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Girls’ Education in BulgariaGirls’ 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

stateless groups
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the internationally recognized legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law.” A person or a group of people with the status of “stateless” usually means they are not allowed to get an education at school, see a doctor, get a job or have access to other basic human rights within a nation.

Some people are born stateless; other groups become stateless if their government does not establish them as nationals that have representation under state law.

Here is a list of five currently stateless groups in the world:

 

1. The Rohingya

The Rohingya are a group of Muslims of South Asian descent that populate western Myanmar and Bangladesh. Myanmar’s government pushed many Rohingya out of Myanmar, which is how they ended up in Bangladesh and other nearby regions. Myanmar, dominantly Buddhist, doesn’t want to accept this ethnic group into their nation. As a result, many Rohingya suffer from intense discrimination, hatred and unkind deaths. With nowhere and no one to support them, the Rohingya are completely dependent on foreign aid.

 

2. The Roma

While the exact origin of Roma is unknown, it is certain that this group of people arrived in Europe prior to the ninth century. Historically, many Roma were forced into slavery and sentenced to death throughout the medieval era for being “heathens.” They, alongside the Jews, were persecuted and forced into labor camps during World War II. Today, millions of Roma live in isolated slums without running water or electricity. There is a great health disparity among the population, but governments have kept them at the brink of death without offering help.

 

3. The Nubians

The Nubians, originally from Sudan, were brought to Kenya over 150 years ago when the British government asked them to fight in the colonial army; since then, they haven’t been able to return home. Today, Kenya will not grant Nubians basic citizenship rights so this group lives in one of the largest slums on Earth despite trying to receive title rights to land and seeking solutions to their disparity.

 

4. The Bidoon

In the state of Kuwait, the Bidoon is one of the stateless groups attempting to break free from the status of “illegal residents.” The Bidoon are descendants of the Bedouin people, a desert-dwelling Arabian ethnic group. They have tried and failed dozens of times to gain official recognition in Kuwait; instead of citizenship, they are told to seek residency elsewhere.

 

5. The Yao

The Yao is one of many Thailand hill tribes that don’t have a Thai citizenship. This means they can’t vote, buy land or seek legal employment. The Thai government has previously granted temporary citizenship to a select few, but this is after they go through a strenuous process to prove they should be granted a pass.

These five stateless groups — Rohingya, Roma, Nubians, Bidoon and Yao — are just a select few from an extensive list. In total, there are more than 10 million people that are denied a nationality; however, the UNHCR made an announcement that they hope to end statelessness by 2024. On their website, viewers can sign the #IBelong campaign in order to show support. If successful, this will not only grant millions of men, women and children a nationality, but it will also grant increased access to clean food and water, healthcare, jobs, education and so much more.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

UN Reinventing the Approach to European Roma Poverty-TBP
The Roma people are a large ethnic minority living in Europe whose population totals to 10 to 12 million people. Despite the existence of laws aimed at protecting this group of people from discrimination, the Romas experience harsh prejudices. The lack of opportunities to available to them often keeps them below the poverty line. They have low literacy rates, little access to healthcare centers and high rates of hunger.

The countries with the highest percentage of Roma communities are Macedonia, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Hungary and Bulgaria. They make up between 7 and 10 percent of the populations of these countries.

Roma people suffer from many health issues, but their access to health insurance is limited. Their cause is further hurt by the high price of healthcare. More than half of Roma households cannot afford prescriptions and about 20 percent say that they have had overnight stays in health centers. (Non-Roma people ranked at 1/3 and about 12 percent, respectively.) Vaccination rates are also low among the Roma, while births outside the hospital are high.

Education is another area where there is a significant lack of support and progress. Because of child marriages, many young girls are taken out of school before they are able to finish. In most of Central and Eastern Europe, about 50 percent of the Roma have, at the very least, a lower secondary education than their non-Roma counterparts. Schools are often ethnically segregated.

The United Nations had a mission to help lower Roma poverty and improve their living conditions. In 2007, the UN opened centers to help the Roma people receive affordable and accessible healthcare and proper education. However, the programs were highly inefficient and slow moving and accomplished little. That is why the UN is out to reinvent the Roma outreach.

After experimenting with three prospective methods in Macedonia to engage the Roma people and to improve their situation, the UN settled on the Roma Centre of the Future.

Using Roma and non-Roma peoples, the centers work to help the Roma people access education, healthcare and other public services. This time, the centers have the skills, knowledge, tools and technology needed to run such an idea efficiently and effectively, with the goal being to reach as many Roma people as possible. The workers help people through complicated paperwork, direct them to opportunities like job trainings and provide useful community programs. There is also a special focus on the elderly, a concentration that did not exist in the earlier programs.

The program is already seeing success. Within the first five months the center reached 820 people, which was more than the old centers used to help in a year! This new, dedicated focus on reaching the needs of the people appears to be working, as the Roma people are seeing the positive effects the centers have on the community and are thus going to these centers for help.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: EC Europa, UNDP 1, UNDP 2, New Int
Photo: UNDP

poverty_in_Istanbul
In the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul, which over 14 million people call home, there is a sense of progress and modernity. The city, the largest in Turkey, sits at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and claims thousands of years of history.

Istanbul is one of the more diverse cities in Turkey. It is home to not only Turks, but also Kurds, the Romani people and immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Africa. While the tourist and central areas seem modern, safe and progressive, there is another side of the city.

Poverty in Istanbul is pocketed. About an hour bus ride out of the central city, there are two neighborhoods that are some of Istanbul’s poorest and most violent: Gazi Mahallesi and Karayollari. The first, Gazi Mahallesi, is a multiethnic neighborhood. The neighborhood sports anti-government vandalism and leftover destruction from riots by anarchist, Kurdish and leftist groups that reside there.

Karayollari, separated from Gazi Mahallesi by a highway overpass, is a primarily Kurdish neighborhood. Many of the Kurds who call the neighborhood home have been displaced by the violence in southeastern Turkey, where Turkey’s Kurds are the most populous. Karayollari seems to be stuck in a cycle of violence, encouraged by poverty and unemployment. Residents say the police no longer even venture near the neighborhood unless to break up riots.

Because of rapid and unplanned migration to the city, 70 percent of housing in Istanbul was built in 30 years. At first, housing was built wherever land could be found. These settlements are Istanbul’s version of shantytowns or squatter towns and are called gacekondu. The gacekondu originally were accepted by the city because they passed the costs of urbanization from the government to the migrants. The gecekondus were the homes of the poorest migrants who found work in the industrial parts of Istanbul.

The make-shift neighborhoods were accepted as a solution to urbanization through 1980s, but are now being razed in an attempt modernize the city. Forced evictions have occurred, putting already poor families into the streets of sometimes violent, dangerous parts of Istanbul. Early last year, a group of 30 Roma families, previously evicted from their homes, was in danger of being forcibly evicted again, this time from their makeshift shack camp. The group included children and elderly persons. Amnesty International reported that the group was “living in conditions of extreme poverty since their forced eviction” and was “without access to…electricity, clean water and basic sanitation.”

Overall poverty in Turkey is a diminishing problem. Over the last ten years, the number of people living on less than $4.30 per day decreased from 20 million to 1.7 million. In Istanbul, the percent of people living in poverty has decreased 2.2 percent over the last eight years. The government claims that this reduction is due to government support programs to poorer citizens.

There is some contest as the whether the government’s attitude towards poverty and the poor can really lead to effective policy. Dr. Ebru Soytemel, of the Oxford Program for the Future of Cities, says that the “current government regards poverty as a temporary, individual problem that can be fixed, not a structural problem.They say that your religion or your family should provide you with help.”

Distribution of poverty is a problem for Turkey. While overall inequality has diminished, the distribution of poverty is a stark reminder of the discrepancies among living standards within the country. When looking at a map of regional poverty rates in Turkey, eastern regions, where most of Turkey’s ethnic minority groups live, are severely disadvantaged. Istanbul, which is the most western region of Turkey, is the most well off. Istanbul is a microcosm of this map: minority neighborhoods are generally far worse off than primarily Turkish neighborhoods.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Oxford, Today’s Zaman, Daily Sabah, Hurriyet Daily News Non-Descrimination Time Pulitzer Center LSE Cities
Photo: Telegraph U.K.

minority_groups_in_albania
Since the fall of socialism in 1991, Albania has made great strides in establishing itself as an economic and political power in Europe. The country has joined the United Nations, NATO, World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe. It is poised to join the European Union.

One of the factors holding the country back has been the exclusion of its minorities, primarily the Roma and Egyptians. This exclusion has left 75 percent of Roma and 70 percent of Egyptians categorized as very poor, compared to the 28.8 percent of Albanians with the same rating.

This socioeconomic status is due largely to of a lack of education, employment and basic infrastructure.  This has led many members of these groups to seek wages in the informal labor market, which includes prostitution, women and child trafficking and drug trafficking.

While the government has claimed to include these minority groups in Albania, Egyptians have not been given minority status. The government claims they have not met the criteria necessary. Egyptians must share the same language (other than Albanian), have documentation to prove its distinct ethnic origin or national identity and have distinct customs and traditions or a link to a kinship state outside of the country.

However, the Roma have met these criteria, and, as of 2005, the Albanian government has signed up for the Decade of Roma, a World Bank initiative designed to help in four key areas: education, employment, health and housing and gender and non-discrimination. To date however, the results are not very encouraging, as the number of Roma still labeled as very poor continues to rise.

Against this very bleak picture, several rays of hope have begun to shine on the Roma and Egyptian communities from several organizations. One of these organizations is the United Nations Development Plan, implemented by the Ministry of Social Welfare and funded by the European Union.

These organizations have constructed a project designed to promote social inclusion of Roma and Egyptians through vocational training to increase their employability and strengthen artisan and entrepreneurship skills, especially for women and girls.

The training entailed learning how to cultivate medicinal plants. It was a week-long program where participants were trained how to cultivate, collect and dry medicinal plants. They also learned how to start a business. Additionally, women who owned pieces of land were given sage seeds to help get them started.

Within six months, several of the women who took the course were entrepreneurs employing up to three other women in their businesses. The UNDP recruited sage specialists to assist farmers throughout the process and help them in timing their sales and marketing their product.

Luan Ahmetaj, Director of the Medicinal Plant Institute in Tirana, Albania said, “What makes this intervention unique is the involvement of women in business dominated and run by men. This contributes in empowering those communities.”

There is a huge potential for Albanian medicinal plants. According to the U.S. Agricultural Department, 57 percent of sage imports into the U.S. come from Albania. There are close to 300 members of Roma and Egyptian communities in the regions of Berat, Korca and Vlora that are now benefiting from the initiative, almost half of them women.

Another aspect of this program has been the support of interventions into infrastructure identified by Roma and Egyptian Community Councils, such as kindergartens, road rehabilitations and other interventions. These programs also support the Government of Albania in its efforts to achieve the objectives set forth in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015. It also promotes respect for human rights and appreciation for cultural diversity, as prerequisites for the country’s EU accession.

Frederick Wood

Sources: Minority Rights 1, Minority Rights 2, UNDP, UN Albania, ERRC
Photo: Flickr

romanian_roma_children
Often referred to as travellers or gypsies, the Romani or Roma, people constitute one of the largest minority groups in Romania. However, they are not welcomed. Originating from India, Roma people are vastly discriminated against and face a multitude of disadvantages in education, health, living conditions and job opportunities.

Approximately 90 percent of Roma people live below the poverty line, while almost 33 percent are unemployed. Unfortunately, there has been a purposeful exclusion of the Roma population from mainstream society.

Roma children continually face violations of their basic human rights all across Europe. Additionally, a Roma child is three times more likely to be born into poverty than all other Romanian children.

Health issues that often occur from poor nutrition in early childhood have been exacerbated by the lack of access to treatment and medical clinics. Marginalization and extreme poverty have also hindered the children’s ability to gain equal access to services, including schooling.

Families are not only unable to send children to school due to financial reasons, but also because parents cannot afford clothes or school supplies. There is also growing concern for the stigma and violence the Roma children may endure. For the small percentage of Roma children that do attend school, they face extreme prejudice and segregation. Much of the disapproval stems from the perception that all Roma people are thieves and crooks.

Children and young people make up a large portion of the Roma population, yet their voices are rarely heard. Many European governments overlook the existing policies and legislation that exist to protect minority populations, further reducing their participation in society.

While the Roma in Romania experience discrimination from the people around them, the Roma children bear the greatest burden.

– Leeda Jewayni

Sources: Roma Children, CNN, World Bank
Photo: Caritas

pollution_bulgaria
As recent events in the Ukraine have shown, former soviet satellites continue to struggle for self-determination and modernization. Often torn between ties to the European Union and Russia, the former Eastern Bloc lags behind the rest of the continent in major areas of development—and none more so than Bulgaria.

Even though Bulgaria is now a member of the E.U., the nation still struggles with high rates of unemployment and catastrophic pollution. As of 2013, the European Environment Agency reports that four of the top six most polluted cites in Europe are in Bulgaria. The tremendous amount of air and water pollution is particularly damning for Bulgaria’s most vulnerable citizens, who are forced to brave the environment in order to scrape by.

In fact, it seems that poverty itself is fueling pollution, creating a perpetual cycle. Old, fuel-inefficient cars, outmoded factories and desperate fuels sources for warmth in the winter (such as raw coal and tires) make Bulgaria’s air the most polluted in Europe.

Beyond environmental factors, the transition to free markets has had troubling societal impacts that often break along ethnic lines. Corruption and organized crime have a firm grasp in the cities, Britain’s Daily Express reports, while the Roma minority lives on the outskirts in abject poverty. The scenes described in the Express from outside the capital city of Sofia bring to mind the most abysmal realities of poverty from across the globe.

The Roma, an ethnic minority, have long been persecuted on the continent, and their living conditions in Bulgaria attest to just how much the country struggles to keep up with the times.

Unemployment in Bulgaria is reported at 12 percent. The BBC suggests, however, that it may be much higher than that. A number of sources claim that governmental corruption is so pervasive that very little of state provided data can be trusted.

In response to the depressed economic conditions, a rash of self-immolations were reported. Several men of varying ages are said to have lit themselves on fire in protest of their living conditions.

For the E.U., these catastrophes hit close to home. The fact that the E.U. has now incorporated Bulgaria has turned Europe’s attention to the humanitarian crisis on their doorstep. With major Western news outlets now reporting on Bulgaria’s woes, perhaps international support will be able to generate some relief for the ailing nation.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Express, Daily Times, BBC
Photo: Plastic Pollution Coalition