With International Romani Day on 8 April, and Roma Week from 24 to 27 April, April was truly in the spirit of Roma equality. Like in previous years, these events allow civil society and policy makers alike to discuss the way forward for Roma equality. This year’s Roma week reflect that idea with the slogan ‘reveal our past to reclaim our future.’ This set the theme as taking lessons from the past to drive progress in the future.
Revealing the past was done through a number of events analysing the many manifestations of antigypsyism (discrimination of Roma people) throughout history. Reclaiming the future was reflected in a large focus this year on young Roma, Roma heroines, as well as discussions on the next steps required in the EU Roma strategic framework, and funding for Roma inclusion projects. On behalf of the European Public Health Alliance and the Roma Health Network, it was my distinct pleasure to join the discussion by speaking in on one of the panels on funding, as well as through co-organising an event on Roma children in the European Parliament.
During the event New Solutions to Old Problems on 26 April, experiences with funding for local projects for Roma equality were discussed to highlight ways of furthering Roma inclusion. In the final session, funding of bottom-up approaches was explored.
Here, I represented our Roma Health Network member NGO KHAM from Delčevo in North Macedonia. Based on their experience and preparation, I could expand on the importance of entrepreneurship and employment projects in improving healthcare access for Roma. (Self-)employment of Roma allows for access to health insurance, as well as the means to access healthcare, which shows that the social determinants of health are equally as important as the quality of the healthcare system. Employment, education, housing and health are all interconnected, so investment in one means investment in the others.
On the 27th of April, our co-organised event Unlocking the Potential of Young Roma Children in Europe took place. We wanted to highlight how antigypsyism and poverty often cause structural barriers in the earliest stages of the lives of Roma children. This is exemplified by their overrepresentation in institutional care and special education. With this in mind, we emphasised the importance of ensuring a healthy and nurturing environment for Roma children as early as possible.
During the event, hosted by MEP Milan Brglez of S&D Slovenia, we joined forces with Reneta Krivonozova of Eurochild, Aljosa Rudas of the International Step by Step Association’s Romani Early Years Network, and Tanja Vasić of the Minority Initiative in Austria. Together, we outlined the scale of the problem faced by Roma children, highlighted the effects of poverty and antigypsyism, provided solutions, and called to action both civil society and policy makers to pay more attention to the needs of Roma children. With the contributions of Géraldine Libreau of DG EAC at the European Commission, and MEP Dragoș Pîslaru of Renew Europe Romania, we made a strong case for acting as early as possible, so every Roma child can unlock their potential and grow up in good health and wellbeing.
It is only a short time until we are in June, when the updated National Roma Strategic Frameworks will be released. It is hoped that the many the lessons shared during this year’s Roma Week will be reflected in these strategies, allowing Roma people to take another step towards reclaiming their future; a future they are entitled to as much as anyone else.
With special thanks to the ERGO Network for coordinating civil society for this year’s Roma Week and setting up the Roma Week website: https://romaweek.eu/