20. březen 2003  |  Enisa Eminova
Goteburg (Sweden) - March 8, 2003. Roma women leaders from 18 European
countries have launched a new network, the International Roma Women's
Network (IRWN), to lobby governments for better living conditions and to
fight for Roma women's rights - first Open Letter Criticises Forced Sterilisation in Slovakia.
Goteburg (Sweden) - March 8, 2003. Roma women leaders from 18 European
countries have launched a new network, the International Roma Women's
Network (IRWN), to lobby governments for better living conditions and to
fight for Roma women's rights.

In its first public action, the new network has issued an open letter
protesting against recent reports that Roma women have been forcibly
sterilised. The letter also claims that Slovak policemen have
"intimidated" Roma women in the investigation.

The IRWN brings together Roma women activists from West, Central and
Eastern Europe, and is believed to be the first initiative of its kind.
It has been launched on the occasion of International Women's Day (March 8)
to symbolise the determination of Roma women throughout Europe to
work together.

The decision to create the network was taken at a meeting in Vienna
(November 28-29, 2002) to review the health of Roma women in Europe. The
meeting was jointly sponsored by the Council of Europe, the Organization
for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union's
Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The three
organizations will sponsor a Ministerial conference on the health of
Roma women in May.

The new network was endorsed by a follow-up meeting at the Council of
Europe in Strasbourg (February 3-3, 2003), where participants adopted a
charter and elected a provisional committee to coordinate the IRWN. The
President of the new network, Soraya Post, is a prominent member of
Sweden's Cinti population. Other members on the committee come from
Bulgaria and Macedonia.

The Strasbourg meeting also agreed that the network will be independent
of governments and international agencies.

Europe's population of Roma, Sinti, Gypsies and Travellers number
approximately 8 million, and their treatment has become a key issue in
the enlargement of the European Union. Several East Europe countries
have been told to improve the condition of Roma as a precondition for entry
to the EU.

In spite of this, little attention has yet been paid to the specific
problems of Roma women - not least because international meetings tend
to be dominated by Roma men. Participants in Vienna and Strasbourg said
that this was one reason for forming the new network. Put simply, European
Roma women need to find their voice.

The network has also coalesced around deep concerns about the health of
Roma women, which transcend the diverse nationalities represented at the
Vienna meeting. A recent study by the OSCE's High Commissioner for
National Minorities found that the life expectancy of Roma women is
between 10 and 17 years less for Roma women than for the general
population, even in Europe's more developed countries like Ireland.
Infant mortality among Bulgaria's Roma in 1989 was six times the
national average.

The causes of this health crisis range from poverty to poor housing, but
they are exacerbated by social exclusion, discrimination, and raw
prejudice. Participants at the Vienna and Strasbourg meetings heard that
this even extends to health facilities, and that sick Roma women and
children are often turned away from clinics.

As a result, one of the seven goals in the IRWN's new charter is: "To
challenge individual and institutional discrimination at all levels,
more specifically discrimination in housing, health care, education and

The immediate task of the IRWB will be to present a unified position at
the May Ministerial conference on Roma women's health. Forced
sterilisation is likely to be high on the agenda following recent
reports that Roma women have been forcibly sterilised in the Slovak Republic.
The IRWN open letter calls on the government of Slovakia to "punish the
perpetrators" and declares such violations as a "crime against all

The IRWN members may also take advantage of the May conference to
re-elect their committee (which is at present informal) and decide on a
procedure for electing new members. The IRWN has taken pains to stress
that the network is not seeking to represent all of Europe's Roma women,
but only those who wish to join.

The IRWN charter and documents are being temporarily hosted by the
Advocacy Project which is assisting the network (www.advocacynet.org) or
you can find it at www.romawomen.org web site

* For more information about the IRWN, e-mail the President, Soraya

* For the names and affiliations of the IRWN founding members; the IRWN
charter and the IRWN open letter on sterilisation, visit:

* For recent reports on the sterilisation of Roma women in Slovakia
visit: www.feminet.sk

* To contact the OSCE, COE, EUMC and Advocacy Project, e-mail: (COE)
Eleni.Tsetsekou@coe.int; (OSCE) Sally.Holt@hcnm.org; (EUMC)
John.Kellock@eumc.eu.int; (Advocacy Project) info@advocacynet.org.

* For a report of the November 28-29, 2002 meeting in Vienna, email


Enisa Eminova
eRider - Macedonia
cell phone++ 389 70 70 70 71


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