Roma civil society: Finland marks 60 years of Roma advocacy

March 26, 2020

The second Roma Civil Monitor (RCM) report for Finland has found that mainstream employment services are having only a limited impact on Roma jobseekers. Despite general improvement in access to housing, some districts remain “challenging” and require public authorities or Roma NGOs to constantly negotiate with them to ensure Roma have equal access to housing there. Both NGOs and public authorities have been researching Roma health and access to healthcare services in order to increase health care providers’ and social services workers’ sensitivity to Roma needs. Recent studies have found that Roma education has not improved as expected and there is still a gap between mainstream Finnish students and Roma in terms of the level of education attained.

The RCM reports are part of a research project that began in 2017 and is funded by the European Commission for the purpose of strengthening the involvement of Roma civil society in the monitoring of Roma integration strategies across the EU. The added value of civil society monitoring is that it builds on the direct experience of Roma women and men and represents their independent voices. The report was drafted through a consultation process including Roma associations, civil society members, and community members.

Dimitri Lindgren (left), an event worker and Carmen Valerius (right), field worker, both members of the Finnish Roma youth network, plan the next week’s work in the office of the Finnish Roma Association, January 2020. (PHOTO:  Samer Qaraman, media worker, Finnish Roma Association)

“Among the Finnish Roma NGOs there has been very little European-level cooperation in policy making,” says Paivi Majaniemi of the Finnish Roma Association. “The RCM reports may work as an initiative to encourage our NGOs to more systematically gather more relevant information for Roma policy development. This will benefit us, as well as give us some tools to compare the process with other countries. The RCM reports can create possibilities to better understand European Roma policies and also give us new ways to network with Roma in Europe."

The report finds that the concept of “nothing about us without us” is embraced by the Finnish authorities, who do highly involve Finnish Roma associations in Roma-related policy development. Different campaigns have been rolled out in Finland to promote hiring Roma, including tackling prejudices against them on the labour market by publishing various materials. An ESF-funded project has investigated discrimination against Roma when applying for jobs, and its preliminary findings emphasize both the effects of the structural discrimination against Roma and Roma’s own responsibility for their educational achievement. Because of the traditional clothing they wear, Roma women face more challenges in employment.

There is a long history of effective Roma civil activism in Finland. At the close of the 1960s, the Finnish Roma Association demanded that measures from the Government’s Advisory Board on Roma Affairs pay more attention to Roma housing conditions. Today the Board is an effective tool for democracy and equality at the Government level, and its development has been described in a recent publication celebrating its 60th anniversary. The history of the Roma movement in Finland has also been explored by the international RomArchive project.

Rents in municipally owned housing are regulated in Finland and there is a system of supporting housing by granting general housing allowances to low-income households. As most Roma’s socio-economic status is low, the majority of Roma are eligible for and receive such allowances in Finland. Roma families tend to have more members than non-Roma families in Finland, and combined with the higher Roma unemployment rate, this means Roma are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing housing of the appropriate size.

Civil society recommends authorities be more forceful in addressing the employment situation of the Roma population; investigate increased demand for housing among Roma youth and develop adequate measures to meet their needs; include diversity training in the curriculum for personnel in education and healthcare; and that school administrators should collaborate more with Roma parents and local Roma associations to improve Roma student achievement.