Beth Wofford

Elizabeth Wofford (Dzeno): Between 2009 and 2011 Beth studied at the University of Maryland – she graduated with with a Bachelor of Arts in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. In 2010, Beth studied in Prague, where where she first encountered discrimination against the Roma community. She spent the spring semester of 2011 interning at the Global Terrorism Database (a research project of the US Department of Homeland Security). Beth was also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the Sigma Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Fraternity. After her fellowship Beth wrote: “I am absolutely more confident. I know that I can work through tough issues and be able to make a product happen. I have more faith in myself and in other people to get things done that need to get done.”

Mere Rhetoric: The effectiveness of the Decade of Roma Inclusion

23 Jun

Thursday 30 June, 2011 marks the end of the Czech Presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. The presidency will be closed with the 20th International Steering Committee Meeting on 27 and 28 June, in which I will be attending with Dženo.

The Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) is an initiative by European Governments to realize the inequities which have been propagated against the Roma Minority and to address issues through legislation and governmental influence. The project came into effect on 2 February 2005 in Sofia, Bulgaria in which the prime ministers of the original participating countries signed the Declaration of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.

The Czech Presidency began last summer on 1 July, and has continued through this year. The Presidency established a list of Priority Areas, which are in agreement with many of the goals presented in other Roma documents (For example The European Commission’s EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020 and The Strasbourg Declaration on Roma prepared by the Council of Europe). These priority areas are:

  1. Inclusive Education
  2. Well Being and Rights of Children
  3. Roma Women
  4. Implementation of Integration Policies at the Local Level
  5. Media and the Image of the Roma.

These priority areas seem rather simple – the goals set out in each seem relatively easy to achieve. Many of the goals have been set into legislation per governmental decrees. From many angles, it seems as if the Czech Republic is taking many of the right steps to rectify the wrongs against the Roma minority.

However, when one delves deeper into understanding exactly what has happened to these people and how much these governmental decrees will actually influence any social change whatsoever, the rosy gleam of the Decade seems to diminish.

Let me clarify with a small anecdote.

On Tuesday, as a favor to my landlord, I presented at her school about community service. It was a short presentation about how helping other people can actually be fun. (Weird, right?!) One of the braver young women there asked me (in impeccable English) what I was doing here for the summer. I was hesitant to answer, but then I thought, do I really have to fear judgment from a bunch of 16 year olds? “I’m working to advance Roma Women’s Rights,” I answered. They looked at me with puzzlement. “But why?” asked the young woman, clearly not understanding why such a group would need help. Her lack of understanding was reflected in the faces of all the other young people in the room. It was clear that the stereotypes against the Roma run deep in Czech society, reflected even in the (mostly) innocent faces of the teens I talked to.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. These governmental actions are a step in the right direction, no doubt. But how can social change and inclusion truly occur? How can we make sure that people take advantage of these programs set out for them? The enormity of these problems is reflected everyday when I walk into my office, with Ivan glaring at documents on his desk and shaking his head at the lack of progress over the past 20 years in the Roma movement.

One of the largest issues facing the Roma minority in the Czech Republic is that of education. Two strategic documents have been produced to try to rectify the problem of Roma children not being accepted into mainstream schools. The first, The National Plan for Inclusive Education, was created to allow equal access and opportunities in education for Roma children. The plan was approved in March 2010 with governmental decree No. 206.

Equal access is such a buzzword in all of the documents regarding Roma inclusion, that this action reflects the idea that the Czech Republic really is doing something about education. Reading about the potential of this plan I felt a touch of excitement that change might actually be happening.

Then, of course, this excitement is killed when I read the news that 50 experts from this working group have resigned. Allegations are presented against the Czech Education minister for Public Affairs, Josef Dobeš, accusing him of not taking concrete action to make this plan a reality. They have been quoted as saying, “Under the existing leadership of the Education Ministry, it is becoming more and more obvious that inclusive education will remain mere rhetoric.” (As mentioned in an article in Education International)

Mere rhetoric. What a fitting term for what has been happening here in the Czech Republic. The rhetoric is so promising – but no actions have been taken to ensure that these plans come to fruition. The perpetuation of stereotypes and discrimination continues.

Posted By Beth Wofford

Posted Jun 23rd, 2011

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