Just the other day, during breakfast in Sarajevo, Neijima (32) was telling me about the post-war lethargy that afflicts the younger generation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not your ordinary subject during breakfast, but Bosnia and Herzegovina has proven to be extraordinary (beautiful) in every other way so far.
Before the Bosnian conflict (1992 – 1995), Bosnia and Herzegovina was a part of Yugoslavia, controlled by dictator Josip Broz Tito. Tito is, to this day, regarded as one of the most controversial Croatian politicians in history. Despite his authoritarian rule, administered through an elaborate bureaucratic system which routinely supressed human rights, Tito was among the key figures of world politics and a popular statesmen. According to Neijima, it’s because people knew how to work the system. They had to go to school, study hard, get their degree and wait for the job, which was usually arranged by a family member.
It is Neijima’s belief that the older generations in Bosnia and Herzegovina still raise their kids in accordance with the same belief: “Their kids do not have to do anything in the household, or learn how to cook dinner or how to handle cash or pay checks. They go to school and they come home to study while dinner is being made. After dinner, they study some more and are told that all will be fine. Except that it won’t, because the old system has been replaced by something else and getting a job in Sarajevo is hard.” Hence, according to Neijima, the younger generation in Bosnia hangs around in coffee houses, waiting for a chance that doesn’t come.
She also explained why the houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina mostly look the same to me: big and usually 4 stories high. It’s because they usually contain the whole family. The youngest (and fittest) family members live on the highest floors, while grandma and grandpa ‘guard’ the downstairs levels. She told me that she didn’t live with her parents or her parents-in-law and that her choice to do so was quite exceptional.
Neijima herself is in fact quite exceptional because before she got married, she lived with another female roommate in Sarajevo. Even though the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is quite progressive and modern, this was generally frowned upon. Smiling her bright smile, she told me she had to defend her choices all the time and explain to people that: “No, we don’t have parties all the time and no, we do not invite boys to come over.”
We further discussed her life and I asked her, since she was telling me about her exceptional choices, about female empowerment in general. I told her about my own experiences, about the fact that I sometimes felt I had no room to speak up and about this project.
Meanwhile in Hollywood
That very same day, the hashtag #metoo became trending topic. I didn’t learn about it until later that night, when I read several powerful, moving, and shocking stories. However, that morning in Sarajevo, Neijima gave an answer to my question that quite shocked me at first. She told me that she felt, as a woman, to be partially responsible for the way the situation is now. A situation where women are, at the very least, verbally harassed by men once in their lifetimes. She also told me this: “What would happen if a man catcalls at a woman and she gives him a slap in the face. What would happen if the same man catcalls at another woman and she gives him a slap as well. He would think twice right, to act like that again?”
Now, if I would have done that, I would have left a trail of red-cheeked, mostly innocent, boys behind me. Moreover, I myself would probably have had a black eye or two. But it got me wondering. Am I to blame for the current situation? That it is normal to be catcalled? That it is normal to look away so you don’t give the wrong signal? That it is normal to laugh off your discomfort when you have to listen to a distasteful, sexual joke? That it is normal to say nothing to the guy who just grabbed your ass or even worse, who grabbed you by the pussy?
Breaking the lethargy and start speaking up
That night, I realized Neijima was right. By not speaking up and shrugging it off, I was not helping the situation. I was not making it worse either, but I was being lethargic. For me, leadership is all about speaking up. It is about taking responsibility. It is about supporting each other, also concerning such a difficult, personal, emotional and precarious topic such as sexual harassment.
That being said, I do believe that #metoo is not a male or a female thing, as to quote Ellen DeGeneres, who added her voice to the #metoo movement last Thursday.
“This is not a male thing or a female thing,” she said. “It is not a Hollywood thing or a political thing. This is a human thing. And it happens in the workplace, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we are all the same. We all want the same thing – we want respect and love and kindness. And if I could have those three things – and a new iPhone 10 – I would be complete.
I believe we do all want the same things. Respect, love, and kindness. Therefore, I urge you to start speaking up and to stop shrugging it off. If not for yourself, then for your loved ones, your children, and for the generations to come. Why? In order to prevent having a post-#metoo-lethargic younger generation.
To read more about the situation of women in Bosnia, I would recommend reading this article from Tea Hadžiristić.