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A THEATRICAL PLAY BY YOUNG ACTIVISTS: From Yellow Boots footsteps to the support for those who have survived sexual violence during the war

9 January 2019

It is show time. The lights in the theater are going out, and at the same time, the audience's clutter is quieting down. A few minutes later, the silence is being interrupted by the narrator's voice. He announces "Yellow Boots", a theatrical piece that addresses stigmatization of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. He calls upon the audience to participate in the discussion after the last scene is played. Because, this is a topic that is not just about the survivors. Yes, it concerns all of us - the majority who quietly support them and the minorities who insult them.

The "Yellow Boots" play was created with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the British Embassy in Sarajevo.

- Conflict-related sexual violence trauma occurred more than two decades ago, but people and their families in Bosnia and Herzegovina are still suffering. The world is also struggling with the same problem. There is no universal cure to fight this trauma. We have just recently started to implement a new method in Bosnia and Herzegovina, concentrating on reducing the stigma. Stigma caused by your surroundings causes auto stigma and prolongs trauma. This is a sign that we must continue to work to overcome this trauma and help people, said Doina Bologa, the UNFPA Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Matthew Field, British ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that there has been made great progress in the process of resolving this issue, but that there is still a lot to be changed.
-In that sense, I support the voice of young people, representatives of religious communities and activists, such as those gathered around the play „Yellow Boots“, who are working hard to alleviate the stigmatization of survivors of sexual violence during the war, Field said.

The director of the play is Anes Osmić. The actors are from Sarajevo, East Sarajevo, Bijeljina and Gacko. Many of them were not even born during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, they are aware that the last bullet shot in this area did not end all problems. Some of them just got started then. Among them is the stigmatization of those who survived sexual violence during the war. Character by character, story by story, the "Yellow Boots" play fits the pieces of the puzzle into the picture of BH society. That picture is not a pretty sight at all. It was created on the basis of real and disturbing testimonies from all three ethnic groups and both sexes. They were exposed to stigmatization within their families, neighborhoods, with doctors, in social protection centers ... Wherever they expected protection and support.

„...They judged me. They judge me even today. I judge myself. They would judge me: You could have left to avoid that from happening... When they were judging me, I shut down. I was ashamed to go out. I hated myself. I hated my body... That's why I left that village... Everybody in the village knew. All of my family knew and then - mouth to mouth, the whole village finds out. When I would walk by, they laughed, they spat on me..." are the words of one of the women who survived sexual violence in the war.
„You are an embarrassment to the whole family, get out of my sight.“
"Why do you immediately have to complain about waiting for so long? What do you think doctors read and sit around all day, drinking coffee and doing nothing? I have other patients. What is this on your healthcare card? What is this mark here? And how are you a war victim? I see you have legs, arms, what are you missing? Yeah. Is that so? If you weren’t spreading your legs, it would not have happened to you.
A symbolic story about the search for yellow boots, depicting the struggle against stigmatization, is spread throughout these testimonies.

-While working on the play, we came to the conclusion that its tone should be encouraging for all the survivors, because we do not want to leave them in the position of a victim and a place of helplessness. We wanted to show that it is possible to "pull yourself together" and move on, overcome things, be constructive, and, despite the pain, to love yourself and your life as it is, with all the wounds and sufferings. Therefore, "Yellow Boots" celebrates every individual who manages to face all their problems, fit in those boots that are stuttering and painful, and move on even without the support of their surroundings and their loved ones.

Survivors have rarely heard voices of support throughout the past 25 years, and we believe that it is because of that that is difficult for them to find their way of healing and peace. Hence the symbolism of the Yellow Boots - accepting what happened, confrontation, the perception that it is not the fault or responsibility of the raped, and calling for society for empathy, solidarity and a sense of acceptance for the survivors. That is why it is important for us to engage the audience in the discussion. To stop transferring responsibility to one another, and for the "ordinary" man to realize that he is very often, perhaps unconsciously, the source of the stigma and various micro aggressions that prevent survivors from moving forward, to put themselves in their "boots" and find their the path of healing, said Osmic, the director of the play.

After the premiere in Sarajevo and East Sarajevo, "Yellow Boots" was played in Vogošća and Ilijaš, and at the beginning of 2019, it continues its journey through Bosnia and Herzegovina.