How medica mondiale came to life

In autumn 1992 – in the middle of the war in Bosnia – Monika Hauser reads about the countless number of raped women. She reads that Serbian soldiers turn hotels and factories into brothels where women are held captive for days or months. Her shock after reading this is matched only by her outrage at the manner in which the media report about the women: tantamount to abusing them a second time. As a gynaecologist, she decides to take the matter into her own hands. In winter, she travels to the war zone and starts to establish a women’s centre in Zenica, a town in central Bosnia.

Bosnia, Monika Hauser 1993. Copyright: Cornelia Gürtler
Bosnia, Monika Hauser 1993.

Monika Hauser meets with indifference when she goes to international aid organisations and presents her idea to take care exclusively of girls and women raped in the war. So she joins forces with about 20 female Bosnian psychologists and doctors. Together, they develop concepts to help war-traumatised women and their children even while the war is still going on. In Germany, Monika Hauser starts looking for donors – with good results. At the end of 1993, she is elected “Woman of the Year” by ARD-Tagesthemen, a news programme from one of the main German public TV stations. This generates donations amounting to about DM 750,000.

Monika Hauser and some bosnian colleagues in Zenica 1993. Copyright: medica mondiale
Monika Hauser and some bosnian colleagues in Zenica 1993.

On 4 April 1993, Medica Zenica takes up its work with the inauguration of a project house which has rooms for a gynaecologist’s practice and an operating theatre, as well as psychological counselling and accommodation. In the early days, teams of psychologists and doctors go to neighbouring villages and refugee camps to inform Bosnian women about the support offered. However, at this stage it is impossible to openly mention rapes and torture to them. Therefore, the Medica team develops new methods to record a patient’s history, to enquire about diseases and symptoms in order to get in touch with women having experienced sexualised violence. The women’s centre in Zenica grows rapidly; a second house is soon opened, then, in August, a third in Visoko. In the first year, about 4,000 Bosnian women receive general medical, gynaecological and psychological care. And many more in the years that follow – often under extremely difficult conditions, such as the military blockade cutting almost all parts of Zenica off from the outside world in the mid-nineties.

In 1994, Monika Hauser sets up an office in Cologne together with five staff members. Soon after that, an argument about the name ensues with the Duesseldorf-based “Medica” trade fair. For this reason, the organisation has been called medica mondiale since 1995.

In the years that follow, the small team continues to support the Bosnian women’s centre by providing funding and expert advice. With time, it becomes obvious that the women in Cologne want to support women’s projects in other countries with wars and conflicts, too.