This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating Islamic Relief’s exceptional women. We are proud of their achievements, as individuals and as colleagues.  Here we hear from Mersiha Karic, a social worker who has worked with Islamic Relief in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 20 years.

The theme of this International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge, is an important one for me, since I have always faced an environment of prejudice, stemming from tradional patriachal norms. The first time I challenged the status quo was when I started working for Islamic Relief – something that was unusual for women in Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 years ago.

My job as a social worker is all about commitment and responsibility. I work with vulnerable communities and women who need positive role-models in their life. My efforts have a direct impact on the people I work with: the mothers, the children, the boys and the men. I spend time educating them and finding creative ways to talk to them about topics like gender-based violence, education, justice and life skills.

Challenging traditional roles for women

In my country, the position of women in today’s society is challenging and stressful. Women’s roles are still very traditional and we haven’t adapted to more modern attitudes. When it comes to women in business and politics, we are only there symbolically. When it comes to regular jobs, women fill the positions traditionally assigned to them – such as nursing, art and education. Business segregation and the division of labour into men’s and women’s affairs is very much present in our society. Every day we meet women hairdressers, teachers, but rarely do we meet female miners or computer programmers.

The advice I would give to young women is to be aware of their value, but to also seize the opportunities that come their way, and most importantly to believe in themselves and to have self-confidence. I once read a quote somewhere that resonated with me: “Self-confidence means believing in yourself, but we cannot trust a person who will only do what is easy and what does not hurt.”

I admire every woman who stepped out of her comfort zone, the ones that challenge by saying ‘yes’ when they are expected to say ‘no’ and vice versa. I admire the women who do the impossible, although others doubt them. Those are the women, and the lessons they teach, that I admire the most.

The fight for women’s rights

Women’s rights laws look great on paper, but there is more needed in the fight for women’s rights. One of the biggest problems is that we neglect raising awareness in smaller towns and villages, though they deserve to be part of this conversation.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught us primarily by his own example, so I believe it is necessary for men to set an example by promoting gender equality. I believe that no one should be left behind, and if we all come together and speak so loudly that even the people in the back can hear, we can win equality for women, wherever they live.