Naeem — Roma Women Organize to Fight Triple Bias

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Roma Women Organize to Fight Triple Bias
Run Date: 07/03/03
By Mindy Kay Bricker
WeNews correspondent
Roma women are banding together to fight the triple bias that increases their
rates of poverty and shortens their life span by as much as 17 years. The new
organization of Roma women is the first to involve representatives from
across Europe.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (WOMENSENEWS)–Soraya Post does not want to
be assimilated into her community in Goteborg, Sweden. She just wants to be
accepted by it.
“We are very strong and proud of our culture,” Post said of Europe’s estimated
7 million to 9 million Roma, Sinti and Gypsies, the largest and fastest growing
minority group on the continent. “And we are proud as women. We are going
to work with one voice.”
Post, 46, was named in March president of the International Roma Women’s
Network, based in Goteborg. The network has Romany women leaders from
28 Southern, Central and Eastern European countries and, Post said, it is the
first of its kind to involve such broad representation for Roma women’s rights.
“We will lobby governments and make them listen to us–not only to recognize
the problems, but admit them. They have closed eyes when it comes to Roma
women. We have to wake them up and show them that we are normal
people,” she said.
Poverty Rates Sometimes More than 10 Times that of Non-Roma
A recent study by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
High Commissioner for National Minorities found that the life expectancy of
Romany women is between 10 and 17 years lower than the general
population. This includes Europe’s more developed countries, such as
Ireland. Infant mortality among Bulgaria’s Roma in 1989 was six times the
national average.
The causes of the health crisis range from poverty to poor housing. In Central
and Eastern Europe, poverty rates for Roma are sometimes more than 10
times that of non-Roma.
Bias is more severe in the post-Communist countries in Central and Eastern
Europe, many of which are European-Union-candidate countries, Post said.
The majority of Roma–nearly 6 million–live in this region. Roma rights groups
have been established to defend the minority. Post, however, hopes to take it
a step further. With the International Roma Women’s Network, she wants to
pair motherhood with activism. With this approach, she and the other
members can tackle a range of family-oriented issues such as education and
“The Roma people in some countries are living very badly–and no one is
even thinking about the Roma women’s issues,” Post said.
Within the first days of the group’s existence, the women’s network released
an open letter to the Slovak government in response to alleged human-rights
violations of Slovak women.
In January, 110 Slovak women claimed gynecologists sterilized them. The
women alleged that when they were pregnant, they were duped into signing a
consent form for sterilization–they were told they were signing consent
papers for a Caesarean section. The gynecologists in Slovakia have denied
the charges.
In February, the women’s network met in Strasburg, France, where they
adopted a charter and elected a provisional committee to coordinate the
organization. The women also decided that the network will be independent
of governmental and international agencies. Among the seven goals of the
charter is “to challenge individual and institutional discrimination at all levels,
more specifically discrimination in housing, health care, education and
Roma Women Refused Seats at Restaurants
In recent months, educational projects have been subsidized by the
European Union. Support and Integration of Romany, a program aimed to
improve the training of teachers who work with Roma, and Multicultural
Education Reform, an program that helps teachers explain to students that
differences among people are natural and desirable, were both supported in
the Czech Republic.
These efforts are in part a response to the fact that Romany children are being
placed in institutions for the mentally handicapped at an extremely high rate.
Government reports indicate that 75 percent of Romany children are
educated in these institutions.
In addition, Romany women are faced with being denied their basic rights,
such as dining in a restaurant. Despite Finland’s ban on discrimination
against Roma, four Roma women were refused entry to several restaurants in
the Helsinki region, according to the 1999 International Helsinki Federation
for Human Rights report. Seven out of 13 “tested” restaurants refused entry to
Roma women–and only four let the women in without questions.
Adding to the difficulty the International Roma Women’s Network faces is the
fact that Roma are vastly underrepresented in European politics–the minority
accounts for some 11 members of parliament, 20 mayoral seats and about
400 local council seats in all of Europe.
A Triple Dose of Discrimination
A 2002 report released by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
for the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organization, said
Romany women suffer from triple discrimination: “as Roma, as women and
also as persons belonging to a socially disadvantaged group.”
Within the Roma community, some male leaders would rather not see women
spending their political strength on gender-specific issues. Martin Demirovski,
a Romany activist living in Macedonia, agrees that Roma women suffer from
triple discrimination. But, he said, this is only within the Roma community.
“The gadjes (white people) do not discriminate the Roma women more from
the Roma men,” he said. “There is a global discrimination against the Roma.”
Demirovski said that now is not the time for Roma women to move forward
with activism. “For the time being, it is good to fight discrimination against
Roma. And then, when we are done with that, we can fight discrimination
against Roma lesbians, gays and Roma women.”
Post disagrees. “We need to find how women can exist in this society as it is
now,” she said. “The most important is that we show that we are united. We
want to change the climate for Roma women. Now, it is about time.”
Mindy Kay Bricker is a reporter and freelancer living in the Czech Republic.
For more information:
International Roma Women’s Network:
http://www.romawomen.org/new/ European Roma Rights Center:
http://www.errc.org Roma Press Agency:
http://www.rpa.sk/clanok.aspx?l=en Copyright 2003 Women’s eNews.