Nela, who has been an activist since the 1980s, co-founded the Centre for Women War Victims (ROSA) in 1992 during the Bosnian war, when rape was used as a weapon to terrorize communities and intimidate women. Now, more than 20 years later, women survivors of rape are still healing from the trauma and stigma of their experience. ROSA provides a safe space to share stories and meet other survivors, as well as legal services and psychological and medical counseling sessions led by other survivors of gender-based violence.
“These women have been living in silence, at the margins of our society, surrounded by their painful memories,” says Nela, who says that some women admit to being rape survivors for the first time during meetings led by ROSA. “They did not speak at all, or spoke very rarely about their hard experiences. It is so important that we have an open space where they can share, and they can speak, and feel empowered.”
ROSA also works on policy changes, including advocating for national and international legislation that protects women. In fact, earlier this year the Croatian parliament passed the first law in the country recognizing rape as a war crime, which will compensate war rape survivors with a monthly stipend and access to free counseling, legal assistance, and medical aid. ROSA has been a strong supporter of the law since 2009, and was also part of the group created to draft the legislation.
Nela says that although the struggle for justice, equality, and peace can be disheartening, she deeply believes she must continue the work she’s doing as an activist and a supporter of women’s human rights movements. She believes collective action—working together with other activists and supporters of women’s movements—is the most effective way to create positive social change, and says ROSA’s accomplishments are a result of many people working together. “Our basic human rights are fragile, and we can lose them every day if we don’t fight,” says Nela. “If we fight, we have some satisfaction that we have done some good, for the benefit of women and the rest of the population. And for us, as well—we fight for our own lives.”
Our basic human rights are fragile, and we can lose them every day if we don’t fight.Nela Pamukovic