Summer school promotes empowerment of Roma girls in Moldova

A UN Women-supported summer school teaches Roma women and men about gender equality and their rights, and helps them set up projects to fight gender and ethnic stereotyping.

Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A 2014 UN study indicates that Roma women and girls are one of Moldova’s most disempowered groups. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur
A 2014 UN study indicates that Roma women and girls are one of Moldova’s most disempowered groups. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur

Diana Leahu, a 20-year-old Roma woman from Orhei, a city 48 km north of Moldova’s capital Chișinău, knows from personal experience what discrimination means and how it can prevent opportunities for a better life.

Diana Leahu, a 20-year-old Roma woman from Orhei, a city 48 km north of Moldova’s capital Chișinău. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur
Diana Leahu (on the right), a 20-year-old Roma woman from Orhei, a city 48 km north of Moldova’s capital Chișinău. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur

She is one of a fortunate few Roma women with a college education. Half the Roma women in Moldova receive no schooling, only 20 per cent complete primary school, another 20 per cent finish a gymnasium, and only 10 per cent graduate from high school or university.

“At university when I presented myself as a Roma, I immediately saw how colleagues’ facial expressions changed. One teacher even asked me why I came here and was not getting married, as Roma girls do,” says Ms. Leahu.

Ms. Leahu is not alone. A 2014 UN study indicates that Roma women and girls are one of Moldova’s most disempowered groups, still facing inequality in social, economic and political life.

Moldova has signed on to international and national commitments to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Although it has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and various ILO Conventions, implementation lags and women still face discrimination in many aspects of their daily lives.

Diana worked hard to get the education she wanted. Through perseverance, she is now a student at the Law Faculty at Moldova State University and a participant in a summer school course, “Zorjaras – Empowering Roma Girls.”

A summer school teaches Roma women and men from Moldova about gender equality and their rightsPhoto: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur
A summer school teaches Roma women and men from Moldova about gender equality and their rights. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur

The 25 young Roma women and men who attended the week-long Zorjaras summer school learned about gender equality, their rights and how to combat gender stereotypes through their own projects. Students were encouraged to devise local level initiatives that would support Roma women and girls from Moldova. Each submitted projects that had to be feasibly carried out in two to three months, and the best ones won financial support for their implementation.

The school motivated Diana and made her even more committed to demonstrating that Roma girls have valuable capabilities, and “not be perceived only as beggars or dancers,” Ms. Leahu says. “We, Roma women, have the same skills and abilities as boys and are no different than them.

“It's time to demonstrate this through our involvement. Roma girls are victims of double discrimination - on grounds of both ethnicity and gender,” she argues. She wants to implement a project to organize vocational courses for Roma girls. Ms. Leahu is also a member and volunteer at several organizations protecting and promoting the rights of Roma women.

The 27 young Roma women and men who attended the Zorjaras summer school learned about gender equality and their rights. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur
The 25 young Roma women and men who attended the Zorjaras summer school learned about gender equality and their rights. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur

Esmiralda Duminica, 18, says that the Zorjaras summer school answered many of her questions about gender equality, human rights and how to address some problems faced by Roma women. She learned about the importance of gender-responsive budgeting and participation in public and political life.

“Thanks to the skills obtained at this Zorjaras summer school, I’d like to organize a campaign with other young Roma women and men to encourage Roma girls from socially vulnerable families to attend school and continue their studies,” says Esmiralda.

The foundation is there to do just that. The most recent regional survey on Roma, carried out in 2011, indicated that seven out of 10 young Roma women from Moldova, aged between 16-24 years, can read and write.

The young Roma men attending Zorjaras felt that it gave them a drive to further promote gender equality between women and men.

“I’ve always felt that a woman should be equal to a man and in no way subordinated. We are here to encourage other Roma women to go forward, not just for themselves but for the entire Roma community,” says Mr. Sahin Rădița, a summer school participant.

Busuioc Parapir will use the knowledge gained from "Zorjaras" to go to local communities to inform Roma women and men about their rights. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur
Busuioc Parapir will use the knowledge gained from "Zorjaras" to go to local communities to inform Roma women and men about their rights. Photo: UN Programme “Women in politics”/ Ramin Mazur

Busuioc Parapir hopes to use the knowledge gained from Zorjaras to go to local communities to inform Roma women and men about their rights and “contribute to solving their problems,” he says.

The Zorjaras summer school was organized by the National Roma Centre, with support of the European Youth Foundation (EYF) of the Council of Europe, and the UN Programme Women in Politics (WiP) and the Austrian Development Agency-supported UN Women Regional Project on Promoting Gender Responsive Policies in South-East Europe, phase II.

WiP is implemented by UN Women and UNDP, in partnership with the East-Europe Foundation (EEF) and Center Partnership for Development, WiP is financed by the Government of Sweden. UN Women has supported Roma women in Moldova since 2011.