Young Roma at OSCE conference: We must increase our participation in public life
More than 40 young activists across the OSCE region gathered on 8 and 9 December 2014 in Belgrade for a Conference on Roma and Sinti Youth. The meeting was organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and reviewed the opportunities for mobilizing and strengthening communities and galvanizing their participation in politics and decision-making processes.
"Through this conference we want to make it possible for the voices of young Roma and Sinti to be heard more clearly and to research ways in which it might be possible to increase their participation," said Mirjam Karoly, the head of the ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues. "Their participation in this meeting demonstrates that they are prepared to get involved in and contribute to decision-making processes."
"The conference in Belgrade is a strategic one with respect to young Romani people from all over Europe. It has given us the opportunity to comment on various areas concerning the development of young Roma, such as social inclusion, political participation and security. Participants were distributed among three groups that reviewed various topics to create and comment on the OSCE/ODIHR strategy with respect to the future of young Roma and Sinti," Michal Miko, who attended the conference from the Czech Republic, told news server Romea.cz.
The topics reviewed included socioeconomic questions and the environment. Young Roma and Sinti people represent a demographic group of growing significance, as they comprise a substantial percentage of the school-age population and an important component of the future labor force in many OSCE participating States.
Discriminatory measures in education systems and employment are preventing many young Roma and Sinti from fulling taking advantage of their potential. "Romani and Sinti youth, especially educated girls and women, are valuable resources for their communities, but our potential as role models and leading members of our communities remains largely untapped. We want to get more involved in the activities of our membership bases so we can call for change in our communities, but we lack permanent resources and support," said Romani activist Dragana Jovanovic Arias of Serbia.
"When I first attempted to run for office, all of the main parties in my country rejected me even though I had support in my community and a good education. Ultimately a new party provided room for me on its candidate list, but the day after the elections they asked me to resign and give the seat to a non-Romani candidate who had failed. I refused and I remained in office! We must serve our communities so that the next generation has better prospects for the future," said young town councillor Atanas Stoyanov of Strazhitsa, Bulgaria.
"Communities of Roma and Sinti across Europe face serious security threats, including growth in antigypsyism and extremism, expulsions, and a lack of medical services. In Ukraine the security of Romani communities has drastically deteriorated. We are the ones who are often described as a security threat so they can justify discrimination against us. We young Roma need to face this situation and we must increase our participation in public life, including in the security forces," said Maksym Flora of Ukraine.
The involvement of youth in OSCE activity is a priority of the Swiss OSCE presidency and the incoming Serbian presidency. States participating in the OSCE pledged in Kiev in 2013 to increase their efforts to improve the participation of Roma and Sinti youth.
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