Human Rights Problems Facing Romani Women in Serbia Brought to the Attention of the UN Women's Rights Committee

03 April 2007

Budapest, Belgrade, March 22, 2007: The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), acting in partnership with Bibija, Eureka and Women's Space, non-governmental organisations based in Serbia, submitted a parallel report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The organisations highlighted issues of concern with respect to Romani women in Serbia in advance of the Committee's review of Serbia's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to take place in May 2007.

The report is based on research undertaken by the partners in 2006 and 2007, involving six Romani women researchers who documented human rights issues facing Romani women in Serbia. Deprivation of rights, especially in such areas as education, health care, and employment, incidence of domestic violence as well as racially-motivated abuse of Romani women, are amongst the main problems experienced by Romani women in Serbia. Romani women currently living in Serbia as internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo or recently returned to Serbia from Western European countries, Germany in particular, are exposed to particularly precarious circumstances.

The major issues highlighted in the report include:

Violence against women: Domestic violence was reported by the majority of Romani women who agreed to answer questions concerning this issue. Half of the Romani women interviewed declined to talk about domestic violence; of the remaining 81 women, 63 reported instances of physical and verbal abuse by family members. While the problem of domestic violence also affects women from the majority community, Romani women are especially vulnerable due to widespread prejudice and neglect by law enforcement officers as well as by institutions providing support to victims of domestic violence. Romani women testified that police are often reluctant to act to protect them; in some instances, police officers themselves subjected victims to abuse or they acted inadequately to prevent further abuse. Admission criteria in some state funded safe houses effectively exclude of Romani women from accessing the services provided therein.

Romani women and children are also subjected to physical and verbal racist attacks by neo-Nazi groups.

Education: Romani women face serious barriers in accessing education as reflected in higher illiteracy rates among Romani women compared to Romani men and significantly higher rates compared to non-Romani men and women. Barriers arise from high levels of poverty as well as patriarchal traditions in some communities, which result in lower expectations for Romani girls to complete education. Inequalities in access to education are exacerbated by discriminatory practices against Romani children in education such as erroneous placement in special schools for mentally disadvantaged children; segregation in Roma-only classes; and humiliating treatment by teachers and classmates. Lack of personal identity and house registration documents needed in order to enrol in school also impede access to education.

Employment: Many Romani women do not have access to formal employment as a result of low educational attainment levels as well as direct and indirect discrimination on the part of employers. Women working in the grey economy are excluded from social benefits and face insecurity. A number of instances of discrimination against Romani women in recruitment were reported.

Health: Romani women's health situation is significantly worse than that of the general population as a result of inadequate living conditions – such as substandard housing, extreme poverty and the disadvantaged position of some Romani women within their domestic setting. Lack of identity documents, health insurance or health cards prevent many Romani women from accessing health care services. Structural problems in access to health services are compounded by widespread discriminatory practices by medical practitioners with respect to Romani women. Discrimination against Romani women is particularly evident in the areas of reproductive and maternal health and emergency care due to these being the most commonly used health care services.

The research towards the report was carried out with the support of the Open Society Institute Public Health Program.

For additional information, please contact:


Ostalinda Maya Ovalle (ERRC): 

Ilona Kovacs, Piroska Kovacs (Eureka): 

Svetlana Ilic (Bibija): bibija@eunet.yu 

Vera Kurtic (Women's Space):

The full report (pdf) is available here.



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