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From policy to practice in gender equality between Roma women and men

Publication date 25.7.2017 13.55

In May 2017, a two-day event focusing on gender equality was organised for Roma women and men as part of the project Building a Roma Platform financed by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the EU.

The first day of the event was a hearing of Roma women and men on how gender equality is implemented in their everyday life and how it should be promoted. The second day of the event brought together Roma organisations, equality organisations and other stakeholders around discussing joint goals and possibilities for cooperation.

Social change is shaking up the Roma community

Diversity and value pluralism are natural parts of the everyday life in the Roma community. Therefore, there are also many different views on gender equality. A social change concerning education, occupational restructuring and employment is currently shaking up the entire community. In their daily life, many Roma find themselves under pressures caused by traditional and new role expectations and have to try to reconcile the two amid their family, relatives and the wider Roma community.

Both Roma women and men increasingly work in occupations in which they have rarely been seen before or in which the Roma have traditionally not engaged at all. For example, Roma men may work as nurses and traditionally dressed Roma women as lorry drivers.

However, the stereotypes and prejudice towards Roma women and men break down very slowly in the eyes of the rest of the population. For example, the Roma may face very sexist, old-fashioned and set views or even restrictions in career guidance or working life. People may have an out-dated image of gender equality among the Roma, or assume or think they know what it is like and generalise it to apply to all Roma women or men: “But Roma men never...”

Many Roma are willing to participate the debate on gender equality

In the events, many ideas were generated and good measures were proposed for the development of equality among Roma women and men both within and outside their community. The Roma are willing to participate in a societal debate on gender equality that promotes genuine inclusion and independent goal-setting.

Some Roma shun the public debate on equality in particular because it has often been conducted without any real dialogue with the Roma community, from difficult and problem-centred starting points, and in ways and with goal-settings that the Roma are not comfortable with. This is partly due to the lack of Roma representation in different gender equality networks.

Debate on gender equality must pay attention to the Roma culture

Assessing gender equality among the Roma through such familiar themes as education, employment and the inclusion of the Roma community proved to be a surprisingly challenging task at times, as the participants’ thoughts tended to easily shift towards the perspective of ethnic equality. However, the Roma also recognised many issues in which more effective assessment of gender impact and representation would be required. These issues should be taken into account both in the work with the Roma community and in societal influencing. The participants firmly believed that it is possible to influence gender inequalities by creating operating practices and mechanisms that increase equality.

However, the participants acknowledged that addressing gender equality issues requires a high level of trust and cultural sensitivity. This must be remembered especially when the debate approaches matters concerning historically or socioculturally strong values or sensitive topics such as traditional taboos. When working on gender equality within the Roma population, advantage should be taken of different dialogue methods that have an empowering effect, strengthen inclusion and also enable the facilitation of internal discussion about change within the community itself.

A lively debate on gender equality will continue in the Roma community as part of the preparation of the new National Policy on Roma, and in ongoing projects and organisational activities of the Advisory Board on Roma Matters.

Henna Huttu
Secretary general, Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

The original text has been published in Ministry of Social Affairs and Health’s blog on July 14 in Finnish.

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