UN Women's Rights Committee Calls on Serbia to Address Discrimination against Romani Women

20 November 2007

On 13 June 2007, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), in partnership with the Serbian non-governmental organizations Bibija, Eureka, and Women's Space, welcomed the concluding comments of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in their review of Serbia's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The ERRC, Bibija, Eureka and Women's Space had previously submitted a report to the Committee bringing attention to the critical situation of Romani women in Serbia.

CEDAW's comments highlighted the particularly vulnerable position of Romani women in Serbian society, as they face multifarious barriers to education, political representation, and legal justice due to the combination of sexual and racial discrimination. The Committee requested that Serbia take immediate action in a number of areas:

Domestic violence: The Committee cautioned that admission criteria for safe houses may represent "de facto discrimination against Roma women threatened by domestic violence." It urged Serbia to "review and monitor the application of admission criteria used by safe houses for victims of domestic violence in order to ensure that these do not exclude Roma women."

Education: Questioning the "lack of current spacing data and information in regard to education," the Committee showed particular concern with regard to "Roma women and girls and other marginalized groups," amongst whom rates of illiteracy and educational attainment levels are alarmingly low. It recommended that "special attention be paid to achieving equal access [to education] for marginalized groups of women and girl, in particular of the Roma minority […] the Committee also recommends that literacy and vocation programmes be provided to Roma women, in particular those who are elderly and illiterate."

Health care: The Committee noted concern about "the limited access to adequate healthcare services for women, especially for women in rural areas and Roma women," and called on Serbia to "increase its efforts to improve the availability of sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning." It extended this concern to the area of early marriage, "particularly within the Roma population," due to the "negative effects of early marriage on women's enjoyment of their human rights, especially their rights to health and education," and as such urged Serbia "to enforce the legal minimum age of marriage, which is set at 18."

The full text of the CEDAW Committee's concluding comments on Serbia are available HERE.

Prior to the release of the concluding comments of the CEDAW, the ERRC and its local partners have conducted a research in Serbia which has drawn attention to the situation of Romani women in Serbia. Research revealed that Romani women are often victims of both domestic and racially-motivated violence. Many lack sufficient education due to discriminatory practices in the local administration and the presence of strong, patriarchal traditions within the Romani community itself. Because of this lack of education and direct or indirect discrimination on the job market, many Romani women lack access to formal employment and are forced to accept work in the "grey zone," excluding them from state social benefits. Due to widespread discriminatory practices amongst medical practitioners, many Romani women lack access to proper healthcare, especially in the field of reproductive and gynaecological health.

The ERRC/Bibija/Eureka/Women's Space parallel report on the situation of Romani women in Serbia is available in English and Serbian HERE.



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