encouraging, supporting or discouraging you?

He was supportive. In our marriage, we are supportive of each other. There were periods either of us was so busy the other took all the family responsibilities on themselves. We share our life and have strong mutual support and respect in our relationship and in dealing with our family.

Some of the activists in the fields of women try not to have children. Do you believe in that sort of thing, too? What do you think of those people?

Speaking from personal experience, I am married, a mother, I was a child of my own parents, I took care of my parents, and we all had and still have close relationships. Often I have come across a stereotype that women who fight for the rights of women are ugly, very bad-tempered, almost as a precondition to be a fighter for women’s rights. Feminists are often portrayed as masculine, man-hating and aggressive. While some individuals may indeed be thus, to simplify such a wide and diverse group as such is simply to be blind to reality.

Sadly, this is very general widespread stereotype. Right next to it is the one where you can’t be successful in private life, if you want to build a professional career. For some reason this is related almost always to women. Again, while stereotypes may be true for some, they are in no way an argument or a full picture. In any case, they are not true for me.

You were active in women’s rights and its conformity with human rights. What is your adopted approach to seek conformity of women’s rights and human rights?

The starting point of international human rights documents is that all people are equal. That is the general rule followed by the prohibition of any kind of discrimination based on birth, race, gender and religion. Interestingly, there is a body of codification dealing specifically with discrimination against women, political rights and citizenship etc. If human rights indeed belong to everybody, why was there a need for this kind of double codification? Does it imply women are not covered by human rights? Second level of my focus is the factual situation related to the position of women compared to the codification. As you know, there is a large gap worldwide between provisions and reality. In my work I focused on the UN and European legislation.

Do you teach this approach in university?

I teach at the Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies, at master and Doctoral level on the Gender Studies curriculum. In Sarajevo University I teach gender only at master and PhD level. Human rights, I teach at the School of Law as an elective subject including Gender and Law, where I also teach in the field of Human Rights. Furthermore, at European Studies course, I teach European human rights. At Master and PhD level in School of Law I cover theses dealing with gender. As a regular course I teach Theory of Law, Structure of Law, Introduction to Legal Systems, Philosophy of Law.

I want to know if social and gender situation of Bosnia has changed in recent years and what positive parameters are added to the social sphere of Bosnian women. I think in 2012 you published a report on this.

Yes, I published a report about socioeconomic position of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina based on empirical research. This is a complex issue both from practical and legal perspective. We have constitutionally recognized equality. In Electoral law we now have a quota system that entails 40 percent of women. Similar is in the executive. Sadly, the application is not satisfactory. Generally, there is no linear progress. Moreover, the situation is different in rural and urban areas. Speaking of political parties and political, ideological limitations, there is no unique picture that can be taken to be true. On the institutional level there is a need for the establishment of state mechanisms that would efficiently deal with gender inequality. The cooperation between the civil sector and the N.G.O’s could be better, and the pressure on the state greater. The problematic is complex and there are positive steps and progress.

What I also notice is the increase of male students at gender studies and male PhD candidates working on the topic. When the subject Gender and Law was introduced as an elective only female student attended. This has changed. And I tell you, from personal experience, it is extremely interesting to hear discussions during sessions because these are not neutral topics. They always touch personal relations. It is hard to speak about female and male. People almost always speak about themselves and their family members, about what is present in private relations. Students are always deeply touched.

Some social activists believe that in a society where there is no gender equality for women in the political environments, there should be an election quota system like the number of MPs in a parliament. Do you believe in bringing quota systems for women in politics?

It is my opinion that equal access to opportunities and public institutions is a precondition of equality. It is the question of social justice and distribution of political power. Secondly, it is my experience and impression, that in situations where you have women as a minority, they tend to adjust to majority. Therefore, I believe they need to be equally represented, visible and herd regardless of political fraction they affiliate with. While it is true that gender does not directly imply certain political affiliation or political ideology adopted, it is my hope to see gender sensitivity across political options and especially from their female representatives. Furthermore, another reason I support positive action, is due to the fact that in cases of uniform or collective dominated by only one gender, the manner of discussions on topics tends to differ. I can give you a simple, yet telling example from my own experience. I was a member of different diplomatic spouse clubs. Usually there were exclusively female. In Denmark we had a few male members. Comparing the two different settings, one exclusively female and one mixed, the difference in the content and character of activities was visible. Heterogeneity, in my opinion, enhanced the inner working of the club.

A number of analysts in the fields of women think that radical interpretations of feminism have left a detrimental impact on the man-woman equality and questioned the basis of equality itself. For example, I met a young radical leader of feminism who was saying that if a book is written by a woman and edited by a man, then the manly dominance will overrule the womanly spirits of it. How do you feel about such statements?

There are the different kinds of feminism and the one of them is radical feminism. In itself it is indicative of the fact that in every corner of the world, patriarchal structure of society and the position of women in it, is connected with the phenomena of women’s* radicalism, that needs to be contextualized in societal set of values it operates in. Radical feminism is taken as a poster child for stereotyping feminists. Among them, there are even some that claim women are superior. This, however, is but a small yet loud group of feminists. Not the only one. You have its correlate in extreme position men have towards women, where some do not want their presence in public, those who do not want to look at a female face, look a women in the eye, etc. You have men who believe and demand complete separation. There are extremes both among men and women, and that should not be forgotten.

Some feminists are trying to realize their rights of divorce and reckon that it is fundamental to the formation of families. Do you agree with them?

First there is no unique rule for all countries. There is no unique model for the all corners of the world. Every country or region has a context that affects the formulation of ideas within it. You have the example of Bosnia after the war, where many feminists from the western countries came with the intention to teach us what we should do, what we have to criticize. Yet it is the context that determines what people are sensitive to. Some may be sensitive of divorce. We are sensitive of other things. As I said, there is no general rule. I am not so familiar with the Iranian context and I cannot point to what the main issues and problems are. For example in Bosnia, we have other issues while divorce is not a problem in itself. Regarding divorce in Bosnia, questions of economic background in case one does gets divorced is more relevant. In our family law, joint property is shared fifty-fifty. What we deal with is the question of who is traditionally and usually the formal owner of the property, because in our tradition usually male is the owner of the house, land and other things and in case of divorce, it can be sometimes a problem. This is completely a different context.

A minority of Muslims live in Bosnia and they have to behave according to Islam Shari’a and based on verse 65 in Talaagh Sura, right of divorced is allocated to men. How have they solved this paradox?

Actually or exactly, after 1946, we only have civil law. We publicly apply civil law and all people regardless of their religion or ethnic background are under the same Civil Law. Family Law determines women have freedom of choice: the freedom to choose their spouse, their surnames, place of living, right to divorce, etc. and can get divorced without any reason, it suffices to state that mutual relations are beyond repair. That’s it. But among the religious community, religious contacts and religious marriages are concluded and produce obligations. This is not desirable from my perspective: they cannot use the court system in regard to these matters. Most of religious marriages are parallel to civil ones, and you have two parallel law systems. In that case, during the religious marriage ceremony, the men are so generous to promise things like, say two kilo of gold, but in the case of divorce, they give nothing. The obligations from the religious marriage do not have to be upheld. You have no enforcement mechanism because you are only obliged by civil law and civil law says everything half-half in the case of divorce. But what is also important for the Muslim community, it is the moral obligation and many people voluntarily followed a certain provision from the Shari’a even when not obliged to, because on the moral level, they believe in it in it and they are acting on that way, regardless for the Civil Law says or what the state law says and etc. You freely choose to respect certain moral values. This is a part of culture.

In some countries, Islam has been compared with human rights and a declaration entitled as the “Islamic Human Rights Declaration” came as a fruit. What do you think of this?

When we are talking about Islamic countries, there is three kinds of Islamic countries. The first one who is officially like Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Islam is put in the name and in the Constitution. There is another type: they do not put Islamic in their name and constitution, but they apply Shari’a law in the legal system and there is countries that only have a certain amount of Muslim population. One interesting research was conducted by Scheherazade S. Rehman and Hossein Askari from Georgetown University, titled An Economic Islamicity Index, published in The Economic Journal. Based on the Koran and the Sunna, they identified main values and applied them to every country in the world. Top countries were Ireland, Denmark, Luxemburg, Sweden, UK, and New Zealand… Regardless of the name and identifications, I find the story of values to be more interesting.

Islamic Human Rights Commission.

I don’t know.

Did you participated in codifying Bosnia Constitution?

I took part, not officially but in public discussions that we had several times on the different occasions. I took part in suggesting certain things and specifically sometimes in terms of gender or need interpretation and etc. But this is a public discussion and open debate to all citizens.

Have you ever tended to take the tribune in the parliament and work in line with laying off discriminations against women in Bosnia?

No I tell you honestly, I am psychologically not a type of person who likes to hold power and hierarchical positions are not close to my comfort zone. They never were. There were occasions when I decided to not peruse these and similar positions. I like my occupation: teaching and independent academic research. I have the luxury of academic critical approach to everything.

Can one bring reformations to the society without power?

Yes, indeed I do hold power but not in the sense discussed above. I am very politically active in my public lectures, writings, articles; I take positions in scientific conferences etc. I hold public influence of this kind where anyone is free to accept my argumentation, my point of view, or not.

It is a known fact that the realization of rights of women has been the result of their efforts and perseverance, esp. their right to vote in the UK, the Netherlands and the US. What is your take on this?

Yes, you are right. The freedom is not given to anyone easily. It is always fought for. This is the true everywhere; if you want to have freedom you have to fight for it. No one with power shares it willingly.

Have ever thought of organizing a big meeting or demonstration in Bosnia to revive women’s rights?

I took part in such events, I wasn’t an organizer. I participated in NGOs meetings. For example there was a protest against sexual harassment and domestic violence organized and I took part, but only as a demonstrator. This is the one, for example. There was another, larger one, on the 8th of March holiday, whose aim was to bring attention to problem of domestic violence, positions of inequality, questions of public care, and the position of women in general.

Do you have any plan to improve the status of Bosnian women?

This is strongly connected with the whole economic situation in the country and improvement of economic rights on the whole. After the war, I have to say that in our society, the rules changed completely. I firmly believe in economic independence.

How do you see the situation of the Iranian women today?

I’m not an expert on this topic.

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