Summit of Mayors on Roma : “Building mutual trust at the grassroots” – 22 September 2011, France
Panel discussion: Roma inclusion: what obstacles?
Address by Guadalupe Fernandez, Former adviser for the Regional Parliament of Extremadura on Roma issues, Merida (Spain)
First, I want to thank the Council of Europe for the invitation to participate in this summit and show my appreciation to the organization for making this event possible.
My name is Guadalupe Fernandez and I'm from Mérida (Region of Extremadura), Spain. I have worked in several Roma organizations and have also had several years experience in public bodies carrying out several programs to improve the quality of life of Roma. In particular I have worked with the Board of Extremadura plan approval for the Promotion and Social Participation of Roma Extremadura and other job training programs specifically designed for most vulnerable groups. I work currently on the Foundation Secretariado Gitano, Merida.
The Roma population of Merida is around five thousand people, in Extremadura around fifteen thousand people, and a high percentage of them are in a situation of social exclusion. Different entities working in the region in social intervention programs with Roma, also from the regional government launched a Plan of several years for the Promotion of Extremadura and Social Participation of the Roma and since two thousand we have the Roma Regional Council.
From my experience I can say that the situation of Roma in my region is a complicated situation, as happens in other places, situations of discrimination exist in all fields and public and private entities are doing many efforts to improve the quality of life of the Roma and to break down any negative single event related to a single individual Roma. We have currently lived very similar situation in Mérida.
What I want to convey with these words is not a pessimistic discourse, quite the opposite, because I think now more than ever in the need for a comprehensive and integrated intervention that allows us to move towards the goal that we set.
In my region there are Roma participation bodies at regional level and the last aim is the intention of creating a local technical secretariat to articulate and coordinate the measures intended to improve the quality of life of the Roma.
These instruments of participation and implementation allow us to count with the active participation of the Roma in any intervention process while allowing us to avoid duplication of activities. In short, the importance lies in the existence of a public body involving Roma in a real way, to be responsible to coordinate, stimulate and promote policies that are intended to improve the quality of life of the Roma, an organization that should not be subject to political changes.
Although I can must recognize that the momentum of these measures are a step in itself, taking into account the discriminatory phenomena occurring in different European Union countries, including France, and taking into account the economic situation we are facing, I think now more than ever, that local, regional and national are required to articulate strong measures to make possible once and for all that there will be a real breakthrough in achieving equal rights and opportunities for Roma people.
The Roma have much to contribute to European and Spanish society, inclusion and social cohesion of Roma not only favors them but all of society. As Herbert Marcuse said in “Reason and Revolution”, "if we can judge a man by the contribution to the community, also have the right to ask the community what it does for the man." The question is, what has society done to achieve social cohesion of Roma?
From my point of view all social intervention programs with the Roma population should contain measures to combat discrimination as an essential tool to achieve an active social inclusion of Roma people. The programs should work also for the cultural recognition and the participation of Roma, against their discrimination, and have measures to incorporate them to the core of citizenship.
It is vital to place the Roma issue on the agenda of public authorities, to address the following situations:
- Addressing situations of poverty and inequality that many Roma people suffer in the sensitive areas for inclusion: access to employment, housing, education, health ...
- Incorporate the cultural approach: one implication of the exclusion is not recognizing the culture; there is a lack of cultural recognition and identity of the Roma minority.
- Mainstream fight against discrimination: Acting on the phenomena of social rejection and direct and indirect discrimination suffered by members of this community and they condition their social inclusion.
- Mainstream citizenship as a key point of the actions of struggle against exclusion: extend and guarantee the exercise of rights, social, political, economic and cultural life.
Finally, we should emphasize the important role that women are having in the various processes of social and political participation. In this sense I believe that it is important that Roma women commit themselves as responsible actors, and be prepared in a real way with policies that affect them taking an active part in these processes. Political parties also should consider the special situation of Roma women.
Roma women have an important role to play right now, and we are not unrelated to the changes gradually taking place in society and in our culture. We claim our rights and we will fight to get equal opportunities.
Thank you very much for your attention.