Overcoming gender and ethnic prejudice is difficult, but there has been progress.
By Goran Trajkov for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 05/02/13
Roma women are the region's most adversely affected minority. [Katica Djurovic/SETimes]
Regional governments and civil society have intensified efforts to improve Roma women's education and employment inclusion, but experts said significantly more needs to be done to achieve tangible success.
"By Roma traditions, women usually stay at home and cater to the family while men go to work. Roma women have to cope with … gender and ethnic discrimination," Marian Mandache, executive director of Romani Criss, a leading Roma NGO in Romania, told SETimes.
Only 23 percent of Roma women are employed in Romania, according to a recent UNDP study, compared to 36 percent of Roma men.
In response, civil society has implemented the Sanitary Mediator programme for Roma women, which was later exported to Bulgaria, Moldova and Spain because of its success.
"We came up with the concept in the 1990s in which Roma women act as interface between the community and the sanitation authorities. As it evolved, in 2002, the programme was assimilated by the health ministry, and in 2008 about 600 women were employed full-time," Mandache said.
The Croatian government's new stimulus measures have provided public works jobs for many of the nation's 40,000 Roma.
Moreover, Croatia's employment service recently implemented improved prospects for Roma women in the labour market, offering workshops and training.
Roma women are closed off in their communities, isolated from the world and public life, and many are illiterate, according to Nada Djurivckovic, director of NGO Roma Centre for Women and Children in Belgrade.
"This isolation keeps them in subordinant position in the family and in the society. The main attitude of the Roma family is that the best thing for a Roma girl is to get married as soon as she reaches womanhood," Djurickovic told SETimes.
A survey conducted by the Regional Roma Educational Youth Association in Macedonia, part of the international campaign Our Place, Our Space, Our Case, found that Roma mothers pressure their daughters to marry rather than pursue higher education.
"Unfortunately, institutions also perceive under-age marriages as part of Roma tradition. We appeal to change this attitude and view the issue as a violation of the rights of the child," Daniela Janevska, an association representative, said.
The government will open two new Roma information centres this year to add to the existing seven, and will continue a scholarship programme which annually awards funds to 2,400 Roma students.
The centres, in conjunction with the education ministry, conduct training programmes for unemployed Roma and encourage them to participate in Macedonia's self-employment programme with grants of up to 3,000 euros.
Albania's 2011 census, which the country's minorities boycotted, noted 8,300 Roma, but human rights organisations estimate the number is 10 times higher.
The low census figure has allowed the government to assume an even more lax attitude, despite Roma street protests about the incorrect figure and demands of protection of their fundamental rights, as well as for employment opportunities.
About 80 percent of the Roma in Albania live below the poverty line, while 55 percent of Roma girls do not attend school.
The situation is not much better in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where 90 percent of the nearly 100,000 Roma are unemployed and 65 percent have no home.
Government research showed there are no Roma women in any decision-making position in BiH government.
"We have seen that there are Roma women who are capable, know what they want, but there is prejudice holding them back," Indira Bajramovic, president of the Tuzla-based Association of Roma Women for a Better Future, told SETimes.
SETimes correspondents Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest, Katica Djurovic in Belgrade, Kruno Kartus in Osijek, Erl Murati in Tirana and Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.