B Explanatory memorandum by Ms Kovács,
1 I have a personal and direct connection to the Group
of Eminent Persons’ report on living together. I am a hyphenated
European, as a Serbian citizen and an ethnic Hungarian, with a strong
belief in a common European identity. And I am proud of being hyphenated.
2 I support the report by the Group of Eminent Persons and commend
the work done by the Political Affairs Committee and its rapporteur,
Mr Latchezar Toshev.
3 In my opinion, the living together report has important merits:
it reflects and reiterates a number of considerations that the Assembly
had already made in previous resolutions and recommendations. Therefore it
goes exactly in the direction in which the Assembly wants to go.
It is a forward-looking report that puts great emphasis on proposals
for action and recommendations. Now, it remains for us to suggest
measures for its implementation and to put our political weight
behind its effective implementation.
4 As rapporteur for opinion of the Committee on Equal Opportunities
for Women and Men, I shall refrain from making further general comments
on the living together report and focus on aspects relating to gender equality
and the rights of women.
2 The marginalisation of women from minority groups
Women from the groups addressed in the Eminent Persons’
report represent “a minority within a minority”. They are affected
by marginalisation and exclusion for the following reasons:
- because they belong to a group
that is perceived as “different”;
- because they are women, and therefore disadvantaged by
the lack of de facto gender
equality in society;
- because of the widespread patriarchal mentality in the
minority groups to which they belong, which confines them to a stereotyped
and subordinate role in relation to men.
This multiple marginalisation is not simply theoretical; it
is tangible, and, if statistics were regularly collected, it would
be measurable. Compared to other women, and to men from the same
background, women from minority groups:
- have a lower employment rate;
- have lower salaries and/or worse working conditions;
- have a lower level of education;
- have a lower level of participation in public and political
- encounter greater barriers to benefiting from social rights;
- have greater difficulties in gaining access to justice;
- are at greater risk of being victims of violence or trafficking,
especially for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
7 I welcome the fact that the Group of Eminent Persons recognise
immigrant women as a specific group, saying that “immigrant women
live as a minority.” It is a sad fact that migrant women are especially
vulnerable to abuse by crime syndicates engaged in smuggling, human
trafficking and modern forms of slavery. They face additional threats
of marginalisation, job losses and deprivation of economic and social
rights. There are also many cases of violence against undocumented
women, and they are the primary victims of the odious crime of human
8 The situation of women from a particular group mentioned in
the Eminent Persons’ report will help me highlight the magnitude
of the challenge faced by women from minorities.
3 The example of Roma women
Last year, as rapporteur for opinion on the situation
of the Roma in Europe and relevant activities of the Council of
I had the occasion to look
into the situation experienced by Roma women.
10 The living together report rightly highlights education as
one of the main tools to promote inclusiveness and social cohesion.
Unfortunately, Roma women are virtually excluded from educational
opportunity. They have higher illiteracy rates than Roma men and
significantly higher than non-Roma men and women: not even half
of all Roma girls in Europe have gone beyond the level of primary
11 This is partly because of Roma families’ lower expectations
for girls to complete their education and partly because Roma girls,
from a very early age, are burdened with family obligations, such
as household tasks or looking after younger siblings. Arranged marriages
and teen pregnancies, frequent among Roma girls, further reduce
their chances for normal schooling and their potential for full
inclusion in society.
12 Roma women are particularly marginalised when it comes to
health. As a result of fewer opportunities in the labour market
and lower educational levels, Roma women are more likely to be excluded
from health insurance. This discourages Roma women from seeking
medical advice, which has serious negative consequences for their
health, especially in the areas of reproductive and maternal health,
as well as emergency care.
13 Violence against women, in particular domestic violence, occurs
within Roma communities on a daily basis. And yet, because of a
culture of silence that prevails in those communities, as well as
to the insufficient knowledge of their rights and limited access
to justice, Roma women seldom denounce these offences to the relevant
14 Owing to their limited education, as well as for cultural
reasons, women find it difficult to express their political views
and participate actively in the Roma political movement.
15 The example of Roma women shows how the Council of Europe’s
work with respect to inclusion is bound to fail unless it incorporates
the dimension of gender mainstreaming. The Council should ensure
that its activities aimed at promoting access to education, health,
justice and political participation for the Roma will benefit both
boys and girls, men and women,because
the challenges they face are different – and are greater for girls
4 No to human rights relativism
16 Human rights are universal. They are not bound to
a region, a nationality or a community. Council of Europe member
states have a responsibility to prevent the resurgence on their
territories of pockets where human rights are not considered the
rule, in the name of religious, cultural or traditional customs
The guiding principles set out in the Eminent Persons’ report
“The equal rights of men
and women, proclaimed in the preamble to the United Nations Charter,
cannot and must not be denied or ignored, least of all in a democratic
society. Under no circumstances can respect for group identity or
religious belief be invoked to justify the exclusion of girls from
any form of education which is available to boys, or the seclusion
of adult women from normal interaction with society outside their
18 I agree with this statement, but I believe that the question
should be approached from a much wider angle. The right to education
is, of course, fundamental because it is the key to economic empowerment, political
participation and, ultimately, full inclusion in society. Preventing
the seclusion of adult women is also important. Without normal interaction
outside their home, women belonging to minorities have no chance
of feeling part of broader society.
19 However, it ought to be clearly stated that women, like men,
should be able to enjoy the whole spectrum of acknowledged human
20 In addition, I consider it dangerous to distinguish between
what happens at home and what happens outside.
21 There should be a continuum between the enjoyment of human
rights in the home, in the community and in society at large. Women
should be free from being beaten up, from being raped (including
by their husbands) and from being subjected to child marriages.
They should be free to marry the person they choose, to work outside
the home, to wear what they like and to reject the cultural traditions
and the way of life characteristic of their communities.
22 These are all human rights, and there is nothing private about
them. The fact that women from some minority groups are deprived
of the enjoyment of these rights in the name of tradition is a public
concern and requires adequate preventive measures and response from
5 Women from minorities as a bridge between their
communities and society
23 I was very interested to see that the Eminent Persons’
report mentions the case of Famile Arsan, a Muslim Dutch lawyer
of Turkish origin, as a role model.
24 There is, indeed, a need to explore further the potential
for women from minority groups to act as a bridge between their
communities and the larger society. Given their role in the education
and upbringing of children, women can make a difference in the way
in which new generations manage to negotiate their multiple identities.
25 Council of Europe policies should, therefore, put more emphasis
on the potential of women from minorities, in the context of the
implementation of policies to strengthen the cohesion of societies.
26 To enable women from minority communities to perform this
bridging task, however, it is not sufficient to ensure that “they
are not excluded” from education and that “they are not secluded”
from society, to use the words of the extract from the living together
report. It is also necessary to apply positive measures specifically targeting
women, which will make it possible for them to overcome the many
cultural, religious and traditional barriers that prevent them from
achieving a status equal to men in their communities and in society
27 I also welcome the recognition of the importance of competent
authorities at all levels, which should identify groups suffering
from particular socio-economic disadvantages and make special efforts,
with allocation of appropriate resources, to enable members of such
groups to overcome these disadvantages and enjoy genuine equality
of opportunities with the rest of the population. I agree that these
groups should primarily include children and the young, but I would
also like to add women.
28 Finally, the choice of Famile Arsan as a role model by the
Eminent Persons reminded me that, all too often, when casting a
light on the situation of women, in particular women from minorities,
we focus on them as victims. While we should continue to raise our
concerns, we should also publicise success stories: women from minorities
also fight for their rights, their equality and their empowerment.
And sometimes they succeed, without having to relinquish their multiple
6 Rapporteur’s conclusions
29 Today, in Europe, women from minority groups face
multiple discrimination, which not only represents a human rights
violation but also prevents their full inclusion in society. In
addition, their subordinate status within their communities and
limited access to education prevent them from playing a bridging
role and helping new generations to reconcile their multiple national,
ethnic, religious and cultural identities.
30 I believe that the Parliamentary Assembly should support the
report by the Group of Eminent Persons, while making specific suggestions
for its implementation.