ON March 8 this year we celebrated 100 years of advocacy for women’s equal rights. And yet much remains to be done to realise the full equal rights of women. This is especially true for women in minority groups.

All across Europe, Roma women are among the most disadvantaged populations.



On average, a Roma woman in Slovakia is estimated to die 17 years earlier than a non-Roma woman, Roma girls are twice as likely to get married and have children before their 20th birthday as non-Roma girls and Roma women are less likely to complete their education. They are less likely to learn to read and more likely to be unemployed than non-Roma women and Roma men.

Supporting education of Roma girls and women is a wise investment. Development studies across the world show that investment in well-being and education of girls and women has a positive impact not only on their own lives but also on future generations. Providing skills and promoting education for girls leads to higher rates of employment and income and lower maternal and child mortality.

Lívia Járóka, Hungarian Member of the European Parliament – and a Roma woman – said that it was her parents’ refusal to put her into a segregated classroom that is one of the reasons she has succeeded in life. (http://www.womenlobby.org/spip.php?article1174)

The ongoing Decade of Roma Inclusion has successfully engaged several European countries to take action to improve the status of Roma in their countries. This spring, the European Commission is expected to propose a new – and very necessary – strategy on Roma inclusion.

UNDP’s forthcoming regional Human Development Report titled Beyond Transition: Towards Inclusive Societies focuses on social inclusion. It reveals that one-third of the population in the region is excluded from society and introduces a practical way to measure the extent to which people are excluded from economic life, social services and social networks and civic participation.

The measure provides policy makers with the evidence they require to respond to the needs of citizens. It can be broken down so that policy makers can see how exclusion looks in their country, where it is geographically and to what extent it relates to economic exclusion, or other often overlooked factors such as access to social services and social networks.

The report advocates for fine tuning inclusion policies to the local development context, such as specific needs of Roma women.

It is imperative to take the experiences of Roma women into account when it comes to strategies and policies that aim to address challenges to Roma communities.

Making sure that Roma are included in society is very much related to issues of gender equality and requires dialogue with Roma women.

For example, a Roma woman may hesitate before reporting domestic violence – she may think that domestic violence shames her family and reinforces negative stereotypes.

Specific needs of Roma women need to be recognised and accommodated, or inclusion efforts may result in further marginalisation.

Diversity is a cause for celebration and is an inexcusable reason for people being left behind.

Inclusion does not mean assimilation. It means equal access to resources and opportunities such as education or health care. It means having a voice in society.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we stand with Roma women and recognise that all of us need to contribute to finding effective ways to include Roma women in society.



Jens Wandel is the UNDP Deputy Regional Bureau Director and Director of UNDP Bratislava Regional Centre