Why are the names of streets in Bosnia and Herzegovina to such an extent subject to male dominance?

Women are a rare and almost accidental phenomenon in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian culture of remembrance and practice of honouring outstanding personalities of the past. History has never been made only by men, but in this region, men have brutally misappropriated and dominated it for centuries.  

A piece of evidence supporting this claim is also the manner in which streets are named in Bosnia and Herzegovina or in its cities and rural areas. The capital of the country can be a bad example. Sarajevo is a relatively long city and one can walk from one end of it to the other by going from one male street to another. A street named after some more or less deserving man. However, one will find no streets named after women.

A valuable publication entitled 100 Women, 100 Streets Named after Women, a lexicon dedicated to, according to a subtitle, ”women that broke new ground in their communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, states, among other things, that, out of 1081 Sarajevan streets, only 16 of them are named after a woman from our past that many consider to be famous. In percentages, it is a shameful 1.48%. Mostar is an even worse example. Out of 197 streets, only one is named after a woman. In terms of percentages, it constitutes 0.50%. In comparison to these two dark examples, Banja Luka with its 43 female streets out of a total of 650 streets might be a role model, but it is clear that these 6.61% are not a piece of information that anyone should be bragging about.

So, what is the problem? It is the fact that women are here. They are present and actively involved in the life and all its manifestations, but the creators of history and successor of the culture of remembrance do not see them. The inhabitants of Sarajevo named their streets after worthy persons related to war, politics, economy, literature, painting, sports, music, architecture, civic activism, etc. However, when they remember painters, then they remember male painters, not female ones. A worthy athlete is a male athlete by definition, it is rarely or never a female athlete.

The large majority of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have never had a female mayor. And even if they did, such as Sarajevo that had Semiha Borovac, everyone made comments about the mayor’s hair, clothes or shoes during different political events. It was a unique case in our public life that a public office holder was scrutinised for her styling. Once Ms. Borovac’s term of office ended, and a new series of male public office holders replaced her, they were criticised for all kinds of things, but nobody ever spoke about their hair, suits or shoes. Men and women are not even equal when it comes to prejudices.

If we analyse the gender structure, we will see that our parliaments look like military barracks, full of militant, testosterone-fueled rhetoric in which women are a neglectable minority. How many municipalities does Bosnia and Herzegovina have, and how many female municipal mayors? This analysis can be continued, from a street to a position, from a city to a village, from politics, to entertainment business, culture and sport – prominent positions are a privilege and a prize for men. Women are mostly an excess.

However, it does not have to be like that and it may not be like that. If streets are one of the tools of the culture of remembrance, than the very least that can be done in order for remembrance to stay within the domain of culture is to ensure gender equality and gender mainstreaming. Men here need an accelerated course on gender equality that would raise their awareness of the clichés of the contemporary society. One of these is that women really exist, truly work and contribute to the development of the community in which they work. At the beginning of 2022, the initiative to name a square in Stari Grad municipality after Aida Buturović, a wonderful and fearless librarian who died while trying to save books from the burning City Hall, was not adopted. This shows how far away we are from a true culture of remembrance. In Mostar, the situation is similar. Five streets named after Ustashas were renamed after more appropriate persons, but no woman was good enough for this honour in the opinion of decision makers from Mostar. Better to have 0.50 in terms of statistical data than to have a woman’s name on a street sign.

We embrace change slowly and reluctantly. One of the most tragic and least successful European countries is mostly led by men. We feel this on our own skin on a daily basis, too. But once some years or a decade have passed, they are guaranteed to have a street named after them, and this is actually what our glorious males have fought for.

Ozren Kebo was born in Mostar in 1959. He holds a degree from the Faculty of Political Sciences ”Veljko Vlahović”. He lives in Sarajevo and works as the editor of the portal Analiziraj.ba.