The Forum for Roma Inclusion, under the leadership of the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF), will coordinate an investment of $3,583,160 over the next three years to support Roma women and young children in EU countries. Based on research and stakeholder analysis, targeted investments can provide the most value in two areas: first, by scaling up a model of community centers that offer integrated support services to pregnant women, new mothers, and children under the age of three; and second, by ensuring that young Roma children grow up in homes where they have safe tenure and access to basic amenities including an indoor kitchen, toilet, and shower.
The BvLF has identified four strategic areas for potential investment. First, the BvLF is interested in the creation of community center demonstration projects that provide integrated support services to pregnant women, new moms, and children under age three. These centers will offer early learning and also empower young women and mothers. Second, the BvLF will invest in capacity building of Roma NGOs to enable them to advocate in their national and local contexts. It will also invest in the capacity of women's organizations to include the voices of Roma in their work. Third, it is strategically important to invest in communications and awareness raising that addresses discrimination against Roma by non-Roma communities. Finally, the BvLF will invest in and advocate for the inclusion of young Roma women and children in decision-making about housing and living conditions. This will include the demonstration projects, which will incorporate their views within municipal programs.
The Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) is conducting country studies of the situation of the Roma and Roma organizations in France, Greece, Italy and Serbia. The studies will be completed by the end of October 2012. Based on the outcomes of the studies, a final country list will be selected and the commitment implementation plans will be formulated. After the completion of the studies and the selection of the countries, the Foundation intends to achieve the following items:
Starting in January 2013, the Foundation will foster dialogue and communication with local authorities and community leaders. Concurrently, partnerships with local NGOs and implementing agencies will be established and capacity-building programs will be developed with each partner and continue over the three years of the commitment.
Moreover, it will advocate and support demonstration projects to strengthen Roma women's and children's voices and encourage their active participation in decisions related to their physical environment and housing conditions, while also establishing a leadership program for at least ten young potential Roma women leaders by June 2013. This will enable linking and learning among different Roma women's groups and NGOs across countries and enable the rollout of successful models in 2014 and 2015.
By March 2013, finalized action plans and communications strategies will be developed for each selected country. At the same time, public opinion polling about perceptions of Roma children in the target countries will be conducted to inform the communications strategy and ensure it addresses the general problem of discrimination against the Roma.
By the end of 2013, a database will be created for each targeted community of young mothers and children and at least one community center in each of the selected countries will be providing integrated quality services to pregnant women and new moms and offering early learning to 800 children.
With an estimated total of 12 million people, Roma constitute the largest ethnic minority in Europe. The majority of Roma are socially excluded, live in extreme poverty, and face stubbornly persistent discrimination and prejudice.
The position of the Roma population in Europe is more precarious than ever. The 2011 Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey of 11 EU member states showed that the situation of the Roma people has deteriorated in absolute and relative terms. At least eight out of ten Roma people are at risk of poverty, with the highest levels reported in Italy, France, and Portugal. The life expectancy of Roma people is 15-20 years less than non-Roma people.
Furthermore, Roma people have more children and at a younger age than the population average. There are over two million Roma children under eight in the European Union (EU), which is more than the sum total of children in the five Nordic countries combined (RECI, Overview 2012). These children face challenges even before they are born. They are less likely to receive antenatal and post-natal health care. They are twice as likely as the population average across Europe to be born with low birth weight and remain underweight in their early years at up to six times the national average in some countries.
One of the central reasons for these health problems is the dismal living conditions in which Roma children grow up. According to a doctor from the World Health Organization (WHO), "I can continue to cure the illnesses of Roma children, but if I send them back into the conditions that made them sick, what's the point?" The conditions he describes are reflected in recent research by FRA, which found that 45% of Roma kids live in homes missing at least one basic amenity.