MONTENEGRO: Learning About Rights Helps Roma Women in Montenegro

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Equal Power - Lasting Peace
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

Women are discriminated against in most societies. But Roma women are often even worse off, since they are faced both with the strong patriarchal culture within the Roma community and the sometimes blatant racism from institutions as well as individuals.

"I wasn't allowed to move around freely or make decisions about my own life," says Fana Delija, one of the founders of Center for Roma Initiative, CRI, the only organization working for Roma women's rights in Montenegro.

CRI has just received the 2012 Anna Lindh Prize (yearly award in memory of the Swedish Secretary of State with the same name who was murdered in 2003), and Fana Delija and the co-founder of CRI, Fatima Naza, are still a bit overwhelmed.

"The award means a lot to us, it gives us the strength to continue our work. And hope and optimism," says Fana Delija.

Besides from founding CRI, Fana Delija and Fatima Naza have also started a network for young Roma women and are advisors to the Montenegrin government in matters concerning Roma women's situation and rights. But just ten years ago their lives were very different. They lived in a Roma area and were almost never allowed to leave their own homes.

"I used to wonder why I couldn't move around freely when girls from the majority population could," says Fana Delija.

Discussion groups changed their lives

The change came when Fana and Fatima started to participate in activities for young Roma women, arranged by the organization SOS Hotline in the town of Niksic. There they were taught about human rights, and eventually they began to lead their own discussion groups with other young Roma women, about the importance of education and to have power over your own life.

The discussion groups grew and in 2004 CRI was created as a separate organization. And their hard work these passed years has not been in vain. For example, the proportion of Roma women who give birth at home went down from 60 percent till less than 30 percent between 2000 and 2005, and today almost all Roma women give birth in a hospital.

"The changes are also noticeable in terms of education. The number of Roma children attending public schools have multiplied and now there are also Roma women with university degrees," says Fana Delija.

Roma women have also started to work outside the home, something that was almost never heard of ten years ago.

Biggest problems within the Roma community

Fatima Naza thinks that the Anna Lindh Award will help to bring more attention to the work of CRI and to Roma women's situation.

"The biggest problems we encounter are within the Roma community, in particular Roma leaders who try to keep some negative aspects of the Romany traditions, such as arranged marriages. Parents sell their daughters to their future husbands, which is a crime against women's and children's rights. In our work we focus a lot on reducing the number of early and arranged marriages," says Fatima Naza.

CRI also informs Roma women about different types of violence against women and distributes information on where abused women can receive help. But their work is not solely focused on their own group.

"We also provide training for the whole community on prejudice against the Roma. It's an extensive job," says Fatima Naza.