Roma Women activism key to improve health situation

19 September 2011

With the support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Brussels, ERGO Network brought four Women Roma activists to the 11th International Women Health Meeting in Brussels. From 13 to 17 September, ERGO Network’s Gabriela Hrabanova, Isabela Mihalache previously from ERRC, Gerta Xega from Roma Active Albania, and Natalia Bernard, social worker from Ostrava, Czech Republic joined over 200 women activists and advocates gathered from across the world.

On Friday 16 September one of the morning panels was dedicated to the health situation of youngsters and Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. In her contribution, Gabriela Hrabanova stressed that Roma health issues are intimately connected with poverty, the dismal living conditions and discrimination against Roma in Europe.

She further drew attention to the specific challenges Roma women activists face, in particular in fighting against gender discrimination or claiming their health rights. Being an activist is anything but self-evident for Roma women, because the posture of an advocate does not naturally correspond with the expected roles of Roma women in society, community and family.

You can read Gabriela Hrabanova’s contribution here.

Isabela Mihalache, who participated in the meeting on a personal title, welcomed the opportunity for Roma women activists to connect to the women movement more broadly and highlighted the importance of coming together to break prejudices. She also stressed the need for more research. Although there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence of the poor health status of Roma across Europe, it is impossible with available data to gauge the extent of healthcare related discrimination against Roma.

The meeting also offered the opportunity for the regional OHCHR to brainstorm with activists and especially with Romani women on the issues that concern them the most in relation to the health and the right to access the health services. The outcome of brainstorming will further serve as a starting point of a program component on health in the Decade of Roma Inclusion countries proposed by the WHO in collaboration with several other UN agencies.  

The 11th edition of International Women’s Health Meeting (IWHM) took place in Brussels in 2011. The meeting creates a platform to exchange, inform, question and act on policies and practices regarding women's health and human rights, especially the sexual and reproductive rights.The IWHM has become one of the largest meetings of activists, women’s health advocates, academics and donors involved in women’s health and reproductive rights. The first meeting was held in 1977 in Rome and the latest in 2005 in New Delhi. More information at: www.11rifs.org.

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