Credit Access in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is an Eastern European country with a population of approximately 7 million people. In 2016, the country’s poverty rate stood at 23.4 percent, which means that around 1.6 million Bulgarians lived below the national poverty line. In addition, Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita in the European Union and the highest levels of income inequality among E.U. countries. Increasing credit access in Bulgaria could be one way to recharge the economy and help reduce poverty.

Background

Poverty in the country has been steadily rising. Since 2000, the poverty rate has increased by 9.4 percent. Contradictorily, the unemployment rate has never been lower and wages have never been higher than they are now. To explain this contradiction, it is important to know that Bulgaria has experienced a rapid population decline. Between 1988 and 2018, the population of Bulgaria declined by nearly 2 million people. By 2050, economists predict that the Bulgarian population will fall to 5.5 million if the country does nothing to reverse the trend. This has precarious implications for the nation’s economy, and increasing access to credit is a viable solution to stymie population loss.

Particularly concerning is the fact that young and educated Bulgarians constitute the bulk of those leaving the country. In most cases, they leave to find employment elsewhere in the E.U. Some dubbed this phenomenon a “brain drain,” and studies confirm that it hinders economic growth and development. Experts at the Institute for Market Economics in Bulgaria argue that political stability and economic growth are the surest ways to dissuade young people from leaving the country; in other words, the overall outlook for the country must be bright.

Credit Access in Bulgaria

One possible way to address Bulgaria’s population problem is to increase access to credit. With increased credit access, impoverished Bulgarians can secure the funding they need to start a business, purchase a home or own a car. Expanding credit for small businesses could be due to economic growth. Furthermore, a 2006 study found that increased credit access in Bulgaria had a strong correlation with total factor productivity. Credit access has also led to growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors. A Georgia State University study found that access has led to a 0.34 percent annual increase in value for both sectors. These sectors account for 83 percent of Bulgaria’s GDP.

By further developing access to credit, Bulgaria has a brighter economic outlook. Despite its population decline, the GDP has increased by $52 billion since 2000. In order to reverse the brain drain and address national poverty, financial institutions and the Bulgarian government should continue to invest in credit access. Credit access will allow young entrepreneurs to remain in the country, helping the economy grow and encouraging Bulgarians. Economic growth, according to the Institute for Market Economics, remains Bulgaria’s best chance at recovering its lost population.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

Romani People in BulgariaIn the 1400s, Romani people migrated from Northern India to Eastern Europe. Upon first arriving, Eastern European natives supposed they came from Egypt, thus calling them “Gypsies.” While the term “Gypsy” refers to a single ethnic minority, the Romani people came from numerous tribes. They lived as nomads and traditionally worked as craftsmen.

During this time, Eastern Europeans commonly used “Gypsy” as a derogatory term. They discriminated against Romani people, treating them as less than. Due to this history, the term “Gypsy” is avoided today for its negative connotation.

Romani People in Bulgaria

However, in some Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, citizens still discriminate against the Romani people. This discrimination results in poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. As a result, they are isolated into ghetto-like neighborhoods that are covered in trash and lack clean drinking water. Additionally, the infrastructures and sewage systems of these neighborhoods are in need of repair. In Bulgaria, 40 percent of Romani people live below the poverty line.

The schools in the Romani neighborhoods of Bulgaria are of low quality, both in the quality of curriculum and resources. Because of this, many Romani parents view school as pointless and instead keep their children home. Other parents keep their children home to work for extra income. Some parents need older children to watch their younger siblings during the day. If possible, some Romani parents send their children overseas to school, in hopes they can achieve a better future.

This lack of high-quality education among Romani people in Bulgaria has led to:

  • 22 percent of Romani people in Bulgaria being illiterate.
  • 91 percent not receiving a secondary education.
  • a direct link between the lack of schooling and teen pregnancy, resulting in 6,000 babies being born to underage Romani mothers in 2016.
  • many being unable to speak Bulgarian.

Forming the Set Free Foundation

After acknowledging discrimination against Romani people in Bulgaria not only causes poverty but also makes it nearly impossible to escape, the Set Free Foundation was created. Established in 2000, this nonprofit works to fight for Romani rights in Bulgaria. Their vision is to create a system integrating Romani people into Bulgarian society. In doing so, Romani people would become functioning members of Bulgarian society and receive the same rights and opportunities as Bulgarians.

In order to accomplish this successfully, the Set Free Foundation has created the Renascence Programme which consists of the following components:

  • a 14- to 30-day program that transitions Romani people who have migrated to other parts of Europe back to Bulgaria,
  • a space for Romani people to rest and reflect,
  • assistance for Romani people seeking permanent housing and a job,
  • teaching Romani people how to budget finances, and
  • training for Romani women to ensure they have the necessary skills to enter the job market.

The Set Free Foundation Helps Romani People in Bulgaria

Beyond implementing the Renascence Programme, the Set Free Foundation has accomplished numerous projects to help end poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. For example, they have built a house in Bulgaria called the Liberty House. This house temporarily houses Romani families in financial crises in need of housing. It consists of three working toilets, three showers and three water basins. The Liberty House can shelter four to six families at a time. And the Set Free Foundation hopes this house is the first of many.

The Set Free Foundation has also partnered with Valley Church to build a garden outside the Liberty House. The garden provides guests with fresh produce during their stay. In addition, Valley Church has donated numerous suitcases full of feminine hygiene products to the Set Free Foundation for Romani women.

The Set Free Foundation encourages supporters to spread the word about poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. It also welcomes donations to help continue their work. Donations help Romani people gain access to better education and enter the workforce, ultimately resulting in their ability to leave poverty and lead more fulfilling lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


There are no concrete numbers or official statistics that show how many people are homeless and what is the real situation with homelessness in Bulgaria. However, there is a trend that can be observed – the numbers are increasing. As of 2013, as many as 1,370 people have been registered in temporary accommodation facilities. The real number is likely much higher since this only accounts for people with government-issued IDs who have signed up in those facilities.

Urban Nomads

There are many reasons and circumstances that lead to people losing their home. The most vulnerable groups of people that end up without shelter are refugees, the Roma minority, elderly people who have become a burden to their families or young adults who have previously been in foster home facilities.

Most of the participants of a survey that Urban Nomads, a project that is aiming at improving living conditions for the homeless in Bulgaria, conducted stated that what they really hope for is a job and a place to stay, contrary to stereotypes some still believe in. The organization believes in the value that homeless people can give to society and are dedicated to helping them by constructing tiny portable houses from recycled materials. People do not just choose to live on the streets and those who are in that situation have been through a lot to end up like that.

Government Addressing Homelessness in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. According to Eurostat statistics from 2015, 40 percent of the country’s citizens live at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2013, there were 13 centers for temporary accommodation in the country that served 442 people, as well as six shelters and 13 centers for homeless children.

The policies designed to tackle the problem operate mainly on the municipal level but there are problems that prevent their success. The major issue with the social services available is the lack of adequate funding and good financial management. To add to this, the coordination and project management also need improvement. As a result, the needs of people exceed what is provided by the country, affecting homelessness in Bulgaria.

Initiatives that Help Homeless People in Bulgaria

Winter, the most difficult time for people who live on the streets, is here,  and there are several initiatives that aim to alleviate homelessness in Bulgaria in these times. Caritas is a nonprofit organization that works with homeless people in Bulgaria. Their goal is to help those who are most vulnerable: refugees, migrants, the elderly and the homeless are helped to lead a fair and dignified life. Along with social centers in major cities they provide mobile services- domestic care for elderly and support for people on the streets. Caritas has helped over 4,000 people in Sofia and provides food, hygiene kits, medicine and assistance.

There are also other initiatives. In Sofia, a restaurant will donate food to those who are in need during the winter. Volunteers from the Bulgarian Red Cross opened a winter dining room in the town of Ruse. They expect to provide warm meals, a bath and clothes to around 40 people in need every day. In Pernik, two rooms from the hospital will be given to homeless people during the cold months, according to the mayor. Dobrich opened the doors to its house of temporary accommodation. The house for homeless people will be open 24 hours a day and has the capacity to house eight people.

These organizations and initiatives, along with government activities, help people who do not have access to the basics of living a dignified life and improve the situation of homelessness in Bulgaria. And truly, everything to make these people suffer less helps, but the issue of homelessness should be tackled on a more structural level by reintegrating these people into society and helping them find a sustainable way of providing for themselves.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe, neighboring Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south and the Black Sea to the east. The country has been a member of NATO since 2004 and the EU since 2007. After its transition from Soviet control, it has sought to deepen its ties with the West. Bulgaria has improved a lot in its post-communist period from 1990 up to today, yet it still ranks near the bottom of EU lists on life expectancy, income per capita and several other areas. These are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria you should know.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bulgaria

  1. Rural regions are underdeveloped – There is a disparity between rural and urban populations with poverty being prevalent among the former. A lot of people live in cities, the urban population is 74.6 percent because rural regions in the country are very underdeveloped. Nearly two-thirds of poor Bulgarians live in the country and rely on agriculture for jobs. Nearly 26 percent of the workforce in rural areas is above working age, compared to 17 percent in urban areas.
  2. Life expectancy is low –  Life expectancy at birth has increased, but it still remains below the European average by almost 6 years, partially due to the high maternal mortality rate. Bulgaria takes the second to last place with its life expectancy of 74.7 years.
  3. The population is aging – Even though life expectancy is rising, birthrates are low, and Bulgaria’s population is aging along with other European countries. Bulgaria is one of six EU countries where the proportion of people over 65 years old has passed the 20 percent mark. Most elderly live in remote rural areas where access is very limited. They rely solely on pensions that do not meet their needs. More than half of these pensioners live below the poverty line.
  4. There is a lot of emigration – The aging population is one of the reasons for the 12 percent decline in the overall population of Bulgaria from 1990 to 2012. Another reason is emigration, which leads to lower productivity. Factors such as the low income per capita, high unemployment and income inequality push Bulgarians to move to Western countries, resulting in a brain drain.
  5. The transport system is in a good shape – Even though intercity roads are not in top condition, there have been improvements in the transportation system. Large urban areas are connected by public transport networks, and Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, has been continually extending the subway line to connect different parts of the city. Bulgaria is accessible by land, water and air with the Danube river being a transport channel used for commercial purposes.
  6. It is not expensive to live in Bulgaria – Even though the median wage in Bulgaria is significantly lower than other EU member states, the cost of living is low. Sofia ranks 92 out of 105 countries in terms of cost of living. But, to counter that, the minimum wage is roughly 260 euros per month, which is amongst the lowest of the EU member states. Households in Bulgaria have only about half of the purchasing power of other EU countries.
  7. The economy is growing despite doing so slowly. The GDP during the second quarter of 2018 increased by 3.4 percent compared to the same quarter in 2017, according to the National Statistical Institute’s adjusted data. Exports of goods and services grew by 1.7 percent. The unemployment rate in the country decreased from 11.3 in 2013 to 7.2 in 2017.
  8. Bulgaria is ranked 51st according to the Human Development Index (HDI) – Bulgaria’s HDI is higher than its Eastern Europe neighbors Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. The index measures a country’s development based on factors such as life expectancy, the standard of living and education. Bulgaria’s HDI value had an increased 17.1 percent, from 0.694 to 0.813, between 1990 and 2017. It is now in the very high development category.
  9. Children In Bulgaria Face High Poverty Rates – The population of Bulgarians living below the poverty line was 23.4 percent in 2016 with children facing the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion among E.U. member states. Data from 2016 shows that 527,000 children (or 43.7 percent) live in low-income households.
  10. Access to health services remains limited to some groups in the country. Around 12 percent of citizens do not have insurance, and the high costs of out-of-pocket payments limits access for low-income people, the elderly and the Roma minority. Additional barriers to health services for people with low income are traveling distance and the availability of doctors.

The transition from a centralized, planned economy to a free market one has been tumultuous. The country has implemented changes, but it is lagging behind in its development compared to other member states in the EU. These facts about living conditions in Bulgaria focus on what needs to improve and how poverty in Bulgaria has ethnic, gender, age and rural dimensions.

The situation may look pessimistic based on some of these 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria, but despite its challenges, Bulgaria has vastly improved and continues to improve. The cultural environment is rich and diverse and tourism is flourishing in many parts of the country. Furthermore, telecommunications are highly developed with Internet speeds being some of the highest in the world.

Overall, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria highlight that, while there is room for improvement, the country has great potential to continue developing into a wealthy, prosperous member of the EU.

– Aleksandra Sirakov
Photo: Pixabay

Girls’ Education in Bulgaria
Girls’ education in Bulgaria is severely lacking in Roma communities, in part due to poor socioeconomic conditions and also as a result of the communities’ social norms. Many Roma children live below the poverty line which creates barriers to achievements in education, even barring some children from finishing primary school.

The Current Situation in Bulgaria

Often families cannot keep up with the costs of schooling. Boys will leave school for work to support the family and girls will stay home to care for children and chores. Women also abandon education because of early marriage or pregnancy.

The majority of the annual 45,000 student dropouts in Bulgaria are of Roma ethnicity. An estimated 130,000 children do not attend school in Bulgaria—most of them are Roma—and 22 percent of the Roma population in the Bulgarian area are illiterate, with only nine percent having reached a secondary education.

Why Roma Women Get Left Behind

In the past, the Roma marriage age was lower (15-16 for girls and 17-18 for boys). However, a small but increasing trend in higher-aged marriages among the young Roma community members has begun to take hold. Now the average marriable age is 17 years for women and 18.9 for men.

The older women get married, the longer they can stay in the education system and finish primary school. Continuing school after marriage for women is almost unheard of as the traditional role of being a committed wife and mother would make further education strenuous.

Certain actions, like dropping out of school and marrying young, are seen by officials in Bulgaria as typical Roma behavior. There has been a reoccurring pattern of Roma girls ending their education around fifth grade and the municipalities do not exercise the statutes that prevent early dropouts.

According to article 36, paragraph 1 of the of the Bulgarian National Education Act, the Municipal Councils are expected to “ensure compulsory school education of children up to the age of 16,” however there is little done to enforce this. Thus, Roma girls in Bulgaria are still leaving school at an early age. There is very little action from social workers, as they see school dropout and young marriages as the cultural Roma norm.

Improving Girls’ Education in Bulgaria

A report from UNICEF suggests strategies that could help alleviate some of the socioeconomic problems surrounding girls’ education in Bulgaria, recommending ways of mitigating the costs of education through financial assistance that will provide free programs and food at schools. Other ways of alleviating high dropout rates are reaching out to communities in isolated areas and either building a school in those places or providing free transport to other campuses.

While financial issues are prominent, social discrimination is another main contribution to dropout rates. UNICEF’s report also provides strategies that may ease the discrimination against and segregation of Roma citizens: providing national and local monitoring to ensure each child is included and progressing through the educational system. Investing in early education could also provide an opportunity for education to people who otherwise would not have had the chance.

The trending increase in marrying age is a good sign, but unless Bulgarian officials come forward to enforce primary education for all, the drop out rate will continue to disproportionately affect young Roma women. With further effort, opportunities to better girls’ education in Bulgaria, especially among Roma communities, will continue to arise.

-David Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Bulgaria

Whenever Bulgaria is mentioned in the media, coverage is generally skewed towards poverty and corruption, depicting it as one of the EU’s most troubled members. However, a closer look at the facts and figures of life in Bulgaria proves that how the media misrepresents Bulgaria does not entirely reflect reality.

Bulgaria and the EU

Bulgaria is the poorest member of the EU. This fact has not escaped the notice of the rest of Europe, and Bulgaria’s media representation has suffered for it. A 1984 study performed by Weaver and shows that the poorer a country is, the less coverage it is likely to gain in any given news outlet, and the more negative that coverage is liable to be. In contrast, richer countries such as the U.S. are much more likely to receive positive media attention, overshadowing poorer nations like Bulgaria.

Bulgaria in the Media

When the media mentions Bulgaria, it paints it as a corrupt Eastern European country that the rest of the EU wants nothing to do with. Media biases against Bulgaria frequently stem from the fact that Bulgaria was once part of the Soviet Bloc. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bulgarians struggled to adjust to the fact that their country was no longer Communist, and it was not uncommon for Bulgarians to migrate west to try for a fresh start. However, they were often met with fear from their new neighbors, mostly due to their status as ex-Communists whose government was still somewhat corrupt and were subsequently dehumanized by many Western European nations. For example, Bulgaria has repeatedly been denied admission to the Schengen Zone, which would permit Bulgarians to work and travel freely in fellow Schengen countries within the EU. This, combined with the country’s comparatively low GDP, has led to media depictions in which they are given the same derogatory treatment that migrants are typically given by news outlets.

Bulgaria and the Rest of the World

How the media misrepresents Bulgaria becomes apparent when examining the economic and political conditions in Bulgaria. For starters, Bulgaria’s GDP is currently $18,900, having risen from $8.400 in 1991. Although this is, in fact, fairly low by EU standards, it is not low when thought of in the context of the rest of the world. The world is split into four income groups, ranging from Group One (extreme poverty) to Group Four (the U.S. standard). Bulgaria falls into Group Three (upper middle income); most of its people can afford decent beds, bikes, and maybe cheap cars, but not annual vacations or spacious houses. The average person is getting about 6570 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 48 percent of them have Internet access, and 99.4 percent have access to clean drinking water. In fact, as of 2014, no one in Bulgaria is living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the rest of the EU’s citizens are scattered throughout Groups 3 and 4.

Corruption in Bulgaria is also not as abundant as the media portrays it. For example, the Inequality Index (Gini) rated Bulgaria around 40, which is in the middle of the scale. Their first elections took place in 1990, and their current democracy score is 9 out of 10.

Overall, things are looking much better in Bulgaria than the media lets on. While the media would let its consumers believe that Bulgaria is a hopeless case of corruption and poverty, it is actually a free nation with a thriving economy. If one looks hard enough, one will find that how the media misrepresents Bulgaria is a true misrepresentation and nothing more.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

 

Humanitarian aid to Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a southeastern country in Europe bordered by Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea. The nation’s neighboring countries have had refugee crises, and so numerous members of the refugee populations have trickled into Bulgaria for assistance; this influx has then contributed to Bulgaria’s own refugee crises and lack of resources. Due to this pressing issue, the success of humanitarian aid to Bulgaria is essential, especially in areas where refugees need urgent aid.

 

EU Provides Aid to Bulgaria’s Refugee Crisis

In 2013, the refugee crisis in Bulgaria reached exceptionally problematic levels. With the start of the still-ongoing Syrian civil war in 2011, refugees would often flee to European countries, including Bulgaria; the European Union (EU) then provided technical and financial assistance to help these countries manage their respective refugee situations. The purpose of this aid was to help refugees and provide them with protection.

This assistance included the gathering of a technical team to be dispatched to Bulgaria to build a State Agency for Refugees, which would make the refugee process more accurate and easily executed. This aid would additionally help speed up the process of granting refugee status.

 

Humanitarian Groups and Poland Send Aid to Bulgaria

In 2014, the refugee crisis was still in full effect; but thankfully, humanitarian groups and Poland stepped in to help. Urgent aid was distributed to the refugees located in shelters in Southern Bulgaria, and Poland provided 22 tons of clothing items and food at one of the largest refugee camps in Harmanli.

With Bulgaria being one of the European Union’s poorest nations ( 7.3 million inhabitants), Bulgaria was unprepared to deal with such a refugee crisis. Its asylum system was left extremely vulnerable, and out of 11,600 Syrian refugees, 60 percent of them were cramped into Bulgarian regions. So, the success of humanitarian aid to Bulgaria from humanitarian groups and Poland served as instrumental components in handling current crises.

 

The First Bulgarian Food Bank

One of the long-term projects that has served as a significant source of humanitarian aid for Bulgaria is the creation of the First Bulgarian Food Bank — an organization heavily organized by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). The project was started in 2011 and continues to be a long-term endeavor that still helps Bulgaria today. The Food Bank works as an organization as well as a foundation to create and implement humanitarian projects in Bulgaria; their main purpose is to distribute food to people in need.

 

Donations With Radically Important Impacts

The ADRA also has volunteers that help the organization distribute large amounts of food to multiple regions of Bulgaria. The people in these areas include struggling families, orphanages and nursing homes; in 2012, the ADRA opened a key distribution point in Sofia — the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. The ADRA provides people with disabilities as well as struggling citizens and elderly people with food depending on donated food levels. In 2013, ADRA helped the First Bulgarian Food Bank distribute 15 tons of food to the people of Bulgaria.

With poverty and refugee crises running rampant, the success of humanitarian aid to Bulgaria is essential for not only the nation but also the European region at large. Assistance and programs such as the ones mentioned are just a few of the ways that Bulgaria can continue to provide for its people.

McCall Robison 

Photo: Pixabay

Sustainable Agriculture in BulgariaBulgaria is a country in the Balkans and is known as one of the world’s main rose oil producers with fertile soil for crop production. That said, there have been many challenges regarding sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently partnered with the nation in order to aid sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria. The partnership itself, advocating for small family farms in order to maintain the country’s food supply, has been helping to reduce food insecurity and produce nutrition research.

The partnership aligns with Bulgaria’s 2014-2020 National Development Strategy and the European Commission program to aid agriculture and rural development in countries such as Bulgaria. The FAO recently reported how invasive species may be to blame for Bulgaria’s food insecurity and unsustainable farming practices.

One officer on the FAO research team, Norbert Winkler-Ráthonyi, claimed in the report that Europe and Central Asia, in particular, are subject to these invasive species, saying, “Invasive insects, in particular, are damaging forests here.” Winkler-Ráthonyi continued to explain how invasive species usually began within a small region, but could easily intensify within a larger territory such as a forested area.

The FAO continues to monitor and research various insects within Bulgaria and its surrounding territories in order to identify the insects that are creating said damage. Furthermore, the FAO’s push to promote small family farms may aid sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria, as, in smaller regions, there is a smaller chance of invasive species damaging the area compared to larger regions.

On October 18, 2017, the Forest Invasive Species Network was established in order to aid in regulation and research the invasive species that are damaging sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria, Europe and areas within Central Asia. Winkler-Ráthonyi suggested that the creation of this network would “trigger region-wide cooperation on forest invasive species management.”

Organizations such as the FAO highlight the significance of looking into the problems of food scarcity like sustainability, rather than just population or economics. With the FAO and its networking, it remains a possibility that the issue of invasive species could be reduced in order to further nutritional and sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria and other countries around the world. Sustainability can no longer be just a goal but an expectation.

– Tatum Higginbotham

Photo: Flickr

BulgariaBulgaria, a country located in southeast Europe, has a population of 7.2 million and is comprised of 51.3 percent of women. Women’s empowerment in Bulgaria has made significant progress in the past decade.

The status of women varies from country to country and is often determined by a combination of factors such as the local cultures and ideologies. In Bulgaria, women are extended several rights that are enjoyed by men, such as the rights to vote, own property, receive an education and have equal opportunities to seek employment. Despite this, Bulgarian women have slightly lower literacy rates, are often employed in lower-paying jobs and occupy fewer leadership roles than men in society. These are issues that must be addressed in order to achieve women’s empowerment in Bulgaria.

In 2015, Bulgaria ranked 45th out of 144 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. As of 2017, Bulgaria is one of the top 20 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia on the Global Gender Gap Index, having closed 76 percent of its overall gender gap. Nevertheless, promoting the gender equality of Bulgarian women still demands further work within its patriarchal society.

Women in Bulgaria were initially granted limited suffrage in 1919. The country continued to show its dedication to gender equality by adopting various international treaties. It ratified the Convention on the Political Rights of Women in 1954, the Convention Against Discrimination in Education in 1962, and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1982. While the Constitution of Bulgaria recognizes the principles of equal rights and non-discrimination, gender equality is not specifically regulated.

Education is a crucial metric for determining the gender equality of a nation. Annual statistics between 2012 and 2014 indicate that in Bulgaria 48.3 percent of students in primary education were female. While women are more likely to attain a higher education than men in Bulgaria, which was reflected by 54.3 percent of women in tertiary education, this figure did decrease between 2013 and 2014.

Women’s empowerment in Bulgaria also highly relies on their employment status. As indicated by a 2013 country profile, the employment rates of men and women were 61.3 percent and 56.3 percent, respectively. At the time, only 24.6 percent of Parliament was made up of women representatives, though this was considered a symbolic win for equal rights. Bulgaria has the highest proportion of women software engineers in Europe, consisting of 27.7 percent of women in technology.

The gender pay gap of Bulgaria is 13 percent: though lower than the EU-27 average, women still earn 13 percent less than their male counterparts.

Unfortunately, women face a difficult path to attaining gender equality within the family unit and marriage, due to its traditional society. Women are likely to spend more time caring for their family, doing housework and looking after children than men are. Despite certain family laws enshrining equal rights and obligations between spouses in matrimony, conventional norms of the Balkan culture are still prevalent in some families, leading to women being treated as subordinate to men. Some regions in Bulgaria, such as the old Zagora district, still retain traditions of buying and selling brides.

To address this, Bulgaria started to execute a project against domestic violence in 2001. It also adopted the Program on Prevention and Protection of Domestic Violence, which provides a 24-hour hotline for victims.

Bulgaria plans to achieve gender equality in the next 15 years in order to fully realize women’s empowerment. It plans to implement a new specialized law related to gender equality and ensure that all the related policies are mainstreamed with a gender perspective. In doing so, the government has agreed to eliminate the gender wage gap as well as discrimination and violence against women.

Despite these few challenges, substantial progress is being made for women’s empowerment in Bulgaria. With continued efforts, equal rights will be extended in all aspects of society, including civil, political, educational, economic and social domains.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr

Education in BulgariaA former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria gave up its communist doctrine in 1990 and joined the European Union in 2007. Bulgaria is also a nation of just over seven million people, including Bulgarian, Turkish and Romani ethnic groups. Of this figure, approximately one in four Bulgarians (around 1.5 million people) is under the age of 25, which raises an important question: what is education in Bulgaria like?

Overall, Bulgaria’s education system has a long list of positive statistics. The national adult literacy rate is at a significantly high 98.3 percent, with a mere 5,000 primary school age children out of school, and nearly 95 percent of students enrolled in secondary school in 2011. The country allocated approximately 4 percent of its GDP to education, putting it on par with Russia, Japan and Italy.

The education system of Bulgaria is supported by the government department of the Ministry of Education and Science, and school is mandatory for children from the age of seven until the age of 16. Like many, if not all, other developed nations, Bulgaria’s school admits both male and female students, and municipal state schools allow non-native speakers of Bulgarian to study their mother tongue.

Education in Bulgaria, however, was very different under communist rule. Much of what was taught in schools nationwide was heavily centered around communist propaganda and ideals. Although the noble goal of eradicating illiteracy was established, the government did so through the introduction of mandatory study of the Russian language. Liberal arts were replaced with technical training and the Soviet national newspaper Pravda was distributed in even the most remote areas of the country.

Today, however, the objective of those promoting higher education in Bulgaria is to focus on science and culture. Currently, Bulgaria has 51 institutes of higher education, 37 of which are publicly managed and state-owned. Of these universities, a potential student has the opportunity to study a wide variety of topics, including scientific research, humanities, social sciences and technical sciences, all of which are available up to a PhD level.

Despite the struggles it faced under the Soviet Union, the situation of education in Bulgaria has improved dramatically over the past 27 years. With 98 percent of the adult population functionally literate, 95 percent of children enrolled in school and a strong percentage of national GDP continuing to be committed to education expenditures, Bulgaria can and will continue to have a highly educated population thanks to a well-endowed system.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr