Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked 24 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country is ranked 74th in the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) (out of a total of 187 countries), with a composite score of 0.733. UNDP did not provide a Gender Inequality Index ranking for 2011. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not ranked under the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a new Family Code in 2002.[1] The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women, although the courts can authorise marriage for a minor over 16 years of age in certain cases (e.g. pregnancy), if the person is deemed physically and mentally capable of assuming the related responsibilities.[2] Current data on early marriages is not available for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Figures from 2004 indicated that 17.1% of women aged 15-24 were married, divorced, or widowed, compared to 5.4% of men, while the 2005 report to the CEDAW committee states that most women get married between the ages of 20 and 24 in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 24 and 29 in the Republika Srpska.[3] Amongst some of the country’s Roma communities, the US Department of State reports that it is common for girls to marry between the ages of 12 and 14,[4] inevitably impacting on the capacity of such girls to complete their education.

The family code outlaws polygamy and forced marriage.[5] There is no evidence to suggest that polygamy is practised.

Men and women share equal parental authority over their children (whether born in or out of wedlock), and have equal rights in relation to adoption or child custody (in the case of divorce).[6]  But within many families, the gendered division of labour means that financial and technical responsibilities fall to men and the upkeep of the home and children to women.[7] According to the 2005 report to the CEDAW committee, in recent years, there seems to be a shift towards more balanced role-sharing, particularly among younger people.[8] The divorce rate has gone up since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict, one of the impacts of the war itself (which saw many couples separated for long periods of time),[9] but also perhaps indicative of changing social attitudes towards divorce. In divorce cases, custody is most often given to the mother, and courts often fail to enforce requirements that fathers continue to support their children financially.[10] Figures given in the 2006 report to the CEDAW committee indicate that at that time, 25% of households were headed by women.[11] It is noted in this report that these households were not significantly worse off than male-headed households, except in the Republika Srpska, where many were IDPs or refugees.[12] Both women and men can pass citizenship onto their children.[13]   

Legally, women and men have equal rights in regard to inheritance, and women are free to make a will without their husband’s consent.[14] In practice, women often surrender their inheritance rights in favour of male relatives, as a result of customary practices that see land and property as a male prerogative.[15]

[1] CEDAW (2005), p.80 [2] CEDAW (2005), pp.72, 80 [3] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008), using data from the National Statistics office. [4] US Department of State (2010) [5] CEDAW (2005), p.80 [6] CEDAW (2005), pp.80-81 [7] CEDAW (2005), p.16 [8] CEDAW (2005), p.16 [9] CEDAW (2005), p.17 [10] CEDAW (2005), p.83 [11] CEDAW (2006), pp.37-38 [12] CEDAW (2006), pp.37-38 [13] CEDAW (2005), p.39 [14] CEDAW (2005), p.79 [15] CEDAW (2005), p.79

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, legislation is in place to protect women from domestic violence, although this does not specifically criminalise domestic violence.[16] In 2005, a Law on Protection Against Family Violence was adopted;[17] in addition, the Law on Gender Equality includes provisions on all forms of gender-based violence, including violence that takes place within the home.[18] 

Under the Law on Protection Against Family Violence, in cases of domestic violence, fines (but no custodial sentence) can be imposed on offenders, and police in all three entities are required to remove the offender from the marital home, and can force the offender to undergo psycho-social rehabilitation.[19] In addition, training has been provided to police officers in how to deal effectively with domestic violence.[20] But despite this legislation and training, the US Department of State reports that women’s rights NGOs working with women affected by violence estimate that one-third of women are victims of domestic abuse, but that few of these women ever seek help from the police.[21] It is reported that in rural areas in particular, police rarely intervene in cases of domestic violence, and of those cases that are reported, few result in court cases, because of lack of capacity within the judicial system and the backlog of cases relating to the 1992-1995 war. [22][23] Activists working in women’s rights organisations who were interviewed for a 2010 UNFPA report also saw a clear link between high levels – and acceptance – of domestic violence, and the gender-based violence that was so prevalent during the war.[24]  As of 2006, there were a small number of shelters for victims of violence against women, all run by women’s rights NGOs, but their number was insufficient to meet demand.[25] In its report to the CEDAW committee in 2005, the government admitted that the infrastructure and resources were not in place to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence adequately.[26] In addition, domestic violence is widely viewed as a private matter, in which the state should not intervene.

Rape, including spousal rape, is considered a criminal act.[27] Police are generally willing to investigate reports of sexual assault, but do not take spousal rape seriously as a crime.[28] The judicial system remains weak, meaning that women who have experienced sexual violence are denied access to justice.[29] During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 – 1995), rape and forced pregnancy were systematically used as a weapon of war and of ethnic cleansing by all sides in the conflict, and tens of thousands of Muslim, Croat, and Serb women and girls are thought to have been affected.[30] Even after sixteen years, few perpetrators have been prosecuted for these or other war crimes.[31] Many women continue to suffer from physical and / or psychological problems as a result of their ordeals, but are unable to access proper treatment, either because it is not available, or because they cannot afford the cost.[32] Rape carries a high social stigma in Bosnia and Herzegovina, meaning that women who admit to having been raped during the war are often blamed for bringing shame on the family honour, and may face abandonment by their husbands, ostracism and economic and social marginalisation. [33][34] As of 2008, they are entitled to claim a small stipend (€280 in 2010) from the government each month, but this is less than the benefits that other war veterans receive.[35]  Survivors of sexual violence during the conflict have also been unable, as a group, to access the same social benefits as other groups of victims of war.

During the 1992 – 1995 war, Croat and Muslim Bosnian men were also targeted by Serb aggressors on the basis of their ethnic and gender identity under a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing, culminating with the massacre of 7000 men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995.[36]  

Trafficking is illegal under Bosnia and Herzegovina’s criminal code, punishable by up to ten years in prison; however the government department tasked with implementing anti-trafficking legislation lacks the resources needed to function effectively.[37] Trafficking is considered to be a serious problem, with women trafficked within Bosnia and Herzegovina for the purposes of forced prostitution, and children for begging and sexual exploitation.[38]  The country is also a transit country for trafficking to other parts of Europe.[39] Under the Law on Movement, Residence and Asylum for Foreigners, victims of trafficking are able to claim assistance from the state, but only if they agree to cooperate with police investigations and give evidence.[40] Support to women victims of trafficking and the prosecution of traffickers is hampered by confusion regarding different laws in the three autonomous entities.[41] On a practical level, NGOs run shelters for victims of trafficking. [42]

Women have the right to use, and obtain information about, contraception, and in theory, reproductive health services are available and accessible.[43] However, the 2005 report to the CEDAW committee states that there is considerable discrepancy between provision of health services in rural and urban areas, and that IDPs and refugees face obstacles in accessing reproductive and other forms of healthcare.[44] According to UNFPA, 36% of women report using some form of contraception (including so-called traditional methods).[45] Abortion is available on demand in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and continues to be the primary means of birth control for many women (a legacy of the socialist period).[46]

There is no evidence that female genital mutilation is a practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

[16] CEDAW (2006), p.16 [17] CEDAW (2006), p.14 [18] CEDAW (2005), p.7 [19] CEDAW (2006), p.15 [20] US Department of State (2010) [21] US Department of State (2010) [22] Freedom House (2010); CEDAW (2006), p.16 [23] CEDAW (2006), p.16 [24] UNFPA (2010), pp.7-12 [25] CEDAW (2006), p.18 [26] CEDAW (2005), p.18 [27] US Department of State (2010) [28] US Department of State (2010) [29] Amnesty International (2010), p.81 [30] Jones et al. (2010), p.78; Amnesty International (2009), p.15; UNFPA (2010), p.9 [31] Amnesty International (2009), p.15; Amnesty International (2010), p.81 [32] UNFPA (2010), p.8; Amnesty International (2009), p.15; Amnesty International (2010), p.82; CEDAW (2006), pp.34-35 [33] Amnesty International (2009), p.15; UNFPA (2010), pp.8-12 [34] Amnesty International (2010), p.81 [35] UNFPA (2010), p.10 [36] Amnesty International (2010), p.81 [37] CEDAW (2005), pp.22-23; US Department of State (2010) [38] Freedom House (2010); US Department of State (2010) [39] Freedom House (2010); CEDAW (2005), p.23 [40] CEDAW (2005), p.24 [41] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2006), p.20 [42] US Department of State (2010) [43] CEDAW (2005), p.80; US Department of State (2010) [44] CEDAW (2005), pp.5-6 [45] UNFPA (2010), p.94 (no data source provided) [46] UNDP (2007); CEDAW (2005), pp.6, 71

Son Bias: 

Under-five mortality rates are slightly higher for boys (17 per 100) than for girls (12 per 100);[47] no gender-disaggregated figures are available regarding early childhood nutrition, or immunisation rates. According to a 2010 report published by UNFPA, secondary school enrolment figures are slightly higher for girls (91%) than boys (89%).[48]

According to 2012 figures from the CIA, the male/female sex ratio for the total population is 0.97.[49]

The figures above would indicate that at present, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a country of concern in relation to missing women. The figures regarding under-five mortality and secondary school enrolment would not indicate marked son preference.

[47] Amnesty International (2010), p.80 [48] UNFPA (2010), p.94 (no data source provided) [49] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Theoretically, Bosnian women have the same ownership rights as men, and any assets can be individually or jointly owned.[50] Assets owned by a spouse prior to marriage remain his or her individual property, but those acquired during the marriage are considered joint property.[51]

There is no legal discrimination against women in regard to access to land or access to property other than land, but in general, in rural areas, land and other forms of property are owned by male family members, rather than women, and there is a lack of awareness among women as to their right to own and manage property.[52] 

In theory, according to the law, women in Bosnia and Herzegovina have unrestricted access to bank loans, but in practice, it is difficult for women to access credit because they do not own land or property that could be used to guarantee the loan.[53]  The 2006 CEDAW report includes reference to a scheme that enabled people applying for loans for agricultural development to provide guarantors to secure credit, rather than physical property (which is usually owned and controlled by men).[54] The report noted that this would be of particular benefit for women, who are less likely in Bosnia Herzegovina to own property.[55] Micro-credit schemes do enable women in rural areas to access small loans, [56] but of course, this does not address the wider issue of women’s lack of access to credit on the same scale as men. Other government programmes have sought to support women would-be entrepreneurs more generally, for instance by providing training and information on how to start a business.[57]

[50] CEDAW (2005), p.81 [51] CEDAW (2005), pp.81-82 [52] CEDAW (2006), p.35; CEDAW (2005), p.77 [53] CEDAW (2005), p.75 [54] CEDAW (2006), p.32 [55] CEDAW (2006), p.32 [56] CEDAW (2005), p.57; CEDAW (2006), p.32 [57] CEDAW (2005), p.15

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement in Bosnia Herzegovina, although it is common practice for women to move to their husband’s place of residence when they marry.[58] However, some women who suffered sexual violence during the 1992 – 1995 conflict and who were subsequently displaced still feel unable to return to their former place of residence, because the men who raped them are still living there, and often occupy positions of authority within the community.[59] 

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association are generally respected in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[60] The 2005 report to the CEDAW committee notes that gender media monitoring carried out in the early 2000s found that women were represented in the media primarily as home makers, mothers, consumers, or passive companions, rather than as experts.[61] In its 2006 report to the CEDAW committee, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina reported on campaigns to encourage the media to mainstream gender issues into its coverage, and to challenge rather than reinforce gender stereotyping.[62] No indication was given as to whether or not this had a positive impact on the portrayal – and presence – of women in the media.

Women and men have the same right to vote and to participate in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[63] However, the report to the CEDAW committee for 2005 notes that the practice of ‘family voting’ persists in some areas, whereby the (male) head of household decides how everyone in the household will vote.[64] This is a criminal offence.[65] Women remain underrepresented in political life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite legislation in place obliging all political parties participating in elections to include at least three women among the first ten candidates on their party lists and stating that a third of all members of state and entity bodies should be female.[66] Seven members of the House of Representatives are women (out of 42 members – 16.7%),[67] and two members of the 15-strong House of Peoples are women (13.3%).[68]

In contrast to the low numbers of women active in formal politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is an active women’s movement. Women’s right organisations have campaigned for women to play a more active role in political and public life, and encouraged more women to do so.[69] This has included working closely with the government to draft legislation to improve the collection of gender-disaggregated data in relation to political participation, and increase the numbers of women active in politics.[70] Women’s rights NGOs have also provided support to survivors of sexual violence during the war, and campaigned for them to receive adequate state support, and campaigned to raise awareness of domestic violence.[71]

Women are entitled to up to a year’s paid maternity leave in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although the level of payment varies between the three autonomous entities.[72] Discrimination on the basis of gender is banned under the country’s Law on Labour, but discrimination against women in employment has been widespread since the end of the socialist regime.[73] According to a survey in 2006, only 27% of women were considered to be employed.[74] Levels of unemployment are particularly high among professional women who have university degrees.[75]

[58] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2005), p.79 [59] Amnesty International (2009), p.83 [60] US Department of State (2010); Freedom House (2010) [61] CEDAW (2005), p.18 [62] CEDAW (2006), pp.12-13 [63] CEDAW (2005), p.27; CEDAW (2006), p.22 [64] CEDAW (2005), p. 28 [65] CEDAW (2006), p.23 [66] Freedom House (2010); CEDAW (2005), pp.15, 28-30; CEDAW (2006), p.21 [67] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-a) [68] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.-b) [69] CEDAW (2005), p.6; CEDAW (2006), p.22 [70] CEDAW (2006), p.11; CEDAW (2005), p.35 [71] UNFPA (2010), pp.7-12; CEDAW (2006), p.18; CEDAW (2005), p.35 [72] ILO (2009); CEDAW (2005), p.59 [73] CEDAW (2005), pp.8, 50 [74] US Department of State (2010). The point was made, however, that some employers may not have recorded all their employees, in order to avoid paying social security contributions. [75] CEDAW (2005), p. 51; CEDAW (2006), p.29


Situated in the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still recovering from the three-year war that if fought to obtain independence from the Yugoslav Federation (1992 – 1995).[76] The war was fought mainly along ethnic lines between Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), and was marked by widespread gender and ethnicity-based violence, as well as the displacement of up to half the country’s population.[77]   An EU peacekeeping force and police mission remain present in the country, as of late 2010, and – although independent – the country remains under international administration under the Dayton Peace Accords signed in 1995.[78] Relations between the three dominant ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina have recently deteriorated, according to Amnesty International, threatening the stability of the country.[79] Bosnian and Croatian are the two official languages, and the main religions are Islam (40% of the population), Orthodox Christianity (31%), and Roman Catholicism (15%).[80] Bosnia and Herzegovina is classed as an upper middle income country by the World Bank.[81] Although the economy has now recovered from the 1992-1995 war, corruption and unemployment remain significant issues.[82]

During the period when Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of the socialist Yugoslav Federation, women entered education and the labour force in significant numbers, as well as benefitting from social protection in employment.[83] But the transition to a market economy, in addition to the impacts of three years of violent civil war, have affected women’s social, economic, and political position.[84] In addition, while the 1992-1995 conflict had a considerable impact on the whole civilian population, women were particularly affected due to the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence and forced pregnancy as tools of ethnic cleansing, and many women’s lives are still blighted by the trauma that they experienced during this period.[85] Roma women face particular discrimination, as a result of the wider marginalisation of their communities.[86] In particular, levels of illiteracy are high among Roma women, and many do not have identity documents, meaning they are unable to access state services and benefits, or vote.[87]

Bosnia and Herzegovina is in fact made up of three semi-autonomous entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska, and Brcko District.[88] Where legal provisions relating to women’s rights and social protection vary between the three entities, this is specified below.

Article 2 of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina explicitly prohibits all direct or indirect discrimination, whether on the grounds of sex, race, language, politics, religion or national or social origin.[89] Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against women in 1993, and the Optional Protocol on violence against women in 2002.[90] The country is a member of the Council of Europe, and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in July 2002.[91] A Law on Gender Equality has been in place since 2003,[92] and comprehensive anti-discrimination legalisation was introduced in July 2009.[93]

[76] BBC (n.d.) [77] BBC (n.d.); Freedom House (2010) [78] Amnesty International (2010), p.80; BBC (n.d.); CIA (2010) [79] Amnesty International (2010), p.80. See also UNFPA (2010), pp.49-50; Freedom House (2010) [80] CIA (2010) [81] World Bank (n.d.) data: Bosnia and Herzegovina [82] CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010) [83] CEDAW (2005), p.5 [84] CEDAW (2005), pp.5, 50 [85] UNFPA (2010), pp.7-12 [86] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2005), p.75 [87] CEDAW (2006), pp.27, 41 [88] US Department of State (2010) [89] CEDAW (2005), p.6 [90] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.) [91] Council of Europe (n.d.) [92] ‘Official Gazette of Bosnia and Herzegovina’, no. 16/03, inCEDAW (2006), p.6 [93] CEDAW (2005), p.5; Human Rights Watch (2010) 


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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: