Experts, employers, and Roma women discussed about a significant problem that receives too little attention in Slovakia

The employment rate of Roma women aged 16 to 64 is at 16%* In other progressive countries, these numbers would raise alarm, and authorities would urgently seek solutions. In Slovakia, most authorities act as if it doesn’t concern them. However, this alarming problem not only affects Roma women and their families but the entire society, as well. Many of them would like to work, but they face multiple discrimination or generational poverty, resulting in incomplete education, early motherhood, and many other obstacles. What can we do to eliminate these barriers? Answers were sought at the final conference of our UPre Women programme.

Learning, developing, and progressing in the environment of generational poverty is very challenging and often impossible. Because this environment simply doesn’t allow it. That’s why it’s important for women from socially disadvantaged communities to receive systematic and targeted assistance and support to gradually break free from it. To find and maintain employment and to develop not only themselves but also their families and surroundings. Such women would no longer be dependent on the system, but on the contrary, they would be active contributors to society.

How to do it?

The UPre Women conference (September 13, 2023) focused on specific examples of good practice by employers, such as Tesco, Lear, the Social Enterprise of the Košice Self-Governing Region, and the social enterprise Romade, founded by Andrej Kiska. Representatives of these companies shared their experiences with employing people, specifically women, from marginalized Roma communities, inspiring other participants and potential employers. They focused not only on the benefits, such as the strong loyalty of Roma employees but also on the tasks and obstacles that arise when working and communicating with people from marginalized communities.

Representatives of centers and partners of the UPre Women project – the Labor Agency of the Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region, the Community Center for Minorities in Veľký Krtíš, and the civic association Detstvo deťom – shared their experiences in a panel discussion.

The voice of Roma women was represented by a participant in the UPre Women project – Katka Dunková from Dobšiná. In front of a full auditorium at the Tabačka cultural center in Košice, she shared why she joined the programme, who helped her to complete high school with graduation, why role models are important for young Roma, and why Roma women have children so early. For Katka, it was her first experience speaking in public, and although she was nervous, Katka could feel that the opinions of Roma women matter and that it’s important to be an active part of change.

Zuzana Sojková from the Labor Agency of the Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region talked about the obstacles to Roma women entering the labor market. Interesting information about gender-based violence and the importance of women educating themselves on this topic was added by Dáša Kožuchová and Petra Guntášová from the Prešov association MyMamy.

An interesting addition to the program was a demonstration by Michal Horňáček, an instructor in self-defense and personal safety. In February, Michal led a two-day training session where participants of the UPre Women programme learned how to prevent conflict, find their inner strength, and work with stress. And last but not least, how to defend against physical violence. (You can read more about the interesting self-defense training HERE.)

The pilot project of the UPre Women programme was implemented from January 2022 to August 2023 in Dobšiná and Veľký Krtíš. Its goal was to prepare women for actively seeking, obtaining, and maintaining employment while helping them understand how gender and other discrimination work and how to face it, what their rights are, how to effectively manage family finances, and how to take care of themselves and their health. The implementation of the programme yielded very interesting findings and realizations, which were presented at the conference by the manager of UPre Women Natália Príhodová. The event was opened by former President of Slovakia and honorary guest Andrej Kiska, Veronika Miškech Fričová, Programme Director of the Carpathian Foundation, and Jana Dacková, Head of Programme Management Department at the Ministry of Investments, Regional Development and Informatization of the Slovak Republic.

The UPre Women conference was not just a forum for discussing problems and solutions. It was an event that referred to specific functioning activities and guidelines, networks people and organizations, and enables them to exchange contacts, from which interesting collaborations can emerge.

Photo: Dávid Hanko

*Data from the presentation by Zuzana Sojková, Coordinator for Employer Relations, the Labor Agency of the Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region.

Short video of the Conference: