Romani Women's Rights at the European Level
16 May 2007
The 2004 EU accession occurred without the presence of a solid EUlevel policy on minorities. In many cases anti-discrimination directives were not transposed into national legislation or were not fully implemented in practice unless concrete steps were taken by EU bodies. Before 2003, very few Roma-related topics and reports were discussed in the European Parliament, despite widespread knowledge of the gravity of the situation. This lack of attention has had an impact on the Romani community. This is especially important if we take into account that the number of European Roma is equal to that of the population of Austria or of Sweden. During the first period of my work in the European Parliament in 2004, my first aim was to raise awareness and provide understanding about the Romani issue. The goal was to properly inform the European Parliament about the situation of the Romani people, and the main focus of our work was to replace the old paternalistic view with a professional sociological and economic discourse, which, previously, had only provided by a few European-level Roma-related NGOs. This period can be characterised by the process of mainstreaming Roma issues within the European Parliament in all fields and at all levels.
This issue is quickly gaining momentum, and several important resolutions and reports have been passed on this subject that lend themselves to substantive policy creation to ensure equality for Roma throughout Europe. In April 2005, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on Roma in the EU, denouncing widespread discrimination and calling for concrete action to be taken to improve the situation of this community.2 The Resolution proposed the recognition of Roma as a European minority, and encouraged a further integrated approach on the part of the European Commission to enhance the position of Roma. This approach will be achieved through the demystification of preconceptions regarding Roma, by highlighting the destructive phenomenon of Anti-Gypsyism, and by encouraging the adoption of human rights and antidiscrimination policies directed towards Roma, especially in the fields of education, employment and living conditions.
Several MEPs from all EU parties have devoted themselves to issues concerning minorities, including Roma. The European People's Party (EPP) officially made the Roma issue a high priority at the Congress of Rome in March 2006.3 The EPP urges the abolition of the sub-standard and segregated education of Roma and the prevention of Romani children from dropping out of school. It calls for the inclusion of Romani culture and history within national school curricula. The central ambition of the programme is to increase the employment of Roma both in the private and public sector. The EPP holds that more Roma should be involved at all levels of local, regional and national governing and executive bodies, predominantly in countries with a large Romani constituency.
The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE Committee) and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM Committee) within the European Parliament are the two Committees that take the lead on Roma-related issues. The FEMM Committee has several responsibilities: it defines, promotes and protects women's rights in the EU, including the implementation of international agreements and conventions involving the rights of women, while promoting the issue in third countries. It also works to promote equal opportunities for men and women, particularly in the labour market; it works to eradicate all discrimination based on gender; and it works to develop gender mainstreaming in all policy sectors. The FEMM Committee has also been influential in combating the trafficking of women and children, domestic violence, and gender-related health problems. These policy emphases easily lend themselves to promoting the well-being of Romani women in Europe, as these issues are exacerbated by the multiple forms of discrimination towards this group on the basis of gender and ethnicity.
The FEMM Committee strengthened its resolve to improve the situation of Romani women last year in several ways. A Committee-initiated background study to the Romani women report entitled Economic Aspects of the Condition of Roma Women4 discussed the social and economic condition of Roma and particularly Romani women in fifteen states, including: Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. The goal of the study was to provide an analysis of the factors that contribute to the marginalisation of Romani women in society. The study emphasised the difficulty in acquiring data on Roma women; which means that there is insufficient information available to create policies for Romani women.
The FEMM Committee called a public hearing in 2005, which involved several distinguished Roma women activists and representatives of the European Commission in order to discuss education and employment for Romani women, and it examined cases of "best practice" throughout Europe. At the public hearing on the extremely difficult situation of Romani women in Europe, members of the FEMM Committee agreed that new policies and more tangible results were required in order to overcome the obstacles faced by Roma. There was a consensus within the group that Romani women were the most discriminated against, but also the most forgotten and invisible, minority; and that action must be taken at European-level without delay.
Following the hearing, my own initiative report on the situation of Romani women in the EU5 was completed in conjunction with the Open Society Institute, the European Roma Rights Centre, and several Romani women civil experts. The report highlights discrimination in health care, education, housing and employment faced by Romani women, and emphasises action at the national level of government through a series of policy recommendations.
The report urges Member States to quickly investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses, including coercive sterilisation, in compliance with the "Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women – Platform for Action (Beijing+10)" European Parliament Resolution.6 Full access to unbiased health care for Roma in all Member States is emphasised. In the education sector, Member States are urged to use the framework of the open method of coordination to create legislation providing equal education for Roma and leading to the desegregation of schools. Work must be undertaken to improve the physical situation of Romani communities by creating necessary infrastructure: including waste removal and the provision of electricity. In the case of non-sedentary Roma, satisfactorily clean and hygienic sites are called for. In employment, equal opportunity and social inclusion policies aimed at alleviating the high unemployment rates of Romani women should be implemented, including non-discrimination training for employers. The report recommends social economic studies; for example, financing for female Romani entrepreneurs, including microcredit, and the establishment of programmes to assist self-employed Romani women. To ensure compliance with legislation, data collecting and analysis disaggregated by gender and ethnicity will be created, and penalties will be levied on those that do not comply.
The Romani women report makes special mention of the patriarchal traditions of Roma society, incorporating the view of experts that suggests that, while it is important to maintain traditions to the fullest extent possible, the inequity between men and women in Romani society can be traced back to women's traditional social roles within the community. Society must work to ensure that females in Romani society have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. To this end, a new generation of women leaders among our society are working in order to break down the social barriers within our own community so that Romani women can fully participate in mainstream society.
While minority protection is always proclaimed as a very important EU principle, antidiscrimination directives are the only legal tools provided at European-level in order to influence the minority policies of Member States. There have been signs of a more proactive approach from the new European Commission. Also, after joining the EU, Member States are no longer required to follow the Copenhagen criteria, which means that states no longer have to maintain specific criteria relating to the treatment of minorities after accession. Even so, I believe that the European Commission can create an environment where minority protection gains more visibility and where Member States are forced to act according to a European-level principle. As a result of the European Parliament approach, the high involvement of the European Parliament in Romani issues has contributed to better understanding and a more progressive approach, which can be already perceived in two communications: the Roadmap 2006-2010 for Equality Between Women and Men, which cites the fight against multiple discrimination as one of the six priority areas for the European Commission,7 and the strategy paper of May 2006 from the European Commission, "Towards an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child",8 which highlights the high risks that poverty represents for children, including Romani children, who are among the poorest and most vulnerable groups. School desegregation and the mainstreaming of Romani children will be discussed in depth during the spring 2007 period in the LIBE and FEMM Committees as a follow up to "Towards and EU strategy on the Rights of the Child" and as part of an initiative report.
The improvement and visibility of the mainstreaming approach, where Romani issues are integrated into all fields of policy-making, has slowly been replacing earlier paternalistic policies. However, there is an urgent need for further emphasis of the current and foreseeable economic pitfalls that the countries will experience if Roma integration is further delayed. National governments must then act urgently and serious commitment is required from the European Commission in order to initiate and monitor action.
- Lívia Járóka has been an MEP for Hungary since 2004. She is a member of the EPP-ED party. She serves on the FEMM and LIBE Committees in the European Parliament. Ms Járóka is also the first woman of Romani origin to be elected to the European Parliament.
- European Parliament, Resolution on the Situation of the Roma in the European Union, 2005 at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2005-0151+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.
- 2006 Roma resolution, as passed at the Congress of Rome, at: http://www.epp-ed.eu/Press/peve06/eve003/default_en.asp.
- Berliner Institut für Vergleichende Sozialforschung, Economic Aspects of the Condition of Roma Women. Project number IP/C/FEMM/2005-09, 2006, at: http://www.ipolnet.ep.parl.union.eu/ipolnet/cms/pid/1403.
- European Parliament, Resolution on the Situation of Roma Women in the European Union, 2006, at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2006-0244+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.
- European Parliament, Resolution on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women – Platform for Action (Beijing +10), at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2005-0073+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.
- European Commission, Roadmap for Equality Between Women and Men, 2006, at: http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/news/2006/mar/com06092_roadmap_en.pdf.
- European Parliament, Towards an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, 2006, at: http://eurlex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2006/com2006_0367en01.pdf.