From the White Tower in Gradačac city cry for the femicide victim

Zilka Spahić Šiljak

From the White Tower in Gradačac, the song about the lost love of Captain Husein was not heard today, with famous lyrics: “From Gradačac, the white tower of the Dragon of Bosnia, the falcons chirped mournfully…” but the cry for the murdered woman broke through.

On August 11, 2023, Nizama Hećimović was murdered by her husband, Nermin Sulejmanović, who killed her in front of their two-year-old daughter and broadcast it all live on Instagram, and then killed several more people and finally committed suicide.

A terrible image that reminds us that this is another in a series of crimes of femicide (crime of hatred against women) that reveal all the weaknesses of the system and culture in which we live and which we support with our silence. In the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina, femicide is still classified as domestic violence, so the punishments are very light.

The picture is like from a horror movie in which the main role is played by a psychopath. We still don’t know anything about the perpetrator and his state of health, but what we do know is that violent people often use illness, alcohol, and drugs as an excuse for violence.

Of course, mentally disturbed people can be violent and murderers, and of course they can be triggers and intensifiers of violence, but justifying violence by saying that someone becomes violent when he drinks or that he cannot control his aggression, has a short fuse, is inadmissible. This only supports the culture of violence and sends a message to bullies that they will not be adequately sanctioned because the punishments are too light and that they will be accepted in society again.

Although, according to the available information, the police had previously proposed measures to prohibit approach to the victim Nizama, the Municipal Court rejected the proposed measures, which is an indication that the state institution does not have the sensitivity, nor the responsibility, to protect the victims – mostly women and children – in cases of gender-based violence that often end in murder.  Officials in institutions should also bear both moral and legal responsibility.

How many women need to be killed in order to call such crimes by their proper name, femicide? How much longer will it take for us to change legal norms and procedures so that such crimes are punished more severely and protection measures are more effective?

Unfortunately, such changes do not come quickly, especially changes in the culture and way of understanding violence. It is worrying that we have normalized violence to such extent that we are not even able to articulate our emotions and our views on it. Immersed in our daily problems and the cyber world of “click existence” and instant images, we don’t notice that we are numb, that we silently accept and approve of violence, that we don’t move to do something and that we often think, so it’s not my place to interfere.

If every minute one woman is beaten in America and if every third woman in the world has experienced some form of violence and if in the Balkans we read daily in black chronicles about domestic violence and the murders of women and children, then there is no justification for silence. Women are not safe in their families in their homes, in the workplace and on the street. Most women suffer at the hands of their partner or a close family member. The myth that the family is a safe harbor for women and children has long since been demolished, because for many it is a prison where they suffer violence and are often killed.

What happened to the society we live in? Were men more respectful and less violent before? We can hear such assessments that there was no violence to this extent and that feminism and the Internet are to blame for everything. The fact is that violence has always existed but was not reported and categorized as such, and that thanks to the efforts of feminists, domestic violence was legally regulated at the end of the 20th century.

During one research, when I talked with women about family relationships, I remember that many of them said: “If I hadn’t kept silent, I would have been blue (with bruises) and maybe divorced, and maybe even killed.” So, the women defended themselves with silence and suffered what which must not be tolerated, because growing up in a family with violence only perpetuates the cycle of violence. Therefore, the culture of silence, denial and justification reigns in our societies.

A real man (not) beating a woman?

When violence and femicide occur, we should ask ourselves where we are making mistakes, what we are not doing properly and what we are supporting knowingly and unknowingly? It is obvious that we cultivate violence and toxic masculinity through socialization patterns, but also through popular culture in which the real man is macho, arrogant and solves problems with violence.

Research called “The Man Box” conducted in Great Britain, Mexico and America among young men aged 18 to 35 shows all kinds of social pressure men suffer to fit into the appropriate gender box.

Through seven key topics, this research shows what are the expectations of men in today’s Western, developed societies:

Self-sufficiency – through socialization, men receive messages that it is important to be self-sufficient, which means to be independent, to be able to do everything on their own, not to ask for help from others because this is understood as weakness. Message: “A man who talks a lot about his worries, fears and problems should not be respected. He should solve it himself and not complain and ask for help.”

Strength – a man is physically stronger than a woman and then he is expected to show that strength to fight for certain goals to defend himself or to defend the honor and reputation of someone close to him.

Message: “A man who does not fight back when others attack him is a weakling. Men should act strong even when they feel scared and nervous.”

Physical attractiveness – a man shows that he is successful by his dressing and behavior, and at the same time if he pays too much attention to it, then he is not masculine. Message:

“It’s hard for a man to be successful if he doesn’t look good. Women are not attracted to men who are too interested in clothes, hair and skin care.”

Rigid masculine gender norms – the division of housework implies that a man is engaged in the public sphere and a woman raises children and performs household chores.

The message: “It is not good for a boy to learn to cook, clean, sew and take care of children.” A man should bring money and take care of the family.”

Heterosexuality and homophobia – a man should be heterosexual and hate homosexuals to be a real man. Message: “A homosexual person is not a real man.” Heterosexual men can be friends with homosexuals.”

Heterosexuality and hypersexuality – not only should a real man be a heterosexual person, but he should also always be ready for sex. Message: “A real man can have as many sexual partners as he wants. A real man will never refuse sex.”

Aggression and control – the right man uses physical force to control a woman’s family and life. The message: “If necessary, a man will be violent to gain respect.” A man should have the last word in a relationship or marriage and should always know where his partner or wife is.”

When misogyny, militarization, nationalism, various forms of fascism and chauvinism that flood social networks are added to these seven expectations, and when masculinity shaped like this is accepted as the norm, then it should not be surprising that gender-based violence is constantly increasing.

The power relations between women and men are still very unequal, but the fact is that in the last 50 years, significant changes have taken place both in law and in policies. Gender-based violence is, thanks to the feminist movement, criminalized, it is no longer a private matter of the family, but an important social issue. Women are more economically independent and there are safe houses that provide psychosocial and material support to victims of violence. All these changes, however, are not enough if there are no changes in social and cultural expectations about desirable patterns of masculinity and femininity.

If the ideal of a real man is one who  drinks and fight using violence to silence a woman ŠŠŠ: Šamar  (a slap), Šaka (a fist), (Štos) (knock down), who is capable and knows how to make money but also to control his family and who does not publicly talk about his problems and feelings but  resolves them himself by taking out his frustrations and aggression on women and children, then we will continue to hear painful cries for femicide, not only from the White Tower in Gradačac city, but also from other towers and walls of silence, which condone and justify violence against women.