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August 10, 2022



Romani MP in Spain proposes improving Roma access to education and adding anti-Romani bias to the Criminal Code

14.3.2021 9:01
Ismael Cortés Gómez (2019). (PHOTO:  Facebook page of Ismael Cortés Gómez)
Ismael Cortés Gómez (2019). (PHOTO: Facebook page of Ismael Cortés Gómez)

The Reuters news agency reports that roughly a million Romani people live in Spain today, where they are known as Gitanos. For centuries they have been subject to persecution and to deeply-rooted ostracism and prejudices against them in society. 

As a consequence of their unequal position in society, members of this group today are grappling with high unemployment, poverty, and bad housing conditions. Things may be looking up now, though, as a proposal aimed at tackling the deep-rooted inequality suffered by Spain’s Roma people won cross-party parliamentary backing at the end of last year.

The new proposal seeks a state pact to combat discrimination against Romani people and proposes measures such as improved Romani access to education, an end to shanty towns, and for "antigitanismo" (antigypsyism) as a kind of motivation to be added to the country’s Criminal Code. The Government must respond to the proposal within six months, according to Ismael Cortes, one of three Romani representatives in Parliament -- the highest-ever number.

Cortes, who is 35, introduced the proposal and hopes that a commission on discrimination and inclusion might be approved as early as this month. “There is a feeling that times are changing,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“More people from the Gitano community are daring to step into politics and talk about things they wouldn’t have wanted to before. Five or six years ago we talked a lot about poverty. Now people are speaking more about discrimination, representation and antigitanismo," Cortes said.

Cases of discrimination against Romani people in Spain are part of their everyday lives. Prejudicial rejection by employers of Romani jobseekers, stalking of Romani customers by security guards in shops, problems with finding adequate housing, and unequal access to education and services are the most frequent issues.

Romani pupils frequently end up in segregated schools, and just one-fifth of Romani children in Spain complete their compulsory school attendance. This situation has become even more acute because of the problematic access by Romani communities to distance learning during the quarantine measures adopted to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Low levels of education strongly influence the opportunities for Roma on the labor market. In 2019, a report produced by the Iseak Foundation for the Spanish NGO Fundación Secretariado Gitano found that more than half of the Romani population in Spain was unemployed – at least three times the national rate.

Of the Romani people in Spain who have jobs, half are in business for themselves, most frequently operating market stalls, or are not in classic employment relationships that would be dependent on the willingness of an employer to accept a Romani job-seeker. Inaki Vazquez Arencon, director of Plataforma Khetane, a federation of more than 20 grassroots organisations based in Romani communities, told Reuters that while the community has historically opted for jobs that “preserved their autonomy”, they were also influenced by the reception they met if they diverged from that tradition.

“When a Gitano person does seek a so-called ‘normal’ job, they very frequently encounter the barrier of antigitanismo,” the director told Reuters. The Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights organization of which all the EU Member States, Spain included, are members, reports that education and employment are key areas of persistent discrimination against Spain’s Roma people and has called for specific anti-discrimination legislation to be introduced to protect the community.

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