updated: 5 March, 2007
International Fund for Agricultural Development

The Dayton Peace Accords signed in 1995 recognized two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska. Conflict had touched virtually every sector of the country, devastating the economy and the social fabric of society. As a result, poverty is deeper and more widespread here than in other countries of former Yugoslavia. A fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, nearly 30 per cent live in houses without adequate property rights, about a quarter have only basic education, a fifth are underemployed or unemployed and more than 15 per cent are in poor health. Poverty is felt most acutely in rural communities, especially by women.

Bosnia and HerzegovinaThe end of conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina marked the beginning of a double transition: the transition from war to peace, and an economic and political transition. The nation’s gross domestic product is only half its pre-war level, and social sector spending has dropped dramatically. A decrease in family benefits and public social services has caused a drop in women’s social standing in society. Women who once held prestigious positions in public life are now relegated to their homes, engaged in domestic duties.

Women suffer discrimination in the workplace - receiving lower salaries than men for the same type of work and earning promotions far less frequently. Women’s jobs are the first to be eliminated during restructuring. Fewer women than men are entering the labour force as more women leave the country in search of work. Unemployment has led to depression in many men because they are no longer able to fulfil their role supporting their families. Women, on the other hand, are more inventive. They are ready to accept a wide range of jobs, even within the informal economy - though they may do so at the expense of their health.

Conflict led to a rise in the number of households headed by women, which currently represent a quarter of the total. Women are much more likely to become poor than men. This is because it is harder for them to find employment and because the absence of affordable childcare prevents many from even seeking employment.

Rural women are more marginalized than urban women, a result of lower educational levels and a more traditional social environment. Rural women have limited access to land, training, modern farming techniques, finances and equipment, leaving them to toil hard but earn little. They generally work in agriculture as unskilled labourers. Another factor limited rural women’s advancement is their poor access to institutions, such as farmers’ organizations and social networks, which could help them play a stronger role in decisions affecting their lives.

Domestic laws reflect traditional practices unfavourable to women. For instance, tradition holds that men are the primary owners of land and other assets. This has made it difficult for women heads of household who are displaced or are refugees to return to their villages and reclaim their homes.

An annex to the peace agreement establishing Bosnia and Herzegovina prohibits gender-based discrimination as an integral part of the constitution. Commissions on gender equality are active in Parliament, and Gender Centres have been created to formulate gender sensitive policies. In 2003, the country adopted the Law on Gender Equality. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s poverty reduction strategy paper supports this law and calls for its full implementation. The country’s medium term development strategy for 2004 to 2007 highlights the need to improve the situation of rural women. It envisages a range of activities aimed at empowering women through education, employment, access to credit and representation in rural institutions.

Source: IFAD


Facts and figures
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina has a population of about 3.8 million; half of them women
  • One in five inhabitants lives below the national poverty line
  • Only 35 per cent of women in Bosnia Herzegovina are employed, and 37 per cent are active - the lowest levels in the region
  • Women in Bosnia Herzegovina earn 20 to 50 per cent less than men
  • Women are better educated than men: more than 20 per cent have attended university or other institutes of higher education, compared to 17 per cent of men

    Civil conflict displaced nearly half the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One million people sought refuge abroad, while another million were displaced internally
  • One household in four is headed by a woman
  • Many elderly women live alone in rural areas, surviving without a pension or other regular income
  • More statistics
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Gender mainstreaming in Bosnia and Herzegovina:


Contact information

Ms. Lenyara Khayasedinova
Programme Coordinator
Gender Mainstreaming Programme for Central, Eastern Europe and Newly Independent States
Via Paolo di Dono, 44
00142 Rome, Italy
Tel: +39 0654592686
Fax: +39 0654593686