Dr. Zilka Spahić-Šiljak

Dr. Zilka Spahić-Šiljak, Associate Professor, is the third lecturer in the 2019 RIKK – Institute for Gender, Equality and Difference & UNU-GEST – United Nations University Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme – lecture series during spring term 2019. Her lecture is titled: “Victim or Survivor? Choosing Identity and Being Acknowledged after Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia”, and will take place on Thursday, 7th of February, from 12:00 to 13:00.


After terrible crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, including mass killings and the rape of women and men, many survivors and victims still live in the shadow of a stigma and silence imposed by ethno-nationalist agendas as well as cultural and religious norms, in order to protect their family’s and nation’s pride and honor. The production and re-production of cultural and political narratives deepen trauma and suffering through the politicization and ethnicization of victimhood. In this paper she looks into: 1) body politics and the ethnicization of women’s bodies; 2) how the feminist debate and the language about victimhood, survivorship and agency empower or disempower women in dealing with their identities; 3) how to go beyond the victim/survivor binary imposed by international donor politics, scholarship, and women’s organizations and how to enable new vocabulary for self-identification.


Zilka Spahić Šiljak holds PhD in gender studies and her scope of work includes addressing cutting edge issues involving human rights, politics, religion, education and peace-building with more than fifteen years’ experience in academic teaching, and work in governmental and non-governmental sectors. She teaches at Cultural Studies at the University of Zenica and at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Sarajevo. Zilka is also a research associate at Stanford University for the last four years. As post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University she published the book: Shining Humanity – Life Stories of Women Peacebuilders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK, 2014. She also published: Contesting Female, Feminist and Muslim Identities. Post-Socialist Contexts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, 2012; Women Religion and Politics, 2010. Her new book on gender, culture and leadership will be released soon. She also runs Transcultural Psychosocial Educational Foundation in Sarajevo which includes also projects on trauma, memory and healing.


The lecture is in English, open to everyone and admission is free and can be found on Facebook.


The RIKK lecture series during the spring term 2019 will explore the connections between gender, health and trauma. Research into effects of childhood experiences has, in recent years, given rise to a renewed belief that the traumatic events during childhood, such as abuse and neglect, largely impact adult health and well-being. Current research underscores the role gender plays in both exposure, and response, to traumatic events, making the issues of recovery and treatment very complex. The series will examine trauma and addiction from a rights based perspective as well, taking into focus health systems and their reform, in order to engage in a discussion about responsiveness, accountability, and mechanisms for public involvement in the shaping of health policy and institutional mechanisms. In this lecture series, lecturers coming from different disciplines will interrogate these connections from various standpoints.


The lecture series is held in collaboration with The National Museum of Iceland.


A videorecording of Zilka’s lecture: