This summer, I have the amazing opportunity to work with the Campaign For Social Inclusion in the Czech Republic. I have been interning with an NGO, Romea, to help with the social inclusion of the Roma people. The Roma are a traditionally nomadic group of people believed to have originated in India, yet they have faced persecution throughout generations including the mass genocide of their people during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the Roma are still widely persecuted today due to the color of their skin, their culture, and a negative media portrayal of the Roma as criminals and thieves.
Human rights are defined as rights that inherently belong to every person, regardless of race, religion, national origin, or any other status. Every year, the United States releases a human rights report on countries around the globe, including the Czech Republic. Often, Romea will report these records on their news server, but the challenge arises in seeing how many of the majority group are actually willing to change their thoughts and actions in order to alleviate feelings of exclusion for minority groups. In their 2016 Human Rights Report, the U.S. states that, “Societal discrimination against the Romani population in education, housing, and employment remained a serious problem.”
Very few of the socially excluded Roma participate in Czech political life. The 2016 report from the U.S. says, “There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court justices; in the regional elections, Romani candidates had no success winning office.” Without political representation, legal policies advocating for the respect of basic human rights for marginalized communities is difficult to implement. Exclusion manifests when members of society are silenced, and their voices hushed.
Further issues the U.S. reports include the rejection of, “a bill proposed in September 2015 by the minister of human rights on compensation for persons, most of them Romani women, who were sterilized without their full consent between 1971 and 1991.” U.S. commentary on these issues is ironic, given its own extensive history on compulsory sterilization.
Now, you may be wondering why you should care--How does this affect you? Well, the issues the Roma face in Europe are issues that many minorities in the U.S. face as well. There is unequal distribution of education, employment, and housing. Poverty is rampant. People feel the prejudice against them, and it is important for us to know that this issue does not only affect America. “Isms” are a global problem: racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, ageism, heterosexism, and more. People are literally dying because people don’t want to acknowledge that it is okay to be different.
But what I want you to know is, it is okay to be different. Embrace your culture. Live how you want. Because that is how people grow and learn and discover new ways to flourish.