“The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”
This is the first article of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 2010. However, social attitudes towards people with disabilities in BiH have largely remained unchanged. It is often inhumane, cruel, and, above all, humiliating.
A New Chapter in Life
Our interlocutor, Adisa Kišić, works hard every day to show how people with disabilities can be active members of society, despite how some circumvent the laws and conventions on humane treatment of those with disabilities. At the age of nineteen – an age when you seem unstoppable and full of energy – she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“As far as my health was concerned, everything was great. I had no problems at all. I have to say that only those who have experienced this can understand how it really is. You have the impression that your world is falling apart, that everything is over, and that there is absolutely no hope for tomorrow. You only feel indescribable fear. It happened to me in my first year of study, and I felt pretty lost. But, somehow, I found the strength to continue. I didn’t give up, and I graduated,” says Adisa.
Abyss in a Dysfunctional System
After her diagnosis, Adisa immediately faced systematic discrimination. There is no coordinated approach in the entity government to implement the UN Convention enumerated above due to conflicting social policies in BiH. The principles of the convention include respect for dignity, non-discrimination, inclusion, equal opportunity, accessibility, equality of men and women, respect for children with disabilities, and acceptance of persons with disabilities into society. But these principles are not applicable in practice.
“I was quickly introduced to a new world, realizing how much discrimination against “the other” is present in our society. The prevailing prejudices are, of course, primarily systemic problems. All of this made me feel an indescribable fear towards everything I was facing,” says Adisa.
Despite the diagnosis, which was difficult to deal with initially, Adisa got her degree in Bosnian language and literature. After taking odd jobs like selling cakes or making decorative items, and many unsuccessful attempts to find a job in her profession, she finally found work as a Public Relations Officer at the Information Center for Persons with Disabilities “Lotos” Tuzla.
“It is completely normal that people with disabilities or other similar problems do not participate in social activities precisely because of their fear of the unknown. That was the case with me. After that kind of ‘isolation,’ I set off in search of a job. Trying to find work in my field was nearly impossible, given the already high unemployment rate in our country, in addition to being a person with a disability. I have heard various similar stories. Even the “healthiest” don’t have a chance to find a job, so what hope do I have? I wanted to run away from everything, but that is impossible, of course,” says Adisa.
No support or very little support from society
The opportunity to meet people in a similar situation to Adisa has helped her a lot. When she arrived at the “Lotos” Center, Adisa says she saw the world in a better light, which she certainly appreciates. However, she also learned how nonsensical the Law on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities is. One such illogicality is that only one person with a disability is hired per 16 public sector employees which is still incredibly low, and even that is not applied in practice.
“People with disabilities often only get the opportunity to work at associations or organizations for people with disabilities. I saw the system hinder many capable and hard-working young people with disabilities from reaching their fullest potential. I think that it would be very helpful to repeal that article of the Law to create more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, instead of discriminating against them in that way,” Adisa says.
Women – the targets of violence
At the beginning of the pandemic, Adisa was the Peer Support group leader for women with disabilities from the Tuzla Canton. The lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 crisis did not change life so drastically for people with disabilities. In Bosnian society, people with disabilities, particularly women, felt “locked down” before the pandemic even began. They are often reliant on others to complete daily tasks outside the house and can’t leave home freely. Discrimination and violence against women are also unfortunately common.
“First of all, it is simply not easy to be a woman here, let alone have a disability. We always carry a heavy burden. We do not have much support and accessing nearly everything is difficult. In most cases, we are dependent on our families. Unfortunately, family members and spouses are also the most frequent perpetrators of violence against people with disabilities, especially women. A woman with a disability is often financially dependent, and she usually can’t even leave the house alone. Often, she is made to stay at home and take care of the family. I have also noticed that women with disabilities are often seen as unsuitable for creating their own families and having a typical married life because they are considered to be incompetent wives or mothers,” says Adisa.
Adisa also believes that society has an obligation towards people with disabilities; the state must respect legislation that has been passed to protect their rights. But these laws are not respected. If all the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were implemented, we would not be in the situation we are today.
“We never know what may happen tomorrow. We should not despair, and we must not give up. It was only after many years, twenty-one to be precise, that I realized what a burden it was,” concludes Adisa.
Disability issues are basic human rights issues. Unfortunately, human rights today do not guarantee dignity, fulfillment, and, above all, a sense of belonging – something that was once their purpose.
Instead, human rights have become a luxury that not all can afford.