Wednesday, 16 March 2016

How We Fight against Racism, Discrimination and Intolerance: How Easily We Access Our Rights

"When I went to see a doctor last winter, I entered the doctor’s office and she told me that I didn’t need to come since she could see that I was not ill, although I really was ill. She didn’t even examine me and I didn’t complain to anyone.” (F, YOB 2000, Bor)

“In most institutions, employees are more unfriendly to Roma, even though they do not say it is the reason.” (F, YOB 1988, Prokuplje) 

 “In Pristina, I lived in a Roma mahala and children from the mahala mainly did not go to school. I don’t know why, simply it was so that children did not attend school, but they had to work. I looked after my siblings, and children of close relatives, while the adults were working.” (F, YOB 1969, Leskovac) 

“My parents thought that female children should not go to school; they were expected to look after younger siblings and do housework. They did not enrol me in school so that I wouldn’t be spoiled.” (F, YOB 1982, Bor)

How easily or how carelessly do we access our rights? How much and in what way do we become aware of our rights or the lack of them? What is multiple discrimination and how it affects the exercise of human rights? How easy is it to access „rights guaranteed by birth“ at the crossroad of gender, racial and structural discrimination?

Even though “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights“, the credibility of the words from the Universal Declaration or legal acts of the Republic of Serbia guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens, may be best assessed by those to whom these rights, though guaranteed and universal in the paper, are inaccessible, denied and often unknown in everyday life.

It seems to us that rights are not guaranteed and granted at birth. We exercise the rights within the state system, as members of a political community, as political subjects. However, the persons who do not have evidence on their birth, citizenship and do not possess personal documents, are legally invisible. In Serbia, those are mostly Roma, who daily encounter numerous impediments to exercise of the rights.

We exercise the rights as social subjects, and equal participants in society. If we are discriminated by the society we live in, the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the law and thus available to us as equal citizens of certain country, becomes impeded by discriminatory social practices. We exercise rights or are deprived of them, in a daily interaction with the other members of society. 

We exercise the rights also within an immediate community, a family. The exercise of rights for the Roma women, who live and grow up in dominantly patriarchal social environment, with clearly defined gender roles which women keep in the private sphere, is additionally impeded. 

We gain awareness about the rights through education and the availability of information. Without the information and awareness about their rights, Roma women are in an extremely vulnerable position. Even when they possess personal documents, decision on their lives are often reached by their husbands or parents. If their personal choices are not in line with the imposed ones, the unavailability of information on who they may address for support and the lack of appropriate infrastructure for the implementation of support expose them to multiples discrimination and vulnerability. Their access to rights is then blocked from all sides. 

We exercise the rights through economic independence. 

Research on access to socio-economic rights for Roma women in Serbia, which we conducted in 2015, with the support of Civil Rights Defenders, in 10 municipalities in the south of Serbia, gave the following findings:

• the right to social protection is exercised by 38% of women who are right holders; 27% of women responded that their spouses/common-law partners were holders of the rights to social protection, while the same answer was given by only 7% of men;

• 31% of female respondents completed elementary school, 17% of female respondents have never attended school, a total of 39% female respondents said that they had been enrolled in elementary school, but had not completed yet; only 4% of female respondents have completed secondary school.

• out of 100 surveyed Roma women, 35% of them confirmed that they have received some income; 54% of surveyed Roma women have never applied for a job, and as many as 100% of women gave this response in Kursumlija, while in Leskovac and Prokuplje 90% of female respondents answered this way;

• 92% of female respondents live in dilapidated facilities made of brick, 88% live in the facilities that have electricity, 72% have access to drinking water, while 45% live in the facilities that are not connected to the sewage network;

• the most common reason for not exercising social protection rights and not possessing a health booklet is the is the lack of necessary documents; poverty is the major cause of non-enrolment or termination of elementary education.

Within European Action Week Against Racism, we want to point at social, legal and political barriers encountered by a large number of Roma women in everyday life on their way towards the exercise of rights – as members of a discriminated minority community, as women within highly patriarchal system, as legally invisible and without the voting right, both inside and outside their community.

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Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action