Segregation Hinders the Employment of Roma Women

Segregation Hinders the Employment of Roma Women

Written by Chia-You Kuo


In Serbia, Roma women have significantly lower employment rate than Roma men and the non-Roma. A report published by UN Women shows that residential segregation is a crucial factor that prevents female Roma from accessing labor market.

Employment rate in Serbia has been declining since 2008, and the economic recession has exacerbated the adversity of vulnerable groups in the labor market, such as women, youth, Roma, refugees or persons with disabilities. For example, women’s unemployment rate is significantly lower than men’s (40.1% compared to 54.9%), despite their higher level of participation in primary education.

The report, “Assessment of the Structural Barriers that Hinder the Employment of Roma Women “, first provides a summary of previous research data on the participation of Serbian Roma women in education and the labor market, then attempts to interpret these findings in light of interviews with Roma women and other stakeholders.

When we take a look at the proportion of Roma and non-Roma in the Serbian labor market, we find that non-Roma are more likely to be employed (51%) than the Roma (36%) with more than two and a half times more Roma employed informally than non-Roma. There is also a large gap between the employment rates of Roma men (40%) and women (13%), much exceeding the discrepancy between non-Roma men and women.

graph ö

In some sectors, Roma women face an especially high level of discrimination. For instance, Roma women are sometimes openly rejected in industries related to food and hair care service. One of the potential employers told the interviewer that “women do not want a Gypsy to wash their hair”, and some employers refuse to hire Roma women to prepare food since the potential customers have the prejudice that Roma women are not “clean”. Employment service providers can also be influenced by preconceptions. The interviews revealed that officials of the Serbian National Employment Service (NES) tend to suggest vacancies in cleaning service or coffee making to Roma women, and refer them to training for waste collectors without taking their previous experiences into consideration.

Once employed, Roma women face the least competitive payments in the labor market. As graph 2 shows, non-Roma women’s average earnings are one third of non-Roma women’s and two thirds of Roma men’s. To avoid prejudices of employers, Roma women are often forced to hide their Roma identity. The paper doesn’t illustrate how Roma women can “pass” as non-Roma in Serbia, but according to a report published by Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, in Greece some Roma would identify as Turkish to avoid stigmatization [2].

graph 1

Apart from the barriers posed by the discrimination of employers and authorities, many Roma women also have to face gender based discrimination within Roma society, “especially those living in segregated and poor settlements. The author of the paper, Dragana Marjanovic found that in these isolated communities patriarchal values prevail. According to this ideal, a Roma woman is expected to marry early and devote her life to childcare and household duties. The interviews revealed that these principles are internalized by female members of the community and they don’t encourage girls to pursue education while the opposite happens in families living in an integrated social environment. The differences are also reflected in employment rates, with those who live in segregated areas having higher probability to be unemployed or to do informal work.

Although Roma girls have higher enrollment rate in elementary education (76%) than Roma boys (63%), only 73 of these girls make it to the final year, matched by 81% of their boy peers. In total numbers, this still leaves Roma girls outnumbering boys, but in secondary education, the proportion is inverted: “only 39 percent of the Roma girls enrolled into the last year of elementary school have transited into secondary school, while it is true for 72 percent of their male counterparts.”

Living in segregated and poor settlements, where patriarchal ideals are dominant, is not the only factor influencing Roma women’s prospects for employment. The paper, citing previous research, underlines the importance of supportive school environment. The discrimination in the labor market also provides little incentive for Roma girls to stay in education. Women in general are more affected by unemployment than men, despite their higher level of education, and participation in education also provides limited advantages for the Roma in terms of both employment prospects and wages. Among relevant policy measures, the paper highlights the role of subsidy schemes to “employers that hire beneficiaries of social financial aid.”

It is especially women that poverty in segregated communities bereaves of training and entrepreneurship opportunities. Because girls “marry out”, Roma families living in poor conditions invest more in their male children, which leaves women economically powerless: in Serbia, only 0.2 percent of the total property is registered on a woman’s name in Roma families. The fact that female Roma lack financial security makes start-up grants hardly accessible for them, even though they are better at preparing business plans than males. It is also partly due to lack of financial resources that Roma women represent only less than a third of the trainees of institutional training providers. NES reported that some Roma women were unable to participate in its job trainings because they could not afford the travel costs to attend the training.

Segregated settlements have limited access to information and social services, and members of these communities don’t benefit equally from outreach information campaigns. Therefore, the author argues for outreach events that ensure the presence of Roma women. Instead of group information sessions, she encourages services specifically tailored to Roma women, also taking individual needs into account. An awareness of the diverse needs among Roma women also guided the methodology of the research: “Given ‘Roma women are extremely diverse as a group, it is of crucial importance that overall generalizations are not made.”



[1] Dragana Marjanovic, Assessment of the Structural Barriers that Hinder the Employment of Roma Women, UN Women, 2015,

[2] Andrey Ivanov, Sheena Keller, and Ursula Till-Tentschert, Roma Poverty and Deprivation: The Need for Multidimensional Anti-Poverty Measures, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative , July 2015,