Observers say the concept of gender equality of opportunity remains on paper only.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest – 20/06/11
Women at a textile factory in Bucharest. [Reuters]
Despite being an EU member since January 2007, Romania placed 67th out of 134 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2010 World Gender Gap report.
The ranking marks a three-place improvement from last year but shows little substantive progress. In the region, Romania is only ahead of Moldova and EU-member Bulgaria on the issue of gender equality.
Romania's poor ranking does not surprise those who closely follow the country's efforts at gender parity and who decry the authorities' lack of interest in the issue.
"The concept of equality of opportunity is effectively unknown on the public agenda," Women's Association in Romania and national co-ordinator for women NGOs Liliana Pagu told SETimes.
"It does not even come up during electoral campaigns, which says a lot about how politicians report to women -- women do not exist as an electoral target," Pagu said.
An EU-funded 2007-2013 regional development plan for Romania's Western Region states that civil society has long signaled the existence of inequalities between genders.
"The public authorities only approached the topic during the negotiations prior to EU accession," the report said.
The report explained that while Romanian laws guarantee equal participation in the country's economic and social life, professional segregation of women persists and is proven by the very existence of a sex-related occupation pattern; hence, differences in income between men and women.
Last year, the government dismantled the National Agency for Equality of Opportunity between Men and Women (ANES), which was established in 2005 amid the EU accession talks. Prior to being closed, ANES' 15 experts managed to launch a national strategy for the implementation of equality of opportunity in 2010-2012.
About 20 NGOs protested the government's decision to close ANES, questioning the effectiveness of the national strategy under the current circumstances.
Pagu explained, however, that the situation has not been hopeful even when there is legislation that addresses gender imbalances. "Women miss out because they are poorly informed of their rights," she said. "The NGOs which represent them are ignored in the process of social dialogue and their efforts to change mentalities are marginalised."
There are many reasons for this. Some believe the lack of an authentic democratic framework -- primarily within the political parties and unions -- does not provide room for debate and affirms a hierarchy of values in which females are treated as unimportant.
Others see traditional customs -- and the influence of the Orthodox Church -- as the main culprits. Still others say that the dire socio-economic conditions facing the public provide the context underlying gender inequality.
Alexandra, a team-leader at a multinational company who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, explained that it comes down to the mentality cultivated by upbringing.
"I used to work for a state agency for many years. Moving to a multinational was like stepping out of the dark into the light because I was so terrified by the misogynist colleagues I endured before. Men there were either just not willing or prepared to see women on equal footing or, worse, be led by a woman. And that comes from their home education," she told SETimes.
Women like Alexandra as well as NGOs, continue to advance their cause against the strong stereotypes in which they are depicted as false role models.
"As a leader of civil society, I am speaking out against all these non-values which have to be torn down for women to become equal citizens. I am also taking a stance against domestic violence and the public silence which surrounds this social phenomenon to do away with the idea that women can be mere merchandise," Pagu said.