Alba Hernandez at the launching event, Fourth Status Report: “Implementation of the Action Plans on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area”.

Alba Hernandez's input at the launching event, Fourth Status Report: “Implementation of the Action Plans on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area”.


Alba Hernandez

12/12/20236 min read

I will begin by thanking my colleagues from the Roma Contact point Office on behalf of the Feminist Collective of Romani Gender Experts for their efforts to bring feminist voices to the table.

I will reflect on the extent that existing policies address the challenges faced by Roma women and girls and how the intersectional discrimination impact their current situation. To do so, it is crucial to examine the effectiveness of both mainstream and specific Roma frameworks. It is difficult to assess the situation of Romani women due to the lack of disaggregate data on the topic. To illustrate it, I will use the data from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)2019- 2021 surveys conducted across 10 European countries. Although the data is focus on 10 EU countries, the information might be similar for the rest of the members states of the OSCE area.

The housing issues serve as a tangible example of how intersectional discrimination profoundly affects Roma women and girls. This impact is particularly evident in the intersectionality of infrastructure issues. Take, for instance, the access to fundamental necessities such as water and well-maintained streets. These basic facilities are deemed crucial, especially for women who often hold significant caregiving responsibilities within their families. The absence of proper infrastructure not only amplifies the daily struggles of Roma women but also highlights the intricate connections between gender roles and the discriminatory access to essential resources.

As an example of how Roma women and girls’ issues are underrepresented and silenced, the recent 16th edition of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion, held this year on November 30, focused on equal access to adequate and desegregated housing for Roma. However, despite its high-level nature, there was a notable oversight in addressing the specific challenges faced by Romani women.

Their presence and specific challenges were barely acknowledged, revealing a significant gap in addressing the intersectional nature of infrastructure issues within the context of housing. The lack of mention of Romani women in such a pivotal event underscores the urgent need for a more comprehensive and intersectional approach when developing polices.

Transitioning to health issues, the disparities among Roma women are prominent, as they, on average, live 11.0 years less than women in the general population. The most significant gap is observed in Croatia, where the difference reaches 15.7 years. Furthermore, a higher proportion of Roma women encounter discrimination compared to Roma men and non-Roma women when attempting to access and within the healthcare system.

Despite focusing on reproductive rights in the Roma strategies frameworks, it's crucial to avoid neglecting other vital health concerns faced by Roma women and girls. This oversight may contribute to the substantial life expectancy gap of 11 years experienced by Roma women, emphasizing the need for a more comprehensive approach to address their overall health.

In the topic of education, the challenges facing Roma women and girls are evident. According to the 2019 FRA survey, 72% of Roma women youth aged between 18-24 are neither in education, employment, nor training. Specifically in Greece, where 81% of Roma women face this situation, similar patterns exist in Hungary and Portugal. This underscores the urgency of addressing the specific barriers Roma women and girls face in accessing equal education and consequently to employment systems.

Further, In the topic of employment, the 2021 FRA survey reveals a stark disparity, indicating that only 28% of Roma women aged between 20-64 are employed, in contrast to 58% of Roma men. This discrepancy persists from 2016, showing a persistent discrimination in accessing to the labor market. Notably, the employment rates of Roma women are significantly lower in specific countries such as Portugal (18%) Spain (17%), and Greece (15%). In each of these countries, the employment rate for Roma men and non-Roma women is almost double that of Roma women. This leads to a feminization of poverty, economic dependency, and limits options for Roma women and girls in escaping violence and abuse environments due to lack of economic resources among other factors.

The statistical data paints a stark picture of the economic challenges faced by Roma women and girls, with an alarming average of 84% of Roma women and 93% of Roma girls at risk of poverty.

The disproportionate economic hardships faced by Roma women creates a vulnerable environment in which in such circumstances, early marriage becomes not only a consequence but also, in some cases, a perceived solution.

A substantial 29% of Roma girls are married before the age of 18, and 10% before the age of 15. The gravity of this situation is particularly pronounced in certain countries, such as Greece (49%), Portugal (45%), and Romania (39%), where a significant percentage of Roma girls enter marriage before the age of 18. Comparatively, in the general population, women typically marry at around the age of 30.

The intersection of economic deprivation and early marriage perpetuates a cycle of discrimination and violence for Roma women and girls. This has serial consequences, including limited education opportunities, increased health risks, economic dependence, vulnerability to domestic violence, interference with personal and professional development, and perpetuation of the cycle of poverty.

The impact of anti-Roma racism on the lives of Roma women and girls is particularly pronounced by the intersectionality of discrimination, cutting across various areas of their existence. In every core area of life, from family dynamics to interactions with schools, social services, and the medical system, Roma women find themselves navigating different layers of discrimination. As the primary contact point between these vital institutions and their families, Roma women often become targets of discrimination, racism, sexism, and violence.

Despite these challenges, the barriers to reporting discrimination or harassment are substantial. According to (FRA) 2019, 74% of Romani women who experience discrimination or harassment abstain from reporting to authorities for different reasons: compounded by limited access to information on where and how to report these incidents, also Roma women express the belief that such violence is persistent and often goes unaddressed. This hesitancy stems from a deep-rooted lack of trust in the system, due to the past and present of persecution, assimilation, and police brutality, which is ongoing nowadays.

The gendered impact of this lack of access to information is evident, as Roma women are disproportionately affected compared to men. This disparity results in minimal access to justice, as highlighted by the FRA's 2021 findings, revealing that only 49% of Roma women are aware of at least one equality body—a figure alarmingly consistent with the numbers recorded in 2016. Notably, certain countries, including Czechia, Romania, Greece, and Portugal, exhibit even wider gaps.

When examining violence against Romani women and girls, a critical gap emerges due to the absence of data exploring how intersectional anti-Roma racism exclusively affects them. The lack of disaggregated data by gender and ethnic background creates a significant blind spot, leaving a crucial aspect of this issue unexplored, where no data is available.

Gender-based violence and domestic violence against Romani women and girls are underreported, limited awareness of available protection systems, and an inadequate institutional response from the police and protection services. This institutional indifference not only impacts the Roma community but also sends a broader message of systemic neglect and acceptance of such violence.

To address these challenges, comprehensive data collection methods that consider both gender and ethnic dimensions are crucial. Simultaneously, efforts must focus on increasing awareness of available support systems and ensuring a proactive and sensitive institutional response, involving Roma women experts in every stage of development policies and methodologies.

The absence of Romani women in positions of power within institutional offices, NGOs, and other influential sectors is a critical concern. Despite an increasing presence of Romani women in both sectors, decision-making positions continue to be male dominated. This gender gap has complex consequences, affecting both Romani women and the broader community.

On one hand, the imbalance perpetuates a gender gap in access to high-ranking positions and equitable salaries. The underrepresentation of Romani women in leadership roles hinders the development of feminist polices, strategies and methodologies. This lack of representation not only stifles the professional growth of Romani women but also reinforces societal stereotypes and prejudices.

On the other hand, the unequal distribution of power can result in the neglect of Romani women and girls’ issues, as it was in the 16th housing event that I mentioned earlier. The absence of Romani women in decision-making roles within both mainstream and Roma frameworks means that their unique challenges and perspectives are not adequately considered. This oversight contributes to a cycle of systemic neglect, as policies and initiatives may lack the nuanced understanding required to address the intersectional discrimination and violence faced by Romani women and girls.

These results show a disproportionate discrimination context of life face by Roma women and girls which is perpetuate with a minimum of progress over time, highlighting a systemic, structural, and disproportionate context of intersectional discrimination.

This institutional neglect and violence it’s a consequence of the intersection of anti-Roma racism and sexism which are deeply rooted not only in the general society but also in every institutional structure of the States which have the responsibility towards the rights of their citizens.

The evident disregard by states for the human rights of Roma women and girls places the burden on Roma women NGOs to address the multi-layered issues faced by Romani women and girls. However, these NGOs find themselves grappling with a harsh reality—they are underfunded and lack sufficient human resources to adequately tackle the pervasive challenges. This imbalance exacerbates the vulnerability of Roma women and underscores the pressing need for concerted efforts by both states and the broader society to dismantle the deeply entrenched intersectional barriers faced by the community.

Efforts to bridge this gender gap must extend beyond mere representation and encompass a commitment to fostering an inclusive environment. This includes implementing policies that actively promote the advancement of Romani women into leadership roles, capacity building, breaking down systemic barriers, implementing gender and ethnical quotas, and ensuring their voices are not only heard but also integral to shaping policies and frameworks. By addressing this disparity, we can strive for more equitable representation, create meaningful changes, and ensure that the specific concerns of Romani women and girls are addressed.