BUCHAREST. 6 March 2020. During their 12-day mission to Romania the expert group’s delegation, comprised of Meskerem Geset Techane and Ivana Radačić, held meetings in Bucharest, Mizil, Valea Seaca, Slobozia Bradului, Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu. These are their preliminary findings.
The experts extend sincere appreciation to the Government of Romania for the invitation to undertake this official visit and for its cooperation during the visit. The experts would also like to thank all the interlocutors for all the fruitful discussions: the public officials, the UN officials, representatives of school, hospital and prison staff, academics, NGOs, girls and women from different communities, and victims/survivors of gender-based violence.
Although Romania is the largest economy in the Balkans, it is also the second-poorest EU country with over a third of Romania’s population affected by poverty or social exclusion, particularly in rural areas, where almost half of its population live.1 Romania has the second highest urban-rural gap in mean equalised net income in the European Union. In practice, access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, housing, health and education, is not guaranteed equally throughout the country, affecting particularly women and girls living in rural areas, especially the Roma minority, which represents around 8% of the population.2 A high number of Romanians have emigrated, and a significant number of children in the country have one or both parents living abroad, which leads to an increased vulnerability of girls to trafficking and other forms of abuse.
Although Romania has been taking legislative and other measures to secure women’s rights, political instability, due to recurrent changes of the Government, has hindered the continuity and implementation of laws, public policies and institutional reforms. The country is progressing towards gender equality at a slower pace than other EU Member States.3
Legal, policy and institutional framework
Romania has a good record of ratification of international human rights instruments, having ratified seven out of nine core UN human rights treaties. It has also ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention). It has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the ILO Convention no. 189 on Domestic Workers.
Since its accession to the European Union in 2007, Romania has adopted legislation on non-discrimination: the Law on Preventing and Sanctioning of All Forms of Discrimination (the Anti-Discrimination Law), which includes a wide range of grounds and a wide scope of applicability, and the Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, which prohibits different forms of gender discrimination in the spheres of employment, education, health, culture, access to information, participation in the decision making process.
In addition, in 2018 Romania adopted the National Strategy for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities and Treatment between Women and Men and Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence for the period 2018-2021, as well as the Operational Plan. There are also national strategies on the prevention of early school dropout, combating human trafficking, employment, and health. These are all positive developments.
However, implementation remains challenging, as well as coordination between the relevant authorities and the use of existing expertise in civil society organisations. During our visit, we observed a limited of understanding of substantive equality, which includes an analysis of indirect discrimination and the introduction of specific measures, in addition to the prohibition of different treatment. When we asked about specific measures, we often heard: ‘We provide same treatment to all.’
We commend Romania for re-establishing a dedicated institution to coordinate the implementation of government’s policies and strategies in the field of equal opportunities between women and men and for preventing and combatting domestic violence – the National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men (ANES). The ANES’s important role of mainstreaming gender in government policies and activities should be strengthened and adequate resources allocated to it.
We also note the existence of other relevant mechanisms envisaged by the law – the National Commission for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, county commissions on equal opportunities between women and men, and gender experts in public and private institutions, and call for them to become fully operational. We were pleased to hear of positive examples of effective functioning of these mechanisms at some county levels, such as in Sibiu.
We are pleased to note the operation of different independent state-based human rights bodies: the National Council for Combatting Discrimination, the Office of the Romanian Ombudsman, and the Romanian Institute for Human Rights, all of which are playing an important role in the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls. We call on the Government to ensure adequate resources to these institutions and strengthen their independence.
We also encourage the relevant commissions in both chambers of the Parliament to continue legislative reform efforts towards promoting women and girls’ rights and to engage with women and girls’ organisations on these issues.
Finally, we call for the collection of gender-segregated data and ensuring gender sensitive budgeting, which would enable better implementation of laws and policies in the area of gender equality.
Public and political life
While women’s representation in the Parliament remains one of the lowest in Europe,4 we are pleased to note improvements in the representation of women in public leadership positions: within the Government (27.3% in 2019) and the Parliament (nearly 20% in 2019, compared to 12% in 2016). At the Senate, women’s percentage has doubled since 2012, while a notable progress is noted in the Chamber of Deputies as well (from 8% to 14.71%). Nevertheless, appropriate steps are lacking in terms of institutionalising measures towards women's representation in the Parliament. In this regard, we welcome the on-going efforts to introduce legislation on quotas for women in electoral processes.
At the cabinet level, only three out of the 17 Ministries are led by women. Women's representation at the county and municipal levels is also low. For example, the national average of women elected as mayor is 4.55%. However, we met with committed women in high positions at national, county and municipal levels, and we were encouraged by women-led county council we visited. Generally, women in Romania are well represented in the public administration and within the different public institutions, but their representation in senior positions remains lower.
Women are the majority in the judiciary. They constitute 73% of the total number of judges and 52% of prosecutors, which are encouraging figures. At the Constitutional Court, three out of the nine judges are women and at the High Court of Cassation, which is presided by a woman, majority are women. We were pleased to hear about the positive jurisprudence of these courts advancing women’s rights during our visit.
Women and girls human rights defenders
Women’s rights organisations in Romania play a key role in the fight against discrimination against women and girls, complementing, and often taking on, tasks of the Government. Their activities include awareness raising, education and training on gender equality and gender-based violence, providing shelter, support, rehabilitation and reintegration services for victims/survivors of gender-based violence, migrant and refugee women.
We are pleased to note that in some municipalities we visited, such as Mizil, local authorities have been cooperating with NGOs, which should be encouraged throughout the country so that their expertise is fully utilised. We call on the Government and other stakeholders, such as independent human rights institutions, to ensure a nurturing environment for girls’ organising and participation, which has been on the rise in the country. In light of the key role that women’s and girls’ organisations and networks play in ensuring human rights, they should be granted adequate resources and be included in policy making. Any harassment of activists must be prevented.
Adequate standard of living
Access to adequate standard of living is a challenge in poverty affected rural Romania, as social goods and services are in precarious conditions in some places. Effects of these are particularly severe for women and girls in vulnerable situations who generally have limited access to opportunities and resources.
While a social housing scheme is generally available, restrictive conditions concerning certain education and job requirements, make it inaccessible for poor women, leaving the poor households trapped in a cycle of deprivation.
We are alerted by the poor housing conditions in certain communities, which may lead to endangering the health and safety of women and children. We learned that in some rural areas, in particular largely Roma inhabited areas, the lack of water, clean toilet, sewage or electricity have persisted for years.
Testimonies received during the visit also revealed stories of women who have faced forced evictions and run the risk of homelessness, which are not isolated cases but part of the structural problems faced by certain women at the intersection of gender, ethnicity, economic status and geographic/rural background.
We welcome the range of available social benefits that are targeted to improve the living conditions of people in vulnerable situation and cover an array of beneficiary groups and needs. Encouraged by on-going efforts in implementing integrated community services to combat poverty and social exclusion, we urge putting in place policies and programmes to facilitate non-discriminatory access to social goods and services by the low-income rural and Roma population. Moreover, we call on the Government to integrate a gender and intersectional perspective in the national housing and social protection programmes, with a view to meeting the particular needs of specific groups of women living under high vulnerability.
Romanian Employment Law prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of (inter alia) gender, which was considered by many government interlocutors to constitute sufficient protection. However, in practice women face barriers to access to decent jobs and suffer discrimination in the workplace, steaming, inter alia, from the unequal division of family responsibilities and disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, as well as existence of discriminatory attitudes towards women.
We are pleased to note that women have a significant participation in the labour force (45.3%), with a higher number of women in the public sector. However, the employment rate of women is still lower than men: in 2018 the employment rate was recorded at 56.25% for women and 73.2% for men respectively.5 Women have lower participation in the private sector, especially in senior management positions.
There is limited information on the size of the informal labour market. The situation of workers in the informal economy, such as domestic and care workers appears to be under-regulated and under-studied and requires proper attention by the Government.
The registered unemployment rate for women was estimated at 3.5% in 2019 compared to 4.4% for men.6 However, the high unemployment rate among some groups of women, especially in rural areas and among Roma women, remains a concern which is also inextricably linked to the wider context of systemic exclusion they face.
We welcome legal and policy measures targeted towards increasing access to employment through the implementation of a range of interventions, particularly for individuals in precarious positions. We call upon the Government to introduce targeted measures to create more opportunities for women to gain access to formal employment, especially in rural areas and marginalised communities (such as Roma), as well as to integratemigrant and refugee women into the labour market.
We are pleased to note that Romania has a relatively low pay gap: for example, lowest gender pay gap in the EU in 2018 was recorded in Romania (3.5%), almost three times lower than the EU average.7 We commend these achievements and call for continued efforts in order to close these gaps.
We also call on the Government to introduce additional measures to ensure a work-life balance. Working women in Romania still take care of significant unpaid tasks, such as household work and caring for children or relatives, on a far larger scale than working men do. This, together with limited childcare facilities, the lack of after-school programs for children, and flexible working time, has great implication for their participation in paid work and their earnings. We thus welcome the actions taken by the Government aiming at the development of childcare facilities and support services for the care of dependent family members.
Access to quality health-care services
Romania provides a rather comprehensive universal health benefit package, including pre-natal care and gynaecologist services, and certain groups in vulnerable situations (such as pregnant women) have it regardless of the employment status. In practice, several barriers affect women and girls’ access to health care. Our interlocutors reported that informal payments are often required to access health services that should be free of charge according to the law. In rural areas, health services are not sufficiently available or accessible due to distance and costs, for example.
Many Roma women and girls do not have health insurance. Moreover, the services are geographically and financially inaccessible for many of them. In addition, Roma women and girls face institutionalised discrimination, often being denied services, or offered services in segregated settings, including during childbirth, as heard during the visit.
Women and girls with disabilities also face barriers to access to quality health services, particularly those living in institutions, which still represent a high number. Moreover, we heard that institutionalised women and girls with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities are sometimes pushed to take contraceptives, even if not sexually active. We also heard about the lack of specialised services of women and girls living with HIV/AIDs and some cases of denial of services. Moreover, psychological and psychiatric services for women victims/survivors of sexual violence are limited. There is also a lack of specialised services for transgender people. Furthermore, there are no targeted programmes for people who use drugs, including women engaged in prostitution/sex workers.
Targeted measures, including further training of medical personnel on the health needs of women from vulnerable groups, as well as addressing prejudices and insensitivity to their needs, are required. We also encourage the increase in numbers of Roma health mediators, whose role in accessing services has proved to be crucial.
Sexual and reproductive health
No comprehensive national strategy on sexual and reproductive health has been put in place, despite the fact that Romania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, predominant in rural areas, due to the combination of various factors, including the lack of sexuality education, the difficulty to access sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and stigma around some of these services.
Romania also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Europe, as well as one of the highest infant mortality rates resulting from unattended pregnancies. There is a problem with over-medicalisation of birth, including a very high rate of C-sections (around 60%). Moreover, according to our interlocutors, women’s rights and choices regarding childbirth in medical facilities are not fully respected. As homebirth is not regulated, women who choose to give birth at home cannot benefit from medical assistance and are more exposed to complications during childbirth. Measures to ensure human rights at childbirth are needed. We were delighted to hear that the Human Rights Commission of the Senate is considering relevant initiatives.
Access to abortion in Romania is well regulated: permitted upon request up to 14 weeks and thereafter for therapeutic reasons. However, we were told that in some hospitals services are compromised due to the exercise of conscientious objection. Illegal and unsafe abortion still exists in Romania, putting women and girls’ health and lives at risk. We call on the Government to ensure access to legal and safe abortion to women and girls.
We were informed by the Government of the programmes of free distribution of contraceptives to certain categories of girls and women in need. However, targeted beneficiaries we talked to were not aware of these, while they spoke of barriers, such as costs, and lack of availability of family planning services in the country, particularly in rural areas. We call on the Government to ensure full accessibility to family planning services.
Access to femininehygienic products and facilities is also an issue for some women and girls, especially those living in poverty, and is in some places a source of stigma and discrimination. Reducing the VAT rates, as an essential product for women and girls, would be a step in securing that they are financially accessible.
We are encouraged by the high level of girls’ participation in education at all levels, including at university-level education, where girls/women constitute a significant number. The female-male ratio is quite similar across all fields of study, including science and maths, where, stereotypically, girls are perceived less inclined to perform.
We are pleased that Romania has notably closed the gender gap in education enrolment and that school dropout has significantly decreased. However early school dropout, particularly of girls, remains one the highest in the EU, mostly due to teenage pregnancy, early marriages, poverty. The spatial and ethnic disparity in school completion rate is also remarkably significant, remaining much lower among rural, particularly Roma, population, in which, for example, the primary education completion rate is 50%. Moreover, girls’ literacy rate is lower in rural areas. In particular, more Roma girls are illiterate than boys in the same community.
We welcome strategies adopted to address early school leaving and measures introduced to support vulnerable categories of students, including guaranteed student seats in high school and higher education institutions for disadvantaged or socially marginalised groups (Roma students, graduates of rural high-schools). We are also encouraged by positive initiatives to address particular challenges Roma students face, such as the designation of school mediators, but note the problem of segregated education. Further attention is required with the view to responding to the underlying complex socio-economic and cultural context. Moreover, promising practices in providing complementary education, such as Second Chance Programme and School-after-School Programme, would need to be further improved and supported.
Even though education is free, we learned that prohibitive costs are involved in relation to schooling such as ‘classroom funds’ (school maintenance or learning materials), transportation and accommodation/dorm costs that imped the realisation of free access to education for students from poor families. We encourage measures towards securing affordable and safe public transport and enhancing scholarship programs accessible to all in need, which would be instrumental to support the educational advancement of girls from low-income families.
The quality of education is of concern in rural Romania. As in other areas of public service, the urban-rural divide is apparent in the quality of education, with severe impact on educational as well as economic attainment of rural girls/women who are facing multiple barriers. Targeted measures are required to improve performance of schools in rural areas and ensure equal distribution of education outcomes across the country among girls/women and boys/men.
Many interlocutors, both from the civil servants and civil society, expressed that the Romanian education system is falling short in the area of sexuality education, which is crucial for securing women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health. Sexuality education is an optional subject, reaching only 6% of school pupils. Girls informed us about the limited opportunities to discuss issues of sexual and reproductive health at school while impressive community conversation initiatives are being run by NGOs. As one girl told us, ‘I wish we learn in school things we talk about here, in the community centre….’ Sexuality education is indispensable for preventing teenage pregnancy. Comprehensive, scientific, human rights based and age appropriate sexuality education should hence be guaranteed to all children.
While we acknowledge that civic education is part of the school curriculum, our interlocutors assessed it as insufficient when it comes to gender equality and violence against women and girls. It is crucial to integrate human rights education at all levels of education, which address specifically human rights and gender equality issues, including violence against girls.It is also important to ensure that the school environment, curricula and textbooks are free from gender stereotypes, a problem noted specifically by girls we talked to through, inter alia, trainings for teachers and the revision of textbooks. As one of the girls said: ‘We want to hear about the values of women.’
Several interlocutors shared concerns that girls experience some form of harassment or sexual harassment in education institutions, which has not been properly addressed. Testimonies received demonstrate that some groups of girls are more vulnerable to bullying and discriminatory treatment, such as girls from Roma community, transgender girls and girls with disabilities.
We call upon the Government to take further measures to ensure safe, gender and culturally sensitive school environments for girls. To this end, investing on the education system and developing the capacity of school personnel, including through gender and child rights trainings, would be crucial.
Family and culture
According to many of our interlocutors, women in the Romanian society are still predominantly assigned traditional gender roles. While attitudes have been changing, particularly in the urban areas, women’s primary responsibility is seen as bearing children and taking care of household, which contributes to women’s lower level of participation in political and social and economic spheres. According to our discussion with young girls and other interlocutors, sexuality remains a taboo topic, particularly in more traditional communities.
The worldwide phenomenon of backlash against women’s rights by conservative cultural, political and religious movements of the recent years can be observed in Romania as well, in particular regarding sexual and reproductive rights. This backlash seriously impedes progress in introducing sexuality education.
In Romania, same sex civil partnership is still not recognised by law. Transgender persons face problems in legal recognition of their assumed identity, in many cases having to undergo full medical transition, including sterilisation, which is incompatible with human rights standards.
Moreover, studies point to the high tolerance of domestic violence, including by the victims, as well as the presence of victim blaming attitudes, which lead not only to the under-reporting of gender-based violence, but to minimising its seriousness by the relevant authorities. Many of our interlocutors spoke about the problem of gender stereotypes in the society, including in schools, media, as well as law enforcement and judicial institutions.
Gender stereotypes are compounded by those based on race, and other grounds such as class, disability, age. Roma women and girls, in particular, face intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination. Anti-Roma sentiment seems to be prevalent in the country: during our visit we have heard (and witnessed some) of the episodes of racist and sexist treatment of Roma women and girls. The findings are confirmed in the reports documenting hate speech in Romania.8
We call on the Government to take measures, including legislative and educational, to secure that the culture of the society is inclusive of all its inhabitants, and values contributions of all people, including women and girls of ethnic minorities, of diverse sexualities and gender identities, as well as women and girls with disabilities.
Gender-based violence against women and girls
Gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking of women and early marriage, is prevalent in the country. Certain categories of women and girls are particularly vulnerable, such as girls whose parents work abroad, girls and women with disabilities – particularly those who live in state institutions, Roma girls, as well as women and girls who work and/or live on the streets, including in street prostitution (in such cases one of the main problem is police abuse and mistreatment facilitated by the legal framework that criminalises them). Moreover, new forms of gender-based violence, such as revenge porn and cyber violence are becoming concern particularly for girls and young women.
Domestic violence is a widespread but under-reported phenomenon, though in recent years a positive trend of increased reporting has been noted. Romania has taken different measures to ensure effective implementation of the Istanbul Convention, including amendments of the Law on Equal Opportunities between Women and Men and the Law on Prevention and Combating of Domestic Violence (introduced first in 2003). It also adopted the National Strategy on Promoting Gender Equality and Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence for 2018-2021.
The amended law on domestic violence contains a wide definition of violence and includes a broad category of protected persons. It regulates social services, safe houses for victims, assistance centres for perpetrators, hotline services and introduces the temporary protection order, in addition to protection orders, which are all welcome developments. Temporary protection orders have been assessed as a useful mechanism by all interlocutors, police included, while statistic point that they have been widely used in a few months since their introduction (around 8,000 since January 2019).
However, challenges remain in the implementation of the laws. These include the monitoring of protection orders, conducting effective and gender-sensitive prosecution of crimes, and ensuring full availability of relevant services. We welcome the on-going efforts towards addressing implementation gaps, including plans to introduce electronic monitoring of the protection orders, actions taken to ensure the presence of qualified personnel throughout the country, as well as awareness raising and training activities.
Putting in place specialised inter-sectoral intervention teams in all counties is of great importance. Shelters/centres for victims/survivors also need adequate investment. In some places NGO-run centres (such as one in Sibiu) struggle with limited resources. Further measures are also needed to ensure the victim/survivor’s integration in the society, such as priority in housing and employment.
Moreover, gender-based violence against women should also be taken into account in child custody proceedings, as well as in cases concerning implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, as stated by the European Court of Human Right in the case of
O.C.I. v. Romania.
Romania has one of the highest numbers of early marriages in Europe, linked to the highest number of teen pregnancies, which generally remains unsanctioned.9 There is a general reluctance of the authorities to intervene, affecting primarily Roma girls. While forced marriage is not a specific criminal offence, other relevant provisions (such as trafficking, abduction) are not frequently used.
Efforts should be made to review the legislation and its implementation, including through training of the relevant officials. Further, educational and other measures should be taken to reach girls and communities where this practice persists, in collaboration with local leaders and NGOs.
According to our interlocutors, sexual violence is a widespread, but seriously under-reported phenomenon, partly due to the lack of trust in the criminal justice system. Indeed, criminal justice mechanisms for combating sexual violence face some shortcomings.Rape is not defined by the lack of consent, but by coercive circumstances, which may lead to an overreliance on physical resistance. The offence of sexual intercourse with a minor presupposes that even a minor younger than 13 can express consent for sexual intercourse.
Cases of sexual intercourse with very young girls (as young as 11) sometimes get qualified as consensual sex, even when there were multiple perpetrators, some of whom were significantly older (even five times). This has been the subject of jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (M.G.C. v. Romania).
Moreover, cases of non-consensual sexual intercourse with girls and women with disabilities are also often defined as consensual.10 This reveals the existence of gender stereotyping in the qualification of sexual offenses. Such stereotypes include the idea that the lack of consent should be expressed by physical resistance, and that women and girls provoke sexual violence, by their behaviour or attire, for example. Efforts should be made to ensure that all instances of non-consensual sex are prosecuted as rape and that rape is treated as a serious offence, including through training, and ensuring accountability of judicial agents. Integrated services should be provided for victims/survivors. In this respect, we welcome the envisioning of integrated emergency centres and we call on the Government to ensure immediate functioning of these centres.
Trafficking in women and girls
Trafficking in women and girls, (primarily for purposes of sexual exploitation and begging) is a major concern in Romania. The country has the highest number of victims of trafficking and traffickers in the EU.11 Girls constitute 31% of the victims, the EU average being 14%.12 The main drivers behind human trafficking are poverty, lack of education, child sexual abuse, lack of protection for children left behind by their parents working abroad, corruption, and lack of trust in the Romanian authorities, alongside with discrimination, affecting particularly Roma girls.
Following the ratification of the Palermo Protocol in December 2002, Romania has taken measures to tackle the phenomenon, including passing legislation on the protection of victims/survivors that provides for shelters, medical care and psychological counselling, material aid, education and professional integration. The National Agency against Trafficking in Persons monitors the functioning of the national identification and referral mechanism and assists victims in the legal proceedings. A specialised police force was also set up, and the National Strategy 2018-2022 is currently in operation.
Despite these positive developments, there are significant challenges in practice, including police corruption and involvement of public officials, particularly in cases of girls living in State-run institutions.13 There is also an issue of impunity and inadequate application of criminal law (cases of sexual exploitation are often defined as pimping), as well as insufficient support services (in particular medical and psychological assistance) and specialised well-equipped centres. Some of the centres envisaged by the law are not operational and many of the services for victims have been provided NGOs, which have limited funding.
We call on the Government to ensure the operation of all centres with the sufficient resources, as well as the availability of high-quality services for the victims/survivors aimed at re-integration of the victim, taking into account the particular needs of minors and other vulnerable victims/survivors. While we positively note the establishment of specialised police units and provision of specialised training for relevant personnel, further efforts should be undertaken to secure efficient prosecution of crimes. Gender-sensitive trainings should also be provided to social workers and other relevant personnel. In addition, the ongoing awareness raising activities should be strengthened, with a focus on education, in cooperation with all relevant actors, including community leaders, in order to also challenge the negative perception of the victims, particularly victims of sexual exploitation.
Access to justice for victims/survivors
We observed the need for a greater understanding of women’s barriers to access to justice. Measures should be taken to build the victims’ trust in the system, enhance their security and economic independence, as well as sensitise relevant authorities through gender-sensitive trainings. Furthermore, investigative efforts must be focused on all relevant evidence, as we have heard that witnesses are often required for cases of domestic violence, and evidence of physical injury for cases of rape. Good practices in some countries include setting up specialised units in police and judiciary.
In addition, the authorities’ coordination and cooperation with NGOs could be improved. We have witnessed first-hand the impact that NGOs’ work can have on preventing violence against women and assisting victims’ access to justice, particularly in closed off, rural communities we visited. However, it cannot be left solely to NGOs to address the problems.
Further efforts by relevant authorities are particularly needed in Roma communities, as we have repeatedly heard about the reluctance of authorities to intervene in cases of gender-based violence against Roma women and girls, considering them as the part of ‘Roma culture.’ The problem of violence needs to be de-ethnicitised, while context sensitive measures should be introduced to fight violence against women and girls. A good approach for the Government could be collaborating with and sensitising community leaders in order to reach vulnerable social categories, such as Roma, rural women, the elderly, women with disabilities, migrants. Further efforts should also be made toward research and data collection, including on women in particularly vulnerable situations.
Romania has developed a solid legal, policy and institutional framework on gender equality and women’s rights. It has also taken numerous positive measures to advance women’s rights through awareness raising and trainings, as well as introducing programs to enhance access to education, health, employment and social services, and combat gender-based violence.
However, implementation of these measures is hampered due to different factors, of political, socio-economic and cultural nature. At the political level, barriers include frequent changes in the Government, insufficient coordination between different relevant authorities, and with the NGOs, and limited resources of the relevant authorities in the area of gender equality. At the socio-economic level, the country faces high level of poverty and significant rural-urban divide, while at the cultural level, the traditional views of women, related to gender stereotypes, are still prevalent, the concept of (substantive) equality is not fully understood.
These factors affect women’s participation in public and political, as well as social and economic life. Women’s participation in politics is low, and a clear strategy of addressing the problem seems to be missing. There is also a limited understanding of the structural problems which different groups of women and girls face in the enjoyment of their human rights. The implementation of increased range of targeted measures are called for.
Access to adequate standard of living is a major challenge in poverty affected rural Romania as social services, housing and other infrastructures are often in poor conditions, affecting disproportionately Roma women and girls. Adequate gender-sensitive investment in social goods and services should be prioritised.
While there is an improvement in women’s access to employment and gender pay gap is lower than the EU average, gender inequality still exists and the access to quality jobs for women needs to be improved. Moreover, further measures are needed to ensure work-life balance and the protection of women in the informal labour market.
Even though Romania provides a generous universal health coverage, access to quality healthcare is an issue across the country, hampered by frequent requirements of ‘informal payments,’ which affects significantly women and living in poverty. Roma women and girls often encounter racial prejudices in accessing health and other public services, while there is a lack of targeted services for women and girls with disabilities and other groups of women and girls in vulnerable situations. It is also important to improve access to sexual and reproductive services, including through greater accessibility to family planning, ensuring human rights at childbirth and availability of contraception and legal abortion services.
Despite the high rate of early marriage, and consequent number of high school dropout rate for girls, sexuality education is very limited and urgently needs to be introduced. Moreover, while there is civic education, further efforts in securing education on gender equality and elimination of gender stereotypes and creating gender sensitive environments in schools are needed.
Gender-based violence against women is also a challenge, Romania having a high rate of trafficking and early marriage. The Government has been taking actions to combat violence against women and girls. However, persistence of gender stereotypes, corruption, insufficient availability of comprehensive services and gender-sensitised qualified personnel remain a challenge.
Civil society has stepped in to address many of these problems. We have first-hand witnessed the impact of their work. Their significant expertise should be utilised, they should be included in in decision making, and should be financially supported.
We encourage the Government and all other stakeholders to continue efforts towards achieving gender equality and securing human rights of women and girls in Romania.
6/ Data provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection
8/ National Council for Combating Discrimination, Decision 92, Andreea Pană v. Traian Băsescu, 23 May 2007, discussed in the European Network of Legal Experts on Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination, County Report, 2019.
10/ European Court of Human Rights cases
I.C. v Romania; E.B v. Romania.
11/ Transnational cooperation between EU and non-EU countries on combatting trafficking in human beings, Salvation army and Freedom House Romania, 2018; 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, US embassy in Romania.
12/ Backlash in Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Rights, Romania pp. 63-72, Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Directorate General for Internal Policies of the Union, European Parliament, June 2018