On March 8, International Women's Day, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and the Bulgarian Association of University Women (BAUW) conducted the "Monumental Women" campaign, which aimed to celebrate the achievements of great women in Bulgarian history. Throughout March, the BHC and the BAUW, with the support of the Bulgarian Wikipedia , Goethe-Institut Bulgaria , Polish Institute in Sofia , Fine Acts and Tribal Worldwide Bulgaria organized lectures and discussions, film screenings, a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, as well as an artistic action in an urban environment. We have turned March into women's month in order to honour the achievements of women who fought for the promotion of civil and political rights of women in Bulgaria, as well as those who paved the way for other women in education, law, architecture, arts, science, etc. Despite the great contribution that these women have made to the progress of Bulgarian society, science, and culture, for the most part, it has been erased from the pages of history. This is also reflected in the urban space. In Sofia, there is not a single monument dedicated to a real historical woman, according to official data of the Municipal Cultural Institute "Sofia History Museum." In addition, according to the same data, less than 6% of all memorial sites (most of which are memorial plaques) in the city are dedicated to specific female historical figures. With this campaign, we urged Sofia Municipality to develop a clear concept for erecting monuments dedicated to women in our history, and we insisted that the first monument in Sofia, dedicated to a female historical figure, should be erected in 2018. There should be a place for the great women of our history online, in textbooks, in the urban environment, and everywhere where they will inspire a new generation of women in science, politics, architecture, art, and every other field. Let us celebrate the achievements of the Bulgarian monumental women every March. Monuments of Women in Sofia The "Monumental Women" project started with a very short letter addressed to Sofia Municipality. In it, we asked how many monuments and memorial sites exist in the city, as well as how many of them are dedicated to female historical figures. After almost three months we received a detailed answer from the Municipal Cultural Institute of Sofia Municipality. In it, they informed us that the total number of memorials (or memorial sites) in the municipality is between 600 and 700. Apart from them, there are 140 military monuments and 20 soldiers' monuments dedicated to foreign troops. The Cultural Institute notes that they are not aware of works of art dedicated to specific female historical figures. They also enclose a list of memorial plaques dedicated to women. There are a total of 38 and in most cases, they mark the homes of famous writers and poets, artists, actresses, and public figures. Some of them are Gena Dimitrova, Dora Gabe, Ekaterina Karavelova, Elisaveta Bagryana, Prof. Katya Zahireva, Mimi Balkanska, Yana Yazova, and others. Most people will be surprised to learn that there are no monuments dedicated to specific women in our history in Sofia. This is probably because there are female images in the urban space, but they are always anonymous - the woman as a mother or as a worker who is always deprived of a name, of her own history and contribution. The lack of women in history textbooks and in the urban space creates the false impression that women have not contributed to the development of Bulgarian society. If we address this imbalance together, we can inspire a whole new generation of women in science, architecture, art, literature, as well as in any other area of public life.
The concept of “women’s rights” covers all the existing inequalities between men and women that need to be overcome.
Women and girls continue to be frequently subjected to abuse and torment, to be discriminated against, and to face serious obstacles in various spheres such as the labor market, fair pay, education, healthcare, politics, and access to leadership positions. They are targets of stereotypical notions of a woman’s place in society as being first and foremost that of a mother and a housewife who cannot do “men’s work”.
For the most part, the mechanisms and dynamics of the patriarchy continue to affect women’s lives. From objectification, to exclusion from political participation, to the way successful women are ridiculed and discredited, to domestic and gender-based violence—all the toxic manifestations of his inequal system can be seen and documented to this day.
Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed an international wave of conservative backlash against women’s gender and reproductive rights. In the U.S. and in several European countries, this has led to a step backward and a loss of the freedoms that women have previously fought so hard to achieve. BHC has made this topic central to its efforts through campaigns and publications reflecting the most up-to-date international standards in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, as well as recommendations on how to reform Bulgarian legislation and legal practice.
In 2017 and 2018, BHC conducted two investigations into the judicial practice for murders of women in Bulgaria. The data is summarized in the special site Spasena.org. In 2015, BHC also conducted its first investigation focused on the unique problems faced by women deprived of liberty in Bulgaria.
BHC has also been a long-time co-organizer of the international initiative “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”. The event features men walking in high heels in order to draw society’s attention to sexual abuse and other types of violence against women in Bulgaria.
In March of 2017, BHC organized the campaign “Monumental Women”, which aimed to popularize the contributions of women from Bulgarian history as well as the role of women in society in general. The campaign included an installation for which colorful busts of women were placed in seven locations in the capital’s center in order to draw the community’s attention to the fact that in Sofia there is not a single monument of a historical female figure.
BHC’s Legal Aid Program provides legal aid to women who are victims of systemic gender discrimination in the realm of criminal and penitentiary law and in their personal and family lives.
The Committee is one of the few organizations that monitor the state of pregnant and childbearing women in Bulgaria and advocate for better implementation of these rights in the childcare system.
In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) made an important judgement/decision in the case of Y v. Bulgaria, concerning the ineffective protection from abuse by a former partner of a murdered woman—a mother and daughter to the complainants in the case. The legal aid in the case was provided by BHC’s Legal Aid Program.