Bosnia: Melina Halilovic is First Romani Woman in Municipal Council in Visoko
Melina Halilovic is President of the Association of Youth Roma Initiative “Be My Friend,” and is also the first female Roma member of the Municipal Council in Visoko. She was elected to the Municipal Council on 2 October 2016.
Halilovic is a Romani woman who has encountered discrimination throughout her life, and has chosen to fight for her rights as well as the rights of others. Human Rights Watch's 2016 World Report reports that political discrimination against minorities like the Roma is still prevalent in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The constitution there only allows candidates for the national tripartite presidency or the national legislature, the House of Peoples, to be Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs, excluding members of all other ethnic groups from positions in high-level government. Within Bosnia, the Roma are the largest minority group and face daily discrimination.
Balkan Insight reports of Bosnia that “Various stereotypes revolve around Roma people, mostly surrounding begging, being unhygienic and petty crime.” In the past, Halilovic faced discrimination due to her heritage, mainly when attending primary school.
Now she is breaking down these stereotypes and often has to convince people of her Roma heritage due to her dyed blonde hair. In addition to the general discrimination against the Roma within Bosnia, Roma women face even more difficulties than their male counterparts there.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) states that Romani women in Bosnia “have to deal with extreme poverty, domestic violence, early marriages, forced begging and poor access to education.” Thus, Halilovic, in addition to being a leader in her community, continues to search for opportunities to help Roma women fight for themselves.
Halilovic is an orphan who had lost both of her parents by the young age of 15. She began working at that age in order to support herself and her younger sister. In addition to joining the Association of Youth Roma Initiative, Halilovic joined “Success,” a Roma women’s network.
Through this network, Halilovic learned the skills and education she needed for her future career in politics. She continues to advocate for Roma rights and to stress the importance of education in building a successful future.
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