Breaking Gender and Other Stereotypes – She is a Beacon of Hope, Both to Roma and Minority Women
Esmeralda's journey from birth, childhood and married life in a horse-drawn caravan in the south of France to a leading Romani woman activist on international level is truly remarkable - her journey is a testimony to many women (in particular a testimony to those from minority groups, who like Romani women suffer double and triple discrimination in every day life), that it is possible to "make a difference, to be seen, and to have one's voice heard".
Esmeralda Romanez has worked tirelessly to progress the rights of Roma in Europe. She was the first woman French Gypsy woman representative on the Roma and Traveller Forum at the Council of Europe. She also is a founding member and President of the Federation of Cale/Kale, Manouches and Sinte Women (these are Romani branches from Western Europe), and is a representative of this European Organisation on the level of the European Women's Lobby (EWL) in Brussels. Esmeralda is also a delegate on the Board of the European Women's Lobby.
Esmeralda Romanez has achieved one thing which many women who win awards, or are given honorary mentions, do not seem to have achieved. She is known BOTH on grassroots level, AND on non-grassroots level. (Many women are known on administrative company or government levels BUT not on simple grassroots every day life level.) This is one of the main reasons why Esmeralda Romanez has obtained radio, newspaper and other media profile in France. She has broken gender and minority stereotype - as a Romani woman.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA], as well as the European Commission, have produced considerable literature on Roma (and other such groups) across a range of thematic areas for a number of years now. Below are some broad indications of the current situational experiences of Roma communities today:
EU-wide policies have advocated that Roma and other minorities’ were to be included and mainstreamed in local, national and European policies. For instance, the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015 as reflected by the range of the associated partners, conveys precisely the magnitude of promoting as a matter of urgency, such groups’ free participation in civil society, as a critical issue within European central policy discussions.
HOUSING: Many Roma communities across Europe share a highly marginalised existence. They often lack access to basic utilities, such as drinking water, electricity, and sanitation services. Poor housing conditions are found in all countries, with a higher level of deprivation typical in rural areas and in the urban periphery. In some Member States, empirical evidence indicates a high share of people living in poor conditions. In Bulgaria and Romania 45%-65% of the dwellings have no sewage, and 65%-75% do not have drinking water or inside toilets (FRA, 2009).
EDUCATION: Roma children across Europe suffer from severe underachievement. Moreover, under-attainment in schooling persists across generations as a direct consequence of some practices, such as the provision of racially segregated educational facilities and arbitrary refusals to enrol Roma children.
HEALTH: Roma have a life expectancy of 10 years less than the average European and a child mortality rate that is significantly higher than the EU average of 4.3 per thousand births. United Nations Development Programme research in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic put Roma infant mortality rates there at 2-6 times higher than those for the general population, depending on the country. These outcomes reflect poorer living conditions, reduced access to quality healthcare and higher exposure to risks. There is also evidence that Roma communities are less well informed about health issues and can face discrimination in access to healthcare.
EMPLOYMENT: In today’s world, young Roma are less well-equipped and less qualified to find a job then in previous years. The Europe 2020 strategy sets a headline target of 75% of people in the EU aged 20-64 to be in employment, compared to a current rate of 68.8%. For Roma, the employment rate is significantly lower, with a gap of around 26%, according to World Bank research on Bulgaria and Romania (as well as Serbia and the Czech Republic). Even more importantly, full Roma integration in the labour market could bring economic benefits estimated to be around €0.5 billion annually for some countries.