Albania must move to ensure equal rights for Roma and Egyptian women and girls

By Aurela Bozo

CEDAW has once more exposed the deep discrimination and inequalities faced by Roma and Egyptian women in Albania. The Committee’s concluding observations reiterated that Albanian authorities should adopt targeted laws, policies and programmes to ensure equal rights for disadvantaged women, and to improve access for Roma and Egyptian women to education, health services, employment and housing. 

The Committee restated its concerns about the continuous discrimination and lack of appropriate measures to protect women and girls from marginalised groups. In its earlier list of issues in July 2016, CEDAW was critical about the lack of comprehensive information on the situation of Roma and Egyptian women, and called on the state to provide disaggregated data and information on school enrolment and attendance by Roma and Egyptian girls, as well as overall data in all areas covered by the Convention.

The Committee requested information on how laws and policies were implemented to overcome the difficulties, and ensure equal access to benefits and services for Roma and Egyptian women and girls. It also called on the state to clarify measures taken to assist Roma and Egyptian women who have been abused and trafficked or who are single mothers and live in poverty.

The Committee recommended that the State party strengthen the use of temporary special measures, and remedy the lack of monitoring and information about the impact of such measures on the achievement of substantive gender equality, in particular as regards women facing intersecting forms of discrimination such as Roma and Egyptians.

“Roma and Egyptians continue to face very difficult conditions and frequent discrimination”

The Albania report from the European Commission’s 2016 Communication on EU Enlargement confirmed that, “Roma and Egyptians continued to face very difficult conditions and frequent discrimination, particularly on access to education, employment, housing, health and civil registration.” The report noted that living conditions remained poor, with many Roma households lacking access to piped water, and it highlighted a number of concerns including the fact that most social care services remain donor-driven and lack adequate budgets; and that employment rates for Roma and Egyptians remain very low, and with many being active in the informal sector.

The numbers of children living or working on the street remained a concern despite efforts to reduce this phenomenon. “Child marriage remained a worrying practice, involving around 2.9 % of Roma children in the 15-18 age group … Lack of registration often prevents access to social support. The inclusion of Roma children in the education system continued improving, but remains the lowest in the region. School segregation is a matter of serious concern.”

Multiple discrimination

Despite the fact that the legal framework for the protection of human rights is broadly in line with the rest of Europe, when it comes to the multiple forms of discrimination faced by Roma and Egyptian women and girls, it is painfully obvious just how far enforcement lags behind. Much remains to be done to address the rights of women and girls in general. A national strategy on gender equality was prepared, but has yet to be adopted. A number of laws continued to contain gender-discriminatory provisions.

The 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index report ranked Albania 70th out of 145 countries, and the CEDAW observations expressed concerns about discrimination against and lack of appropriate legislation for the protection of women and girls belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

Further work is needed to ensure women’s unhindered access to the justice system, raise awareness about existing laws, and to ensure the execution of court orders to enforce women’s rights.

The intersecting forms of discrimination mean that the barriers preventing Roma and Egyptian women from participating in political and public life, including exercising their right to vote, remain formidable and need to be addressed. The state should adopt targeted laws, policies and programmes to ensure equal rights for women belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

Gender-based violence against women

Regarding gender-based violence, the Committee recommended the Albanian state increase the number and capacity of state-run shelters, and increase funding for shelters run by non-governmental organizations and put in place mechanisms to respond to the needs of all such victims, including Roma and Egyptian women. There is also a need to ensure that Roma and Egyptian women have access to shelters, and benefit from recommended measures to encourage women to report cases of gender-based violence including the provision of free legal aid, and increased protection and rehabilitation of victims. 

In addition to violence, the Committee drew attention to the deeply harmful practice of child marriage, and called for strict prohibitions that allow only very limited and clearly defined exceptions where the courts may authorize unions under 18 years of age with the consent of both partners, criminalize violations of that prohibition, and raise awareness among children, parents, community and religious leaders and the general public of the negative impact of child marriage on the health and development of children, in particular girls.

Health

The Committee was deeply concerned about the excessive use of abortion as a method of birth control in general and highlighted the limited access for Roma and Egyptian women to primary health care and sexual and reproductive health-care services. It called on the state to remedy this, to increase the budget and regularly monitor hospital facilities and services, and also to promote awareness by including age-appropriate education on sexual health and reproductive rights in all school curricula.

Education

The ERRC drew attention to cases of school segregation in Korca and Morava, and expressed its concern at the slow and ineffective state responses, despite recommendations from the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination. The Committee noted that while school enrolment rates among girls remain lower, and dropout rates higher than that of boys, the disparities are even starker among minority groups, especially Roma and Egyptians. Greater efforts must be made, through targeted policies and programmes, to ensure equal access and improved outcomes at all stages of compulsory education for Roma and Egyptian girls and boys.

Conclusion

The concluding CEDAW observations hardly come as a surprise - the challenge to close the gap between the formal legal framework for the protection of human rights, and the capacity of Roma and Egyptian women and girls to concretely realize those rights, remains daunting. The CEDAW concerns and recommendations cover inequalities in virtually every aspect of a Romani woman’s life. They give some inkling of how deeply rooted, intersectional discrimination inhibits equality and postpones justice; these recommendations also set the agenda for change by defining precisely what needs to be done to safeguard the rights of Roma and Egyptian women and girls to make a democracy truly inclusive.

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