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Raising breast cancer awareness in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nela Hasic, who grew up in Sarajevo’s Jewish community, is the founder of the Think Pink Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It supports women with breast cancer through every stage, from mammogram tests, to treatment, through post-surgery psychological support, and with awareness campaigns.

In developing or conservative countries, women’s medical health is often a taboo topic in the public sphere. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which has a mixed Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic population, access to information and services for breast cancer is often limited. Especially in rural areas, women often do not know which preventive services are available to them. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NOA project spoke with Hasic, one of the people working to change that.

Think Pink has built a network of local NGOs across the country, and across religious and ethnic groups, to implement their work, especially in rural areas. “It is very important to treat everyone equally, that is the key. When you treat everyone equally, everyone feels welcome to collaborate with you,” Hasic explains.

It’s not an easy task in BiH, which is still suffering politically from the after-effects of the Bosnia war of the 1990s that divided the country under ethnic lines. During the war, Hasic was evacuated with her family to Israel, where they lived for 10 years. When she returned to live in her native Sarajevo, she began working with the JDC on a women’s health program, and later founded Think Pink in 2017. She explains that the fact that she is Jewish – and not one of the constitutional minorities in Bosnia – enabled her to work more easily with all of Bosnia’s ethnic groups:

“I was thinking: This breast cancer initiative could bring us together. I really saw that women’s health issues can help with reconciliation. When you are sitting people at the table with an agenda that is common to everyone, and putting aside what is dividing people. We are like an honest broker between different groups. They know we were a program supported by JDC, but there is no problem with that; they feel our good intention.”

Think Pink’s public profile has earned them public trust – and enabled them to access all communities. This year, they ran a 45-day campaign on breast cancer awareness, inviting media, radio, and working with local influencers to talk about it on social media. In the last 12 months, they have provided 2,500 free check-ups. For the women who were diagnosed with breast cancer, those check-ups were a life-saver.

“What mattered was ‘tikkum olam,’ that is what was always in my mind. To make this world a better place,” Hasic says.