International Office supports the next generation of women leaders from Nasa Stranka, Bosnia’s ‘Women’s Party’

International officeSarajevo is not a city I ever expected to see, and Bosnia is not a country that I ever expected to be at the sharp end of encouraging women into political life. Yet here I was, travelling to Sarajevo with the International Office to encourage and train young women in the basics of being a councillor and a candidate!

Nick Thorne, Research Officer in the International Office, travelled with me and we were later joined by Sara Bashford, a Conservative Councillor, and Anna Birley, a Labour Councillor, who were to work with us on cross-party sessions later in the weekend.

As we drove from the airport, our taxi driver told us some of the history of the places we were passing. Evidence of the recent war is still clear, but there are also signs of new growth and new thinking in the rebuilding communities we passed.

Learning about other European women and politics is one of the reasons I love working with the International Office on their project as it gives me a greater insight into how things are for women in the rest of the world.

After meeting with the candidates from Nasa Stranka, our Bosnian sister party, and getting to know them, my Labour colleague and I spoke on a panel at a seminar hosted in Sarajevo’s university, together with three female Bosnian politicians. Our goal was to convince those talented young women who attended and those young men who supported them, to get started on the political road.

After sharing our stories about our experiences as female politicians, there was a lively Q&A where the audience asked quizzed us on a number of issues, from our views on female quotas to the challenges of balancing a political career with family life. We had expected the audience to consist of just twenty or so students but instead we faced an auditorium with nearly 100 young Bosnians in attendance, the vast majority of whom were women looking to get more involved in politics. The seminar provoked a lively debate, and was even covered in the most popular newspaper in Sarajevo!

The following day we got down to the serious business of taking our 18 female candidates from 3 Bosnian parties through the role of a councillor, the necessary qualities to succeed, speaking for a local community and how to build a profile.

Perhaps the highlight of my trip was the session I spent working exclusively with our liberal colleagues from Nasa Stranka, a party leading the charge for female representation in the Balkan region. Founded in 2008, Nasa Stranka already has 50% women on its party lists, ahead of the 40% government quota, earning the party its nickname as the ‘women’s party’.

Our group of candidates were an impressive group of terrific young women. They were bright, intelligent and enthusiastic to learn. It was a privilege to share some tips on classic local Lib Dem campaign building, visibility in the community and how to design a powerful local campaign. Once we had covered the essentials, each candidate was encouraged to write speech on their chosen campaign and deliver it to the group. Modelled on my favourite programme ‘Just a Minute’, we heard some fantastic speeches!

By the end of the day, I was convinced that I had just met Bosnia’s future leaders!

Our trip home came all too soon – I look forward to meeting our young candidates again, and hope to see them elected to give women a real voice in communities where they are not represented.

* Flo Clucas OBE is the President of the ALDE Gender Equality Network and former President of the ALDE Group on the EU Committee of the Regions. She was a councillor in Liverpool City Council for 26 years.

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