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Press release, 8th April 2019 – International Roma Day

03/04/2019
FSG

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Social progress, recognition and participationOn April 8, the International Roma Day is celebrated worldwide. This date, recalls the Roma International Congress held in London on April 8, 1971, in which the flag and the Romani anthem were instituted.

In the last years, the 'April 8' is gaining great notoriety, serving as occasion for different celebrations and communications by multiple national and European institutions.

You can visit our microsite dedicated to 8 April previous campaigns: https://www.gitanos.org/8thapril/

Below we present our statement launched on the occasion of the celebration of April 8, 2019.

We have just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, a Magna Carta which brought with it the formal recognition of the full citizenship of Roma men and women just four decades ago. The Constitution establishes equality as a principle and value to be shared by all Spaniards, and includes articles which enable and endorse the enactment of policies to guarantee equality of opportunity, to combat discrimination, and to promote the participation of all citizens. As part of the Spanish citizenry, Roma people have experienced a process of social advancement within the framework of co-existence and cohesion offered by our Constitution.

Forty years after the establishment of the Constitution, we can celebrate the changes which it has brought about in the Roma community. It is undeniable that living conditions have improved; that school education is now a reality for Roma boys and girls; that increasing numbers of young Roma now complete compulsory education and go on to study at university; that the labour market is opening up to Roma men and women, albeit slowly; that only a few shanty towns remain in existence; and that we have more and more mechanisms and resources at our disposal to fight against the rejection and discrimination suffered by Roma people.

Even so, inequality persists. The Roma community is over-represented on indices of poverty and social exclusion; school dropout and failure rates are much higher among Roma pupils than the Spanish average; and unemployment and job insecurity are well above average among the Roma population, to give just a few examples. On balance, it seems that equality of opportunity is a long way off for a large part of the Roma population.

However, on this day of 8th April, International Roma Day, we at the Fundación Secretariado Gitano wish to highlight the progress which has been made in the institutional recognition of the Roma people, and the increasing participation of Roma men and women in all areas of society.

One year ago, at the request of the Spanish Parliament, the Council of Ministers formally recognised 8th April as International Roma Day. This decision brought with it the institutional recognition of the symbols and identity of a community, with a history and culture of its own, which has been settled in Spain for nearly six centuries and which has survived frequent persecution, severe discrimination and rejection persisting to this day.

We can also observe how some Autonomous Communities are starting to include Roma history and culture in the school curriculum. This settles a long-standing debt, given that their absence from textbooks has significantly contributed to a general lack of knowledge of the Roma; to their estrangement from society; and to the basing of relationships between Roma and non-Roma on prejudices and negative stereotypes rooted in a tradition of centuries of rejection. Our awareness-raising campaign “Romani Lesson”, which will form part of the celebrations this 8th April in many municipalities and autonomous communities, has been designed to make good this lack of knowledge by offering an overview of Roma history and culture. 

Meanwhile, at the request of the European Parliament, through an initiative in which the Fundación Secretariado Gitano is participating, Commissions of Truth and Reconciliation are promoted in member states of the European Union. These will work to identify and highlight the reality of rejection and persecution suffered by the Roma community throughout its history, and to rectify the harm done to the dignity of Roma people.

However, it is perhaps on the issue of participation in all areas of public life that we can observe the greatest progress. A few weeks ago we saw Eusebio Montoya, a 12-year-old Roma boy from the neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid who participates in programmes run by the Fundación Secretariado Gitano, appearing in the Spanish Parliament before the Commission on the Rights of Children and Young People. He is taking on the task of representing boys and girls from Children’s Commissions from across Spain, communicating their requests to Parliament after a process of participation in which the children learn about their rights.

On 8th March, International Women’s Day, the day on which we proclaim the role of women in all areas of society and the need to guarantee gender equality, we saw this year how Roma women have become involved in this process. In awareness of their rights, they have also added their voices to the demand for a society which insists on equality for all women, including Roma women.

Above all, with several key electoral dates coming up, it is in political participation that we currently have the clearest indications of the progress Roma women and men are making in terms of public representation. All the main political parties with a presence in Parliament are including Roma men and women on their electoral candidate lists. This shows both the heterogeneity and ideological plurality of the Roma community, and the political value to parties of having among their candidates people who represent diversity. Such candidates attract voters rather than putting them off, and make a positive contribution both to political parties and to society at large. The inclusion of so many Roma candidates in the upcoming general, regional and local elections reflects the advances made by the Roma community at large in terms of participation and citizenship, and also represents a clear recognition of the value they bring to politics.

On this day of 8th April, International Roma Day, we at the Fundación Secretariado Gitano can only applaud these signs of progress relating to recognition and participation, as such progress can only occur when people are guaranteed their basic social rights: a high-quality education, decent employment and adequate housing.

We must continue to support policies, initiatives and programmes which contribute to securing such social rights for all Roma people, with no individual left behind, so that all can exercise their citizenship fully. The increasing representation of the Roma community across the political spectrum is essential to ensure that there are voices in the public sphere defending the necessary advances in the rights of Roma people.

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