Women activists across the Western Balkans emphasize empowering Roma can break them free from violence

Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ana Šaćipović, founder of the Osvit Roma Association, promotes Roma women's rights in Serbia. Photo: UN Women/ Daria Komleva

Around 100 Roma women activists, civil society representatives and government officials from the Western Balkans and Turkey gathered virtually on International Roma Day to discuss best practices on preventing and responding to violence against Roma women at the webinar “Intersectional solutions to eliminate violence against Roma women and girls.”

“I believe that education of Roma women should be a priority. We should invest in empowering Roma women to support women survivors of violence. At the same time, Roma women’s organizations should be empowered to support Roma women survivors,” said Manjola Veizi, the Executive Director of the National Network of Roma and Egyptian Women from Albania, who got married at an early age and now is advocating for a world where no Roma girls are victims of child marriage. She added: “Employment is also a very important pillar. If we want to empower women to leave violent environments and change the narrative of their lives, we have to empower them and offer them a job.”

The webinar, informed by the CEDAW concluding observations for the Western Balkans and findings of the Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) reports for Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, underscored the heightened risk of all forms of violence and discrimination against Roma women due to patriarchal norms and poor socio-economic conditions, despite the fact that the Western Balkans countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention.

All forms of violence faced by Roma women have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of restrictions, Roma women who experienced violence faced obstacles in accessing protection services from responsible institutions.

“We need to take into account the specific needs of women who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and disadvantages. And Roma women, as members of a minority ethnic group, are the case in point. Interventions need to take their individual rights into account and be sensitive to their situation and needs and in relation to the specific form of violence they experience, so Roma women can live a life free from violence and with effective protection. There cannot be equality between men and women as long as women experience violence,” said Iris Luarasi, first Vice-President of GREVIO.

Furthermore, Luarasi highlighted a few recommendations that the countries may take into account to prevent and respond to violence against Roma women, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Develop specific measures to sensitize women and men from Roma communities on the criminal nature of violence against women;
  • Guarantee Roma women and girls’ access to education and reduce the risk of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM);
  • Adopt and implement policies and programmes to overcome the educational barriers faced by Roma women and girls, and take effective measures to retain Roma girls in school;
  • Continue to raise awareness among Roma communities about the harmful effects of CEFM on the education, health and development of girls;
  • Take measures to prevent stigmatization and prejudice against Roma women among medical practitioners and state representatives;
  • Increase the political support for the role of women’s CSOs providing support to Roma women, including at the local level;
  • Accelerate the equal representation of women, including Roma women, in all areas of political and public life, in particular in decision-making positions, at the national and local levels.

Nina Mitic, Assistant Minister to the Ministry of Anti-Discrimination and Gender Equality in Serbia, mentioned that Serbia is actually close to adopting the newly drafted Anti-discrimination Law and Law on Gender Equality, which address the position of Roma women in Serbia. “The amendments of the anti-discrimination law and effect on Roma women aim to strengthen mechanisms and reinforce zero tolerance for discrimination against the Roma population. The long-term goal is to establish cooperation between institutions and civil society organizations to work together to end discrimination and violence against Roma women,” states Mitic.  

According to the Regional report on discrimination of Roma women in the area of healthcare, child marriages and support and protection in cases of domestic violence, the most common factor preventing Roma women from reporting violence is their experience of discrimination from general and specialist service providers. In this regard, Saliha Djuderija, Assistant Minister to the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, mentioned that while Bosnia and Herzegovina have good mechanisms in place at community level, they don’t focus on the intersectional discrimination that Roma women are exposed to. “This leaves them in a space where they cannot access protection. This is why the solution would be to serve the community through multidisciplinary teams that coordinate among sectors - police, judiciaries, centres for social work, NGOs. Lately, we’ve been discussing to ask the mental health sector, who provide psychological help, to join this network to support Roma women. We need to work jointly so that services are more effective and Roma women and girls feel safe,” said Djuderija.

“In our experience, we learned that you have to build partnerships with the Ministry of Human Rights, Agency for Gender Equality and other institutions, at all levels. Otherwise, we cannot address problems of any kind, especially when it comes to violence against women and CEFM,” concluded Indira Bajramovic, Director of the Roma Women’s Association Bolja Buducnost from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The event concluded with the launch of an interactive map that showcases Roma women leaders in the region that relentlessly advocate for Roma women’s rights and spearhead prevention and response efforts to violence against women and gender-based discrimination.

The webinar, organized by the European Union, the Council of Europe, and UN Women, was the fourth in the series "A thousand ways to solve our problems: Preventing and responding to violence against women from an intersectional perspective in the Western Balkans and Turkey," organized within the framework of the EU-UN Women programme “Ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey: Implementing Norms, Changing Minds.”

For more information, read this background paper on violence against Roma women and girls.

 

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* For the European Union, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For UN Women, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).