Germany Before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Lack of Effective Measures to Combat Multiple Discrimination against Sinti and Romani Women

27 May 2004

Zarine Habeeb1

In recent times, the United Nations human rights mechanisms have become more sensitive to the particular forms of discrimination experienced by women belonging to vulnerable groups such as ethnic and religious minorities, the disabled, the poor, refugees, etc.2 There is an emerging consensus that the discrimination experienced by these women should be viewed as a phenomenon resulting from the intersection of a range of factors including race, gender, and, where relevant, class and alien status, rather than as a phenomenon conditioned by any one of these factors taken separately.3

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (hereinafter the "Committee") in its Concluding Observations on Germany's fifth periodic report (hereinafter the "State report") took note of the impact of intersectional discrimination on Sinti and Romani women in Germany, stating that Sinti and Romani women "suffer form multiple forms of discrimination based on sex, ethnic or religious background and race".4 The Committee called upon the government to "to take effective measures to eliminate discrimination against migrant and minority women, both in society at large and within their communities, and to respect and promote their human rights, through effective and proactive measures, including awareness-raising programmes."

The conclusions of the Committee have a lot of significance for Romani women's rights advocacy and come in the wake of the submission to the Committee of a joint shadow report on the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany by the European Roma Rights Center and the Open Society's EU Accession Monitoring Program (hereinafter "ERRC/EUMAP report").5

The ERRC/EUMAP report argues that even though Germany has several policies and programmes to promote gender equality, the existing legislative and policy framework is insufficient to deal with the intersectional discrimination that Sinti and Romani women experience. Germany's failure to fully transpose the European Union equal treatment directives into its domestic law as well as its failure to date to ratify Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights is also highlighted in the report.6 One over-arching theme of the report is the pervasiveness of prejudice against Sinti and Roma in Germany among the mainstream German public and officials in the police, social services, health, education, etc. The report reveals how this ethnic prejudice operates in the lives of Sinti and Roma women and prevents them from achieving their full potential as human beings.

Romani women's "invisibility" in the German government's policies for promotion of women's rights is manifested in the absence of data that is disaggregated on the basis of both gender and race/ethnicity. While some Sinti and Roma harbour legitimate worries about state initiated data collection given the unfortunate history of data collection by the Nazi regime, to date, the German government has done little to allay these fears by pro-actively engaging with the community on this crucial issue. The ERRC/EUMAP report notes that "… an important general impediment to serious research on the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany remains the lack of detailed statistical data disaggregated by both ethnicity and gender. Accurate information in a number of key sectoral fields, such as health, employment, housing, education and access to justice, as relating specifically to Sinti and Roma women and girls, was simply not available and German authorities have apparently made no serious efforts to make such data available to the public."7

Due to lack of data, it is not possible to formulate and implement targeted policies and programmes that take into account the particular kind of disadvantage experienced by Romani women. During the discussion of the state report at the Committee, Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, expert from Croatia, noted that "Data disaggregated by sex was necessary to determine possible multiple discrimination of minority women, especially Roma women."8 The government delegation responded by pointing out the sensitivities of the Sinti and Roma to data collection. Wrapping up the discussion, the Chairperson of the Committee, Ms. Feride Acar, called on the government to provide "gender disaggregated data on migrant and minority women, including for Sinti and Roma women, especially regarding their access to education, health and employment."9

Violence against women has been an important theme in the work of the Committee. In its Recommendation No. 12, the Committee requires States Parties to act to protect women against "violence of any kind occurring within the family, at the work place or in any other area of social life".10 This has special significance for Sinti and Roma women. Violence against these women by public authorities stands on a different footing from the kind of violence experienced by Sinti and Roma men on the one hand, and women belonging to the majority community on the other. For instance, the ERRC/EUMAP report notes that "Police personnel are reportedly also more likely to be disrespectful towards Sinti and Roma women than either in relation to women from the majority population or in relation to Sinti and Roma men."11

At the discussion, the German delegation emphasised that stopping violence against women was a priority of the government. The expert from Cuba, Ms. Maria Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, noted that there had been an increase in violence against women, particularly minority and foreign women. She felt that stereotyping contributed to this, and inquired how it was being tackled.12 In its concluding observations, the Committee called on Germany to " include data and information on the nature and scope of violence against women, including within the family and any new forms of violence against women, including migrant women, and to provide this information in its next periodic report."13

The Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women emphasises the necessity to develop the full potential of the girl child.14 In this regard, an area of vital importance is the right to education. The ERRC/EUMAP report notes the disadvantages faced by Sinti and Roma girls in education and argues for targeted programmes to raise the educational standards including the appointment of Romani women mediators, a model that has been successfully used in some schools.15 One of the drawbacks of the state report was the absence of information on representation of minority girls, including Sinti and Roma girls, in schools. The state report focused almost exclusively on the measures taken by the government to promote representation of women in higher education, in research institutes and universities.16 The ERRC/EUMAP report notes serious problems facing Sinti and Roma girls in education, including prejudices of the administration against them, school abandonment and placement of a disproportionate number of them in special schools for children with developmental disabilities. School education probably did not merit inclusion in the State report because of the near absence of barriers for girls belonging to the majority community in accessing school education. This fact once again demonstrates that the state is almost blind to the particularity of the disadvantages faced by women and girls belonging to minority communities, especially Sinti and Roma. Ms. Simonovic, the expert from Croatia, also noted the prevalence of early marriages and higher drop out rates among Sinti and Roma women and girls and asked the government whether it had formulated any specific programmes for such persons.17

The low level of Sinti and Roma women's participation in education results in their inability to access employment. This is compounded by the prevalence of prejudice against the Sinti and Roma on the labour market. The ERRC/EUMAP report notes the great deal of interest shown by Sinti and Roma women to work as mediators in schools and health care facilities, providing a link between public services and the community.18 In its Concluding Observations, the Committee criticised the state for not providing detailed information on the ability of minority women, including Sinti and Roma women, to fully access public services in education, health care and employment.19

In its General Recommendation no. 23, the Committee notes that "despite women's central role in sustaining the family and society and their contribution to development, they have been excluded from political life and the decision-making process…"20 and went on to observe that "the concept of democracy will have real and dynamic meaning and lasting effect only when political decision-making is shared by women and men and takes equal account of the interests of both"21 The Committee conceives of political participation in "civil society, including public boards and local councils and the activities of organisations such as political parties, trade unions, professional or industry associations, women's organisations, community-based organisations and other organisations concerned with public and political life".22 The ERRC/EUMAP report found that while Sinti and Roma women were active in community-based organisations, their participation in mainstream civil society and political and administrative office is currently very insufficient. The report pointed out that the few Sinti and Roma employed in the administration tended to be men, and that there was little evidence that Sinti and Roma women were consulted by the government in matters of relevance to the community.23

The ERRC/EUMAP report also examined issues relating to the health of Sinti and Roma women. A number of Sinti and Roma families live in substandard living conditions, a factor that contributes to poor health. The prevalence of prejudices against Sinti and Roma among health officials hinders their complete access to health care. Several European countries have developed innovative techniques to address the health needs of the community, such as for instance the training of Romani health workers. The report calls for adoption of strategies that are tailored to meet the needs of Sinti and Roma in Germany.24

Another issue of importance to Sinti and Roma women's rights advocacy in Germany is the situation of migrant Romani women in Germany who, owing to their different legal status, experience a range of disadvantages. The ERRC/EUMAP report notes the precarious legal status of many of the foreign Roma in Germany; Germany's policy of forcible expulsion of Romani families and individuals to Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo, and Romania even though they have developed substantial ties to Germany; the vulnerability of migrant Roma women, especially asylum seekers, to xenophobic and racist violence; and the difficulties they encounter in accessing a number of services, including health services.25 Several Committee members questioned the German delegation about the socio-economic situation of migrant women, particularly violence against them and in her final comments, the Committee's Chairperson, Ms. Feride Acar, noted that "protection of the human rights of foreign and minority women in Germany "still leaves much to be desired".26

Conclusion

The policies of the German government towards Sinti and Roma women can be summed by the phrase "All women are German and all Sinti and Roma are men".27 In other words, the government's policies for enhancing gender equality take the situation of the majority ethnic German women and generalises that to the situation of all women in Germany. Its policies towards Sinti and Roma do not take account of how gender discrimination intersects with racial discrimination, creating and perpetuating structures of disadvantage that affect Sinti and Romani women differently than men belonging to the same community.

The submission of the ERRC/EUMAP report specifically analyzing the situation of Sinti and Roma women in Germany is a small but significant step in advocating Roma women's rights at the international level. The Committee's discussions and its concluding observations on the situation of Sinti and Romani women in Germany demonstrate its willingness to take into account the diversity of women's oppression and hold governments responsible.

Endnotes:

  1. Zarine Habeeb is Henigson Fellow from Harvard Law School and currently an intern in the Advocacy Department of the ERRC. She was part of the ERRC/EUMAP team, which produced the CEDAW shadow report referred to in this article.
  2. See generally, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination “Gender related dimensions of racial discrimination.” CERD General recommendation No. 25 20/03/2000; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women General Recommendation No.18 (tenth Session, 1991). Disabled Women; Fourth World Conference on Women: Platform of Action, Annex II to Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 4–15 September 1995) A/CONF.177/20, available at http://www.un.org/esa/gopher-data/conf/fwcw/off/a-20.en (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  3. See generally, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations, Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Gender and Racial Discrimination, 21–24 November 2000, Zagreb, Croatia available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/genrac/report.htm (last visited on 5March 2004).
  4. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Thirtieth session 12–30 January 2004. Concluding comments: Germany, para. 30, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw30/GermanyCC.PDF (last visited on 5March 2004).
  5. The full report is available at http://www.errc.org/publications/legal/.
  6. Ibid., pp. 14–16.
  7. Ibid., p.7.
  8. Statement by Ms. Dubravka Simonovic at the 639th & 640th Meetings of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/wom1428.doc.htm9(last visited on 5 March 2004).
  9. Ibid., Statement by Ms. Feride Acar.
  10. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women General Recommendation No.12 (Eighth Session, 1989). Violence against women, Preamble.
  11. ERRC/EUMAP Report, p. 16.
  12. Statement by Ms. Ms. Maria Yolanda Ferrer at the 639th & 640th Meetings of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/ wom1428.doc.htm (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  13. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Thirtieth session 12-30 January 2004. Concluding comments: Germany, para. 23, at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw30/GermanyCC.PDF (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  14. Fourth World Conference on Women: Platform of Action, para. 39. Annex II to Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, (Beijing, 4-15 September 1995) A/CONF.177/20, at: http://www.un.org/esa/gopher-data/conf/fwcw/off/a-20.en (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  15. ERRC/EUMAP Report, pp. 22–25.
  16. Fifth periodic report of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, pp. 28-36, at: http://ods-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N03/250/50/PDF/N0325050.pdf?OpenElement (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  17. Statement by Ms. Dubravka Simonovic at the 639th & 640th Meetings of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/wom1428.doc.htm (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  18. ERRC/EUMAP Report, p. 27.
  19. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Thirtieth session 12-30 January 2004. Concluding comments: Germany, para. 30, at: GermanyCC.PDF http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw30/ (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  20. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women General Recommendation No.23 (16th Session 1997). Political and Public Life, para. 9.
  21. Ibid., para. 14.
  22. Ibid., para. 5.
  23. ERRC/EUMAP Report, pp. 18–20.
  24. Ibid., pp. 27-31.
  25. Ibid., pp. 10-11; p. 14; and pp. 31–32.
  26. Statement by Ms. Feride Acar at the 639th & 640th Meetings of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/wom1428.doc.htm (last visited on 5 March 2004).
  27. I owe this phrase to the title of the book All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies by Glorial Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith. The Feminist Press, New York, 1982.

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