Discrimination against Roma population during the pandemic

Indira Bajramović, 52, director of the Roma Women's Association "Better Future" from Tuzla. Find out below how the Roma population, who have already been living on margins of life, are coping with the new situation.

I am the director of the Roma Women's Association "Better Future" from Tuzla. There are currently eleven employees on a fixed-term employment contract and ten employees on casual employment contract in our association. Due to the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we limited the working hours from 8 am to 1 pm, with two people changing in the office every day, while our logistics worker and I are in the office and in the field every day. In the field, accompanied by our mediator or volunteers we distribute packages to Roma communities. 

When I get home I do some of the housework and go back to work again. I check and respond to emails, hold online meetings with network members, arrange further activities with employees, and so on until late at night. We are a family of three, but I take some time to be with my grandchildren as well, because it is difficult for them too, they fall into the category under eighteen and are not allowed to go out, but we find something interesting besides online classes, to have fun.

Due to the new situation, my obligation is to obtain funds for work, both for our employees and for the maintenance of the office, but also for the work of the Roma women's network "Success". It is also my obligation to find an opportunity and a way for us to directly help our members, because they are now in a very difficult situation, given that they have large families, some without water, electricity, internet, work, and basic means of subsistence. The obligation of the association is to help them in this difficult situation to overcome the poverty afflicted by the pandemic, although it is known that most Roma families live below the poverty line even without a pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been active in the field, distributing food and hygiene packages, gloves and masks, all thanks to the understanding of our donors whose funds from activities that we cannot implement, because they require gathering of more people, we directed to purchase of packages. We are still there for them if they need advice, or something we can finish on the phone or in the office and it is important that they know this and call us every day asking for some kind of help or assistance.

What is worrying is the fact that during the pandemic, the number of domestic violence did not decrease but even increased, as shown by research by many agencies. We also received information from the field that, although Roma communities are in a very difficult situation, violence is still present, so through our work and cooperation with representatives of the Center for Social Work and the Ministry of the Interior, we try to act together on such cases. Through the work of mediators in the field and my personal visits, we get information about what is happening in Roma communities, so relevant information about violence, and how Roma women are harassed by certain employees when they go to the Red Cross to seek help and how unfortunately, even in such a difficult time when they do not have the opportunity to work and earn money for basic food and hygiene supplies, they experience discrimination. This is especially true for women because they are mostly the ones who turn for help. What we are trying in every way, is to help them in these moments to exercise their basic human rights, providing hygienic food packages and disinfectants, although we are aware that we cannot act in every Roma community in B&H. Extraordinary, but timely interventions, due to the floods that hit B&H in 2014, are an example of good practice of timely action to include a gender perspective in actions to eliminate the consequences of floods. It is an innovative example of this type of intervention in the region. Gender institutional mechanisms in B&H then reacted immediately by pointing out the complex and different consequences of the floods on men and women, boys and girls, and to take the gender aspect into account when planning and implementing interventions, preventing and eliminating the consequences of disasters. Attention was drawn to the problem of insufficient understanding of the different roles, needs, abilities and interests of women and men, boys and girls of all ages, and the importance of equal participation of both genders in the protection and rescue system.

Today, in 2020, we are again facing a challenge and a time when we need to make additional efforts to help vulnerable groups, such as Roma women, and to reaffirm the messages of the 2015 thematic session "Gender and Disasters", which is that the gender approach has the power to improve the response to the consequences of disasters, because it is precisely gender inequality that causes even greater vulnerability of women in these conditions. Women show exceptional skills and abilities in the immediate response to disasters, but are often perceived as helpless victims, and their capacities remain invisible and underutilized.

The implementation of humanitarian activities by the Roma Women's Association "Better Future" of the city of Tuzla continues to support women, especially those from marginalized groups. The proposed humanitarian action would contribute to the implementation of the AP UNSCR 1325 Action Plan for the period 2018-2020 within the medium-term goal 2.3. “Improved gender-responsive approach and support systems in the context of current security threats and challenges and would contribute to achieving the expected result 2.3.2. Preventive measures created and conditions established for a gender-responsive approach to current security threats and challenges, and in crisis and emergency situations through activities to provide support to women and girls, especially members of multiple marginalized groups, in cases of crisis and emergency situations.

Ultimately, I do not have much free time for myself because I think that in these times not only me but all of us are needed by people who are in a state of social need in order to overcome this difficult situation more easily. 

I mostly respect the measures of the Crisis Center, I don't go out without a mask and gloves, I constantly wash and disinfect my hands, and we disinfect the furniture in the house and in the office and everything else. I would say that I tolerate all this well, but it bothers me that from morning till night people only talk about the pandemic and I am worried how it will affect us all.