Girls’ Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Historically, Bosnia and Herzegovina was made up of two countries — the first, Bosnia, and the second, Herzegovina. Bosnia was controlled by the Ottoman Empire from 1463 until approximately 1978. At that time, Bosnia was taken over by Great Britain who implemented new schools and further nuanced the governmental structure of Bosnia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina traditionally maintained a sort of strict patriarchal society throughout its history, particularly while under Ottoman rule when the official religious structure was Islam (patriarchy is one of the most distinctive traits of a Muslim society). Currently, over half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina adheres to the Islamic religion, followed closely by adherents of Christianity.  

It seems to be no stretch that the patriarchal heritage is present, although it is slowly weakening. Its presence is still making large impacts on the opinions of girls’ education in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the way it is implemented.

A Cultural Problem

The gender traditions held in a patriarchal society dictate the types as well as the quality of education that different genders receive. In some cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, banning females from completing elementary school is an existing and acceptable roadblock to male/female equality that is based on Bosnian societal values. One such example is in the capital city of Sarajevo, where girls’ education is not permitted past third grade.

This lack of gender equality not only alienates a large portion of the society but also contributes to large cracks in the nation’s weakened economy. The population demographics in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 60 percent female and 40 percent male. By limiting girls’ education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the nation is effectively depriving well over half of its citizens from gaining the knowledge and skills that could contribute to the country’s financial prosperity.

Gendered Education

Despite the gender disparity in formal education, a different type of schooling is employed for females that do not complete secondary or even primary education.

The roles of housewife and mother are extremely valued in Bosnian culture, so much so that some females transfer from the mainstream schooling system in order to focus on acquiring the “necessary” skills that Bosnians revere in society for females. This education is typically received at home where the girls learn cooking, housekeeping and demeanor expectations.  

Even though the gender disparity in Bosnian educational systems is alive and present, initiatives have been implemented to dissolve the disparity, opening up avenues for cultural change. In 2003, the Bosnian government issued a law on gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina that covers equality in all areas of society, most significantly the workplace and educational institutions.

Literacy Rates, Family Values and the Future

Although girls’ education in Bosnia and Herzegovina is sometimes neglected in favor of male education (as tradition dictates), female literacy rates still remain almost as high as males’. This is positive news as such figures mean that more and more girls are continuing their education on into adulthood.

Further, despite city educational bans for females and oftentimes protests from fathers, an increasing amount of mothers are recognizing the need to educate their daughters in order to set them up for future success. Consequently, this shift in perspective has increased female enrollment in schooling over the last several decades.

This provides a hopeful future for girls’ education in the country, one that hopefully sparks a new tradition of female education, literacy and self-empowerment.

– Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr