Marijeta Mojasevic's journey from stroke survivor to disability rights activist 

Collage by Giovana Fleck using disability rights poster at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, used with permission, and a photo of Marijeta Mojasevic, courtesy Mojasevic.

This article, written by Clarisse Sih and Bibbi Abruzzini, was part of the #MarchWithUs campaign — one full month of stories from gender justice activists worldwide. 

Waking up scared for life because of a neurological problem is a situation nobody ever wishes to find themselves in. Marijeta Mojasevic certainly never thought she could suffer a stroke, and even if, definitely not at 17 years old.  

Mojasevic was born in Berane, Montenegro, in 1988. She was in high school when she suffered her first stroke.  

“You go on an excursion, and you wake up in a shock room. At that moment, I told myself that I didn't want to be there. I remember the young man who was in that shock room. We were both a mess. Later, unfortunately, he died,” Marijeta recalls. 

‘Everything is different; I am different’ 

Half a year later, she suffered another stroke. After the first stroke, which she experienced at the age of 15, the blood vessels of the brain were damaged, and during the next stroke, they were permanently unable to transport oxygen. 

She had to quit school for a year and a half, continuing schooling from a different starting ground: seeing double, taking strong medicines and having hemiparesis, a weakness of one entire side of the body. But these were just part of her problems.  

“My neurological frame was ruined, and it will never be fixed again. Chronic pain became my constant friend, my inevitable devil. I had to accept the fact that I will never walk properly again, use my right hand the same way or see normally.” 

Mojasevic recently published excerpts from her personal journal from before and after the stroke. 

Monday, September 2, 2002 

Dear Diary, 

Today is the start of the school year and all other things become irrelevant from today. Only school is important. I was a little hesitant to write to you because I know what a whiner my brother was. The first time I tore a few pages out of fear, but now I won't. Diana fell in love with Aleksander, and according to her story, so did Mia. And he is a bit cute. I have to tell you, Martin is so sweet to me. I need to find out if he's still in love with me. Angel has a terrible haircut, and rumor has it that my mentor is joining the army. What will I do without him!!! 

I love you! Your Maki 

Friday, April 11, 2003 

Dear Diary, 

First of all, I apologize for not answering. Second, I'm so dead. Tomorrow is the physics competition, and I'm so nervous. I have done a lot of tasks, and I feel that I know (so that's something), but this stage fright will bury me. I don't think I'll sleep tonight! 

Your physicist 

Monday, July 28, 2003 

Dear Diary, 

I had a crying fit last night. Something broke inside me, and I don't know, I was really sick. I'm so…. so depressed. Everything is different. I am different … and everyone around me. And all that bothers me a lot. Their relationship. And school, I'm very afraid, but I hope it will be fine. Well, I'm telling you, everything is somehow…different. 

Your M 

Thursday, September 18, 2003 

Dear Diary, 

Today is my birthday. I'm not celebrating [it], because it's not the time for that. It's not time for anything. That's right for you. I am so bad. I try to be the same as before, but it doesn't work. School is terrible. Everything is different and stupid. Society, professors, whatever. I feel stupid and lonely. But that was a long time ago. I can't describe to you what annoys me, but the list is long. This is not me anymore. It's someone else. And I miss the old me! Here, I'm crying. Pathetic and ridiculous, isn't it? I think God should have taken me. I'm not for this. I am not. 

She signed the last journal entry as NOBODY. Her transformation was very rapid and inevitable. Still, almost invisible. 

“I lost most of my friends because of the stigma and prejudice surrounding disability. I acquired new ones, the treasure of my life. As a youth counselor, I try to explain to young people why they should not be afraid of diversity, and disability is one of them,” says Marijeta. 

Life with disability

In Montenegro, which, like many countries in the Balkans and beyond, has only in recent years developed a support system for people with disabilities, Mojasevic is now a mother, a social worker, a youth counsellor, and disability rights activist. She was named on the BBC’s list of 100 most influential people — among the only ones from the Balkans this year. Most of her focus is on young people who are generally very interested in her  “Life with Disability” workshops:  

“Last year, I was working with a group of young people from the ninth grade. I remember that day because they wanted me to stay longer and to have more information. It was really powerful. I want to change their viewpoint, and I want them to accept people with disabilities as members of their same society, as their friends, as their colleagues.” 

Mojasevic is also an ambassador for OneNeurology, an initiative that seeks to make neurological conditions a global public health priority. There are more than 400 neurological disorders. 92 percent of those living with neurological disorders report feeling affected by stigma on account of the disorder they have. 

The gender dimension of health 

But this stigma also has a gender component. If gender equality saves lives, then the opposite is also true: gender inequality costs lives. This is especially true in healthcare, where gender bias is both endemic and potentially deadly. 

“Gender relations of power constitute the root causes of gender inequality and are among the most influential of the social determinants of health. They determine whether people’s health needs are acknowledged, whether they have [a] voice or a modicum of control over their lives and health, whether they can realize their rights,” according to the report Unequal, Unfair, Ineffective and Inefficient — Gender Inequity in Health: Why it exists and how we can change it by the Women and Gender Equity Knowledge Network of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health. 

The report highlights the detrimental impact of gender inequality on the physical and mental health of millions of individuals worldwide, affecting both girls and women, as well as boys and men. Researchers suggest several approaches to make a difference, including reforming laws and policies to uphold women's rights, challenging harmful gender stereotypes and norms and addressing gender-specific health risks and vulnerabilities.  

But this is not all, there needs to be improved awareness and access to healthcare for women, rectifying gender imbalances in health research and promoting gender equality within organizations while supporting women's advocacy groups for accountability. 

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