Where do Roma Women stand?
Before the nineties Roma and Egyptian* community were better educated and integrated in society than after the following political transition. More than two decades after the establishment of first Roma and Egyptian NGOs, Roma and Egyptian women remain still in shadow, facing poverty, discrimination, marriage under age and high unemployment. Their economic and social status is vulnerable and their participation in decision-making and media is almost invisible.
Mrs. Meleqe Rrenja, a Roma rights activist, talking about the improvement of Roma situation after the collapse of the nineties, says “Of course we have advanced as all the others. You will see it in our weddings; we spend more than we used to spend years ago. But for those families living in makeshifts they are even worse than they used to be at Enver Hoxha's time” . There has been little improvement on Roma condidtion so far, even Albania has adopted a National Strategy on Improving Roma Conditions in 2003. Progress report conducted in 2012 showed that the implementation of Roma Strategy has had meager results on improving their living conditions. Overall, Egyptian and Roma women suffer the same social and economic difficulties. However, Egyptian women, unlike Roma women, to some extend, seem slightly better integrated economically and socially. The Egyptians speak Albanian and have been settled down, unlike Roma who have been nomadic and primarily speak their own language, romani, at least among them. This key aspect has marginally advantaged the first group and restricted the latter.
The main issue of both communities is poverty; that means not enough food and inadequate housing. Every day is a battle of bringing food on the table for poor Roma and Egyptian families. Many women and children beg in the streets to barely make a living. The majority of Roma and Egyptian women are self employed usually in the informal market. They trade clothes, beg in the streets, work seasonally in agriculture or collect cans. Especially the collection of cans is the main source of income for 40 % of Roma families. Also some families move from one city to another in order to find a job or immigrate in neighboring countries, during summer season, to work in the fields.
Housing, on the other hand, is a thorny problem as many Roma live under extremely difficult conditions in poor houses or makeshifts and are often threatened with eviction. Such was the case of forced eviction of 45 Roma families from their settlement near Tirana Train Station on February 2011. They were provided with a temporary accommodation at Babrru, on the outskirts of Tirana. State officials failed to accommodate them claiming insufficient funding. Unfortunately they ended up in the streets, in their own fate. Last year (August 2013), another 37 Roma families were forced to leave their houses in Kavaja Street(Tirana), even some of them have lived there for more than 30 years. After staying in makeshifts for two months they are now placed in Tufine, a former military building.
The problem with Roma and Egyptian women in Albania is that they are not integrated but placed in a social quarantine, making the social prejudices and stereotypes much stronger. Poverty and inadequate housing conditions, except of creating them a lot of stress and insecurity in their everyday life, put also barriers that they cannot remove.
What keeps Roma and Egyptian women on the sidelines is discrimination, a plague that starts prematurely at school. Brisilda Taco, a young Roma activist explains “Young Roma want to go to school but when teachers ask them questions they sometimes respond in romani and other children mock at them. They feel discriminated and don't return to school.” When Roma children go to school and find an unfriendly environment they feel unwelcome and don't want to return. Young Roma dropping from school, having no other opportunities, start to make a living or marry at a very young age. “Dropping from school and copping with their difficult economic situation, Roma marry at a very young age and this is a serious problem especially for Roma girls” says Brisilda. By marrying and being mothers, at a very young age, Roma women get more isolated as they find it difficult to get a job and support their families. Thus they are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty and illiteracy that makes them a prime target of social exclusion.
Roma and Egyptian women in Albania remain the most dependable and marginalized groups within both their communities and society as well. They remain the less integrated and the most discriminated. For women and children of both communities, the Decade of Roma Inclusion has not yet come in Albania.
*Egyptians or Balkan-Egyptians are a sub-group of Albanian Roma who distinguish themselves from Roma. They claim a different cultural heritage from other Roma and want to be recognized as an ethno-cultural minority. 2011 census revealed that Roma and Egyptians comprise 0,30% (8301) and 0,12 % (3368)of the Albanian population respectively. However, both communities have rejected census data as inaccurate. They have complained that the census results are unreliable because of the high mobility, informal settlements, and migration.
Here is a video United Nations made about Roma Role Models in Albania