CAHROM thematic report on Roma Women (excerpts), 2014

V. CONCLUSIONS, LESSONS LEARNT AND GOOD PRACTICES IDENTIFIED

5.1 Conclusions and lessons learnt

5.1Conclusions as regards the preparation and organisation of the thematic visit

Positive aspects:

  • An official invitation letter and a draft agenda were sent on time;
  • The possibility was given to the CAHROM Secretariat and to partner countries’ experts to provide comments on the draft agenda;
  • The agenda of both the round table and the field visits to Kirtimai settlement in Vilnius and to Panevėžys focused on the topic;
  • All partner countries’ experts had a chance to present their experience;
  • The group of experts had an opportunity to meet with various key interlocutors (state officials, Roma women activists, leaders and members of the community (both male and female), the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, EIGE, directors of day care and Roma community/integration centres, civil society actors, etc.);
  • Local transport and excellent interpretation were provided by the hosting authorities.

Shortcomings:

  • During the round table, there was a limited exchange with and interventions by Lithuanian interlocutors (apart from a few representatives from the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman and civil society);
  • Some crucial relevant actors from line ministries and Vilnius municipality were not present and/or active in the discussions;
  • The numerous and lengthy presentations at the European Institute for Gender Equality headquarters about EIGE activities and projects on women and Roma women, as relevant, whilst providing a lot of information, did not leave enough time for an exchange of views with experts of the thematic group and with representatives of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson2 present at that meeting.

2 During the time of the visit, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson was acting as the Ombudsperson on Children’s Rights.

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5.3Conclusions, good practices and lessons learnt concerning Lithuania

Partner countries’ experts found very positive the initiative from the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture to request the thematic visit on Roma women empowerment and gender dimension of Roma inclusion policies and its intention to pay particular attention to gender mainstreaming and to Romani women and girls as a way to address gender inequalities during the revision of its National Action Plan on Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2012-2014.

During the field visits to Kirtimai settlement in Vilnius and to Panevėžys, it was obvious for partner countries’ experts that Ms Gražina Sluško in charge of Roma issues in the Ministry of Culture was well known by the local actors and the Roma community who trusts her. However, they had the impression that the Ministry of Culture, which has directly responsible for the Roma portfolio, would need stronger involvement from other line ministries since obviously the Ministry of Culture has a limited scope of action when it comes to issues related to housing, employment, education, health, justice, etc. A coordinated approach through an inter-ministerial cooperation with other line ministries would be strongly advisable so as to provide integrated solutions.

The group of experts realized during the visit that Lithuanian Roma, being a relatively small Roma population (not exceeding 3,000) was not receiving enough political attention by national or local authorities, nor could they benefit from many European programmes which too often target countries with bigger Roma populations.

Roma women in Lithuania do not have sufficient skills to be able to produce regular income. During the field visit in Kirtimai settlement, Roma women presented a business and entrepreneurship initiative (based on traditional crafts) which is financially supported by the Ministry of Culture. The latter has unfortunately not financial and technical capacity to follow-up on such initiatives in the longer term. Among various suggestions to improve the socio-economic situation of Roma, and women in particular, the group of experts mentioned a stronger focus on vocational training and socio-economic empowerment with a particular emphasis on Roma women (as practiced e.g. in Spain), as well as the development of a micro-credit scheme for entrepreneurship projects. Since Roma women in Lithuania are largely engaged with taking care of children at home, parents’/mothers’ centres could also be envisaged as a way to promote and support Roma women’s autonomy and opportunity to get employment.

In the field of education, the group of experts highlighted the importance of increasing self-confidence and motivation of Lithuanian Roma, women and girls in particular. The provision of pre-school and day care services, the promotion of Roma children’s attendance in primary and secondary education, the introduction of English courses and adult education could help preventing school drop outs, combating illiteracy, as well as socio-economic dependence from the state subsidies or from drug-trafficking in the worst scenario. Experts considered that Roma school teaching assistants supported under PROGRESS programme and Roma mediators trained under the ROMED programme should be institutionalised by the Ministry of Education.

The Lithuanian expert from the Lithuanian Institute for Ethnic Studies indicated that there was limited data available on Roma education and employment, and agreed that more data collection is needed, including in the health area, and that data collection should include a stronger gender perspective.

During the field visit, the experts found that early marriage was frequently present among Roma communities living in Lithuania. In the Kirtimai settlement, the average marriage age within the Kalderash Roma is 14-16 in comparison with 16-18 within the Lithuanian Roma group. Early marriage was strongly supported by Roma male leaders met during the visit. Although two Roma women activists expressed disagreement about this practice, their voice is hardly heard beyond some families. The group of experts is of the opinion that early/child marriage poses critical obstacles to personal development, education and health status. The Lithuanian authorities, the Ministry of Education in particular, should support early and primary education as a way to combat illiteracy both among Roma children and adults. The Ombudsperson on Children’s Rights in Lithuania could raise the issue of early/child marriage and take action with relevant state and local authorities so as to ensure that the rights of Roma children are being protected. Organising a public (TV) debate on early marriage between Lithuanian Roma sharing either traditional or modern views was also suggested and was in principle accepted by Roma male and women activists met in Kirtimai, as well as the participation of a Lithuanian expert in a proposed CAHROM thematic group on addressing early marriage within Roma communities.

The poor housing status of Roma living in the Kirtimai settlement in Vilnius has already been largely documented by the Council of Europe (e.g. ECRI and the Commissioner for Human Rights) and international organisations. Having in mind that Kirtimai is the only informal settlement in Lithuania and that Roma families are living there since 1956, the group of experts was surprised that no solution had been found so far to eradicate this settlement and no alternative solutions provided for these families (Spain has a different approach for example). The land where the “houses”5 are built on belongs to the Ministry of Environment and thus Roma do not have property rights over the “houses”. In order to have a secure housing situation and avoid being constantly under the fear of a possible eviction, Roma living in Kirtimai would need to have their “houses” legalised and obtain property rights through an agreement between the municipality of Vilnius and the Ministry of Environment.

5 Apart from a couple of brick-houses, most of the Roma in the Kirtimai settlement live in shacks.

The experts understood that there was a big issue concerning illicit trafficking in drugs and drug addiction among a number of Roma living in Kirtimai which might appear as an obstacle. However, pursuing with this tolerated approach does not seem for the experts of the thematic group to be sustainable in the long run. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health could organise awareness-raising activities on the risks of drug addiction in Kirtimai settlement and together with the Ministry of Justice develop joint actions to combat drug trafficking, using for example the experience of the Pompidou Group 6.

6 See Pompidou Group website: http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/pompidou/aboutus/default_EN.asp?

The group of experts took note that the Dosta! campaign was launched in Lithuania at the initiative of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education on 8 April 2013 and together with the “Sare Roma” and the “Roma Integration House” associations. The Lithuanian expert expressed the wish to develop additional awareness-raising activities on gender aspects, cautioning against the romanticised and folkloristic approach Roma are sometimes presented by. The examples of Roma women activists that the experts have met during their visit to Lithuania could be promoted as role models within the Roma communities under the Dosta! campaign. Roma women outside the Lithuanian borders who succeeded in their professional career (e.g. the Moldovan and the Finnish experts of the thematic group) could be also promoted as role models in Lithuania to provoke an internal reflexion among Roma women.

In addition, the experts have indicated that Lithuanian public administrations, school teachers and civil servants in general might benefit from anti-discrimination training in order to improve their tools and methodology in working with minority communities, such as the Roma.

The isolation of Lithuanian Roma, both men and women, and their lack of participation at local, national or international level, were underlined by the experts as key obstacles to their empowerment and accountability, and reinforce the cycle of poverty and marginalisation in which Lithuanian Roma find themselves. In turn, making Roma part of development policies and decision-making (e.g. in Finland) will provide the space for making Roma part of the solutions, which are more likely therefore to be effective, sustainable, inclusive and equitable. Roma could also be trained in exercising their voters’ rights.

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5.6. Conclusions, good practices and lessons learnt concerning the Republic of Moldova

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In comparison with Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova seems to benefit from a stronger involvement of international actors in the field of Roma.

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Lithuania could take inspiration from the implementation of the ROMED programme and the institutionalisation and financing of Roma mediators in the Republic of Moldova.

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Document data: CAHROM (2014)11 ; 23.10.2014. Links (only chapter 5 available): https://rm.coe.int/09000016801e8e4a & https://rm.coe.int/16801e8e4a Also available in French at https://rm.coe.int/16806b9676

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