Gypsies Account for 1 Out of 4 Female Inmates
RIGHTS-SPAIN: Gypsies Account for One Out of Four Female Inmates
MADRID, Mar 7 (IPS) - One out of every four female inmates in Spain's jails are Gypsies, or Roma - a proportion 15 times greater than the ethnic group's presence in the population at large, according to a study on Gypsy women.
The report, carried out with European Union financing, found that Gypsy inmates tend to be given long sentences - an average of 6.7 years - and 87 percent of them are mothers, usually of at least three children.
Roma women also suffer social uprooted ness and discrimination in prison, Daniel Wagman, the director of the team of seven professionals who carried out the year-long study, told IPS on International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8th.
Eighty percent of inmates in Spain are in prison for charges related to drug trafficking and drug use, while 39.7 percent of Gypsy women are in prison for crimes against property and 60 percent for drug smuggling and dealing.
According to the report, foreign nationals make up around 20 percent of the female prison population.
''We did not have Gypsy men or women on our team, but we tried from the start to seek out their ideas, opinions, contributions and criticism, through people working with Gypsy associations, and through the experience and voices of the 300 Gypsy inmates in women's penitentiaries,'' said Wagman, the only man on the team.
The report, ''Barani'' - which in Romanes, the language of the Roma, means ''women's prison'' - was carried out with European Union support as part of a programme aimed at combating violence against women and minors.
Some 650,000 of Spain's 39 million people are Roma. Another study, carried out by sociologist Maria Jesus Miranda y Barberet, found that 30 percent of female inmates are Gypsies - which means their presence in the prisons is as much as 18 times higher than the proportion they represent in the population at large.
According to both studies, the reasons for the disproportionate representation of Gypsy women in Spain's prisons lie in the social discrimination, racism and marginalization suffered by the Roma along with their limited access to legal recourse.
Small-time drug dealing, for example, becomes an alternative means of survival when Gypsies are blocked from other, legal, options the reports point out.
Local authorities and police keep Gypsies from exercising their traditional occupation as traveling salespersons and street vendors, said one Roma woman interviewed.
''The police are getting taller and more agile, they run more, and run off our Gypsy women who are selling along with and our youngsters selling a few melons, water melons, onions or lemons,'' she said.
''So of course we are left with few alternatives, and unfortunately there are many families who have opted for that route, which is to move about a little in the world of drugs. If they don't let me do anything, what can I do?
''Where is there money? In drugs. And what can we do about drugs? Well I believe they should broaden (the regulations) for street vending...if they don't let me sell, I'll work. And if they don't let me work, then I'll steal, and if not, well I'll sell drugs and if not, well I'll...but my children have to eat,'' she said.
Another problem affecting the Roma community is discrimination by employers when it comes to hiring.
A Gypsy man told of his many attempts to land a job. ''I haven't even made it to the end of an interview. I show up, start talking with whoever's in charge, and they cut me off and say ok, ok, leave me your personal information and we'll let you know. Not one single response yet. There is a lot of discrimination.''
For that reason, according to Wagman, unemployment is not mentioned as a problem by the Roma because ''not holding a regular job is not strange, but normal, and no one is aware that they have a right to a job.''
The research team hopes that the release of the study will help raise awareness among local authorities and society at large of the problems faced by the Roma. The study calls for measures aimed at boosting the social integration and educational level of the Roma community and at combating racism in Spanish society.
According to a survey cited by the report, 42 percent of the non-Gypsy Spanish respondents said they would not like to have Roma as neighbours, compared to 17.5 percent and 11.5 percent who would not want Moroccan or black African neighbours, respectively.