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CHIBOW international conference raises awareness of conflict-related sexual violence

The Symposium “A transgenerational perspective on conflict-related sexual violence: Facing the Past – Transforming the Future” held in Sarajevo last month, brought together 74 participants from academic and non-academic spheres. The conference set out to foreground key themes around experiences of conflict-related sexual violence and their impact on post-conflict society, with particular emphasis on the Bosnia and Herzegovina context. During the presentations, themes emerged relating to issues of identity, belonging, mental health outcomes and psychosocial support from an interdisciplinary and transgenerational perspective, as well as aspects of healing of human rights violations in conflict and post-conflict societies in Europe and beyond.

A detailed programme and presentations from the event can be found here

The first two panels were chaired by Professor Sabine Lee and included presentations by Dr Heide Glaesmer (University of Leipzig) on “long-term consequences of conflict-related traumatic experiences and sexual violence – a transgenerational perspective”, and Esmina Avdibegovic (University of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina) on “lessons learned from a psychosocial approach in helping victims/survivors of gender‐based and conflict‐related sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. Following this, Dr. Monika Hauser (NGO Medica Mondiale, Germany, with 25 years of experience in dealing with GBV and CRSV in conflict & post‐war regions) spoke about her perspective on memorisation and recognition (of society and politics) of human rights violations, which provided invaluable insights into lessons to be learnt from Medica Mondiale’s experiences.

The last panel was chaired by Sabina Alispahic (University of Sarajevo) and included preliminary results of the network studies on CHIBOW from different contexts. Kimberley Anderson (Psychotraumacentrum Zuid Nederland, Netherlands) presented on “mother‐child attachment representations in traumatized refugee mothers”, Sophie Roupetz (University of Leipzig, Germany) on “mother-child attachment of children born of rape in Post-WII Germany” and Amra Delic (University of Greifswald, Germany) on “lived experiences of children born of recent war in Bosnia and Herzegovina – How we can make it better in post‐conflict settings?”

In the afternoon session, the award-winning film “Grbavica – Esma’s Secret” was screened. Grbavica. A film about the life of a single mother in contemporary Sarajevo, dealing with the aftermath of wartime rape in Bosnia, shown through the eyes of the main character Esma, and her teenage daughter Sara (child born of rape). The film demonstrates how everyday life is still being shaped by the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s to devastating ends. Following the screening, a roundtable of guests, including survivors of sexual violence and their children, discussed their experiences - some for the first time in public – and their hopes for the future. Participants included:

Ajna Jusic and Alen Muhic – children born out of rape / representatives from the Bosnian Association “Forgotten Children of War”;

Sabina Basic, the mother of Ajna Jusic, a survivor of war rape, on whose story the film screened was based;

Video message from Lejla Damon, representative of War Child’s Youth Engagement Panel (UK), who was born in BiH, as a result of rape;

Godelieve Mukakarasi, SEVOTA, Rwanda, a social worker who immediately following the genocide in Rwanda established an organization called Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), to promote the socio-economic rights of Rwandans widowed and orphaned by the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She is also founder of a women’s peace network, Urunana, and is also the senior co-organizer of Fora ABIYUBAKA, a group comprised of women who have children born from rape.

Dr. Monika Hauser, medica mondiale, Cologne, is specialist in gynaecology, and established together with female Bosnian doctors and psychologists Medica Zenica women’s therapy centre in Central Bosnia, and later medica mondiale, which today provides psychosocial and legal support to women and girls who have experienced sexualised war-related violence in conflict zones worldwide.

The roundtable discussion enabled participants to explore the complexity of the transgenerational aspect of the healing process, with participants sharing there lived experiences from a specific generational perspective side by side. The roundtable discussion also illuminated the power of sharing the experiences of one group, in one geographical context, to support the healing of another group (with common experiences) in a different geographical setting. Godelieve Mukakarasi described how the screening of a documentary based on a Bosnian child born of rape, to children in Rwanda, many of whom has been born of sexual violence during conflict, proved transformative for many of the children watching.

The conference was provided with international media coverage to raise public awareness on the issues and the needs of CHIBOW:

Late evening news bulletin “ZIB2”:

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