Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Why we need to talk about Roma inclusion

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The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority group, and arguably the most discriminated-against one. Despite efforts to promote Roma inclusion over the last decades—including from the European Union institutions, governments, development organizations, and civil society organizations—a large share of the Roma remain poor, and have inadequate access to basic services.

Roma poverty and exclusion is not a matter of geographical disadvantage—Roma have considerably higher rates of poverty and exclusion than their non-Roma neighbors living in close proximity. Following the International Romani Day last week, let us be reminded of these facts:

  • One in three Roma adults in Central and Eastern Europe is unemployed, with unemployment rates between two and five times higher than for non-Roma.
  • Only 15% of young Roma adults have completed upper-secondary education, compared to around 70% of non-Roma.
  • In Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria, around 45% of Roma report having medical insurance, compared to 85% of the mainstream population.
  • About 45% of Roma households lack basic housing amenities such as electricity, an indoor kitchen, an indoor toilet, and an indoor shower or bath.
These are the tangible forms of deprivation, which the World Bank has committed to address through analytical work and technical assistance, and with partner organizations. Increasingly, our discussions with development partners, government, and other stakeholders have also focused on the intangible aspects of inequality, relating to discrimination and dignity, voice, and aspirations.

To the Roma, being treated with dignity and respect is as important as equal access to jobs and services, according to recent World Bank focus group discussions with Roma migrants from Bulgaria who now live in Belgium. Discrimination, stigma, and prejudices against the Roma are complex and manifold with compounding, intergenerational effects. This can have a crippling impact on the everyday life of the Roma—whether or not they are materially deprived.

As the World Bank flagship report Inclusion Matters notes, the lack of respect and recognition for groups who are disadvantaged on the basis of their identity—which is linked to the idea of dignity—“can render some individuals and even entire groups “invisible” in official statistics.”
The good news is that real progress on Roma inclusion can be made with the right policies in place. For example, we have seen encouraging achievements with integrating Roma inclusion, particularly in the education field. At the World Bank, we are also developing and testing new approaches to address some of the structural issues the Roma face:
  1. At the policy level, more needs to be done to “translate” existing evidence on Roma social inclusion into clear and compelling policy messages that are politically viable. In Bulgaria, in partnership with the government, the World Bank is embarking on developing and testing more accessible and less technocratic ways of communicating the Roma inclusion agenda with a broader audience.
  2. At the project level, the World Bank has developed Roma Sensitivity Enhancer, a checklist for project teams working on Romania. This tool quickly assesses project impacts, if any, on the Roma. It serves as a conversation starter and an awareness raising device among project stakeholders, and supports project-level accountability toward the Roma.
  3. Finally, we have established a community of practice group inside the World Bank focused on Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities. This group has been critical for examining the condition of the Roma in the World Bank’s larger discussions on majority and minority populations. The platform also provides a space for peer-to-peer exchange and learning among teams from all regions of the world who are working on ethnic minority issues.

These initiatives are just a few of many to address the economic and social inequality faced by Roma around the Europe and Central Asia region. They bring stakeholders, policymakers, civil society, and the World Bank together as we all strive toward one goal: developing solutions for Roma inclusion.

Read more about our work on Roma inclusion here.


Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

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