ENIL is pleased to share with you a story about an empowering campaign that disabled women in Bosnia and Herzegovina recently organised. They were the first in the country daring to challenge public attitudes and achieved great success! The article below, entitled “Serious fairy tale of women’s activism” was written by an ENIL member – Tanja Dokic, who was one of the campaign leaders. At the end you can also find a video from the event. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we did!
Serious fairy tale of women’s activism
It is all about choice, isn’t it? About the woman’s choice to be what she wants to be. A mother? If she wants. A scientists? If she wants. A housewife? If she wants. A photo model and a fashion show model? Why not?
On 29th November, us 13 women with disabilities from Banja Luka, a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina (a poor country in transition, with a patriarchal tradition), showed that we can be all that society does not expect from us have surprised the entire community. Also, we managed to occupy the country’s media space and set the social networks on fire.
Honestly, we did not expect that huge a reaction either, but obviously, we hit the wire.
We did this because of the position of women with disabilities in our society; basically, the situation is “no position”. Nobody sees us as women. For the society, we are all just “people with disabilities” (‘invalids’ in the local languages) and there is no word which would take account of gender, for example when creating services.
Being a woman means to be whatever you choose to be, right?
Four women with great ideas and an enormous enthusiasm took the risk and started to organize a campaign named “Recognize the woman in me”, aiming to show that beauty and equality are part of our differences. They started with a budget of 0 (zero) (insert whichever currency you like).
And at this point, the magic starts! We had numerous phone calls, meetings with probably around a hundred people (makeup artists, hairdressers, fashion photographers, light and sound system technicians, fashion stores, printing offices, etc.) asking for resources, volunteers and offering our idea – that beauty is in the differences. During the process, we realized that a similar campaign has already taken place in the USA and Europe – something we see as a sign that we are on the right path, because somewhere else other women recognized the same issues!
We invited women from the community (politicians, actors, TV personalities, representatives of education institutions) to join us and to say together that beauty and equality are in the differences.
And everybody said – yes!
We managed to convince the director of the Museum of Contemporary Arts to provide us with a great space for the fashion show. This also gave a dose of seriousness to our event.
We organized a fashion photo shoot for women with disabilities themed “The 1920’s”. Those photos were shown on a big screen during the fashion show and they were to remind women that they can be on the cover of a magazine.
During the process of organizing the event, we realized how powerful one meaningful idea can be and how important it is to engage the whole community. The Mayor of Banja Luka, obviously a man with a good sense for the important issues in society, agreed to open the fashion show. Several days before the show, the celebrities were calling as and were announcing the event. We hoped that we would have around 100 people at the Museum…
On the day of the event, all the women were in evening dresses, surrounded by a crowd of makeup artists, hairdressers and volunteers. There were over 350 people outside, waiting to see the show. Many journalists and photographers covered the event. We spent almost an hour giving statements. But there was no time for being surprised, the show had to begin and it was a fairy tale for all the beautiful women, participating in it.
Where was the magic? We had great fun, all of us. All the participants were pleased with the show and felt empowered. All the volunteers thanked us for the opportunity to work on this. Women with disabilities were writing about how they can see themselves from a different angle and how they feel like women – whatever that means for each of them.
Days later we can literally see changes of attitude in the media reporting, we can read reports about the importance of differences, about support from society that is needed to enable us to be what we want to be, about the importance of activism. We can see decision makers speaking about the event and finally seeing us, really seeing us. This is not just a story about nice dresses, tinsel and high heels, it is a story about finding a way to make a difference.
Now, when they see us, it is the right moment to advocate for support for women with disabilities.
This is a story about how the right idea at the right moment can reach the target, and how resources are already there in our community. It is a story about the power of activism in a community.
I do not know how many political actions will follow after the campaign, but I am sure of one thing – they cannot ignore us and we will continue asking for our rights.
The event was organised by the recently established Association of Women with Disabilities “Nika”, represented by Vera Bošković, Tijana Ćup, Snežana Kutlešić Stević and Tanja Mandić Đokić.
Dear women, feel free create magic in your community!
Watch a video from the event here.
Photo: Participants of the show on the cat walk.