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Roma: strengthening a vulnerable community

Issues Affecting Women Programme / Partner story / Video

Photo by Jens Johnsson from Unsplash

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is probably the most well-known of the wars in the Balkans. It ended abruptly in 1995, with a peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords. However, while the accords ended the war, they failed in important ways. For example, Bosnian leaders were not involved in negotiating the war’s end, which meant the underlying root causes of the conflict were never properly dealt with. Women’s input was not included in the peace process and their exclusion is evident in how little women’s specific vulnerabilities and capacities are reflected in the final agreement.

The Dayton Accords also exclude certain populations. Roma, for instance, are not considered citizens of Bosnia, despite the fact that they have lived there for many generations. This has enormous consequences – Roma people do not have access to many of the rights of Bosnian citizens and are largely excluded from governance structures. “This directly implies Roma are not important in this country and further deepens the discrimination and prejudices,” says Dragan Jokovic, executive director of Otaharin, an organisation that works to empower Roma women and youth by providing job opportunities and training. “They are an extremely disadvantaged people,” says Dragan. “For instance, no one wants to employ them, so they are obliged to work on the streets, or to beg. It leaves them vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.”

Sabira, a Roma woman, emigrated to Germany more than 20 years ago, where she worked as a cleaner to earn a living. Tragedy then struck – her husband was killed, a story that Sabira cannot tell without crying. Her only son was already fully grown, so she decided to return to the small town where she had grown up – Bijeljina, situated in Bosnia close to the border with Serbia. She quickly realised that she had no rights even in her home town, could not find employment, and was not eligible to receive social help from the government. Destitute and afraid, she went to the association Otaharin, which found her a job and helped her get back up on her feet. Now she works as part of a cooperative to grow and sell food with other women in the neighbourhood.

“This type of work is really important for the community and for Roma women, because we usually don’t have the same opportunities for education. You don’t need education for growing vegetables, but it still helps women feel happy and fulfilled, because they can earn money and provide for their families.”

– Sabira, worker at farmers’ cooperative with Otaharin in Bosnia.

By coincidence, the food cooperative is situated on the site of the primary school she attended as a child, which makes her smile. Check out this video about Otaharin’s work.

This grant falls under Oak’s Issues Affecting Women Programme strategy, which aims to strengthen women’s rights organisations and networks in these countries. For more information about the work done to address issues affecting women around the globe, read pages 42-48 of Oak’s 2018 Annual Report.

Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report 2018