“To tell a woman everything she may not do is to tell her what she can do.”

“To tell a woman everything she may not do is to tell her what she can do.”

The Centre for Partnership and Equality (CPE) is a non-profit organisation in Bucharest, active in the fields of equality, diversity and inclusion since 2002. In this interview, conducted by Roxana Mironescu for Time For Equality, Irina Sorescu, CPE’s Executive President, outlines the centre’s mission and its ongoing projects, and talks about women’s status and diversity in Romania, gender-based violence, workers’ exploitation, the Genderis Protocol on trafficking, social inclusion for people with disabilities and for people of Roma ethnicity.

Ms Sorescu, what are the main topics that the Centre for Partnership and Equality is currently focusing on? What is its mission?

Photo: CPE

Photo: CPE

CPE is aimed at mainstreaming the principle of equal opportunities for women and men into public policies and related practices as an integral part of democratization and of the creation of an open society, in order to re-define the status and improve the condition of women in Romania.

For the past 12 years, we have been working on projects in various gender-related fields such as: gender in education, women on the labour market, prevention on trafficking for sexual exploitation and prevention on violence against women.

In addition to these, in the past few months CPE  has also started addressing issues related to discrimination based on one’s ethnicity or disability, which is why we are currently involved in awareness-raising campaigns and long-term action plans for three main sectors: Gender, Ethnicity and Disability.

Would you please describe in a few words some specific projects that CPE has already initiated or implemented in order to achieve its aims and mission?

The Centre for Partnership and Equality has already worked with school teachers, teaching staff in kindergartens, school counsellors as well as pupils, students and their parents in order to promote gender integration and equality within early educational environments. To this end, we have collaborated with a significant number of private and public kindergartens in Bucharest.

Moreover, our pro-diversity and pro-inclusion actions and campaigns also targeted stereotypes that may arise amongst young children based on one’s ethnicity or disability, stressing out that stereotyping impacts on children’s behavioural development.

Photo: CPE

Photo: CPE

Targeting both children and their teachers, CPE is currently training teaching staff in kindergartens how to promote inclusion and diversity through the use of appropriate methods such as the Persona Doll approach, the Sand Play therapy or real life case scenarios.

CPE is also running personal development projects for women and girls designed to equip them with skills that are needed on the current job market. Some 120 women from Bucharest and southern Romania will be benefiting from such initiatives in the following months.

The Centre is currently implementing a project co-financed by the European Commission promoting agricultural job rights to end foreign workers exploitation. How does this project intend to fight such exploitation practices?

The project is officially named ”Agricultural job rights to end foreign workers exploitation” (AGREE) and is being conducted as a partnership between organisations from Romania, Spain and Italy to prevent human trafficking and exploitation and also to make sure that relevant European directives are being implemented.

CPE’s role is to conduct research activities and gather data on workers’ exploitation, working closely with Romanian authorities such as the Agency for Safety and Health at Work, with the National Agency against Trafficking in Human Beings, with the General Inspectorate for Immigration as well as courts. We are also involved in networking activities set to engage various authorities and NGOs in this issue.

The AGREE project in Romania focuses on Romanian workers being exploited in their homeland or abroad as well as foreign citizens exploited in Romania. Our research indicates that there are very few registered cases in courts, mainly because, for instance, exploited foreigners working in Romania are generally here illegally.

On the other side, our partners in Italy and Spain are working to inform the public on the selection of commodities that are produced by exploited workers in an attempt to reduce their consumption.

Photo: CPE

Photo: CPE

The Centre is also involved in helping people of Roma ethnicity as well as people with disabilities to integrate in the society and to receive a fair treatment on the job market. What kind of measures will be implemented in this sense?

Yes, we are currently running a project set to help people of Roma ethnicity and people with disabilities to receive a fair treatment on the labour market. Some 900 people will be offered professional training in various sectors such as hospitality, services and the textile industry.

At the same time, we will be conducting awareness raising campaigns targeting both employers and employees, while three Social Inclusion Centres will be founded to provide counselling and orientation services for these two groups of people.

As CPE’s Executive President, you signed the Genderis protocol for the implementation of gender-sensitive anti-trafficking policies and prevention measures in Romania, Italy and Spain. Can you tell us more about Genderis? How is CPE contributing to the implementation of this project?

Societies should acknowledge that there are different power relationships between women and men, and that women face certain vulnerabilities generated by their gender, including the mentality that they sell their bodies.

In each of the participating countries, a number of NGOs are working on a pilot project to prevent gender-sensitive trafficking according to the country’s characteristics. In Romania, we are going to conduct empowerment, personal development and awareness raising workshops for girls who might be at risk. In Italy, our partners will be conducting special training programmes for medical staff who will be able to identify such victims, while in Spain, organisations will run a public campaign targeting consumers of sexual services.

Photo: Genderis.org

Photo: Genderis.org

What are the main challenges faced by women living in today’s Romanian society?

The most significant challenges faced by women in Romania arise in their professional lives, when it comes to maternity leave, the lack of appropriate educational establishment for babies and toddlers, employers don’t sympathise with you when you may need a day off or you may be late for work. Maternity is often regarded with a bias, not as something that brings value to the whole society. Also, part-time jobs are basically non-existent.

Gender-based violence is another issue. According to a report published by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), 30% of Romanian respondents claimed to have been victims of physical or sexual violence at least once after they turned 15. 6% of Romanian women have been victims of sexual violence and in 97% of cases the harassment was performed by a male.

The study shows that trust and access to information are real issues preventing women in Romania to speak up.

Where does Romania stand in the EU or on a global scale when it comes to equality and inclusion? Are authorities doing enough in making sure that international and European legislation is efficiently adopted and implemented at a regional and national level?

On 27 June 2014, Romania became the 25th member state of the Council of Europe to sign the Istanbul Convention. Legally-binding standards will soon be available to improve the prevention of violence, the protection of victims, and the prosecution of perpetrators through an integrated set of policies.

Photo: Council of Europe

Photo: Council of Europe

Other relevant legislation addressing gender equality has also been adopted by authorities, but in real life, laws are very rarely enforced. There is also a a department for Equal Chances in Romania, but the problem lies with the public’s perception of equality. There are no fundamental changes in the society as some individuals don’t take it seriously. They sometimes don’t even take seriously the people lobbying for gender equality. It’s very common for people to raise an eyebrow when they hear about your profession.

Nonetheless, some progress has indeed been made. There are more people aware of what gender-sensitive policies should entail thanks to higher education, but significant changes take time. We are on the right track. There are now about four NGOs addressing gender-based policies in Bucharest. And the ”Equal Opportunities Expert” title has recently been listed as an official profession in the Romanian Occupations Code.

Could you name three key adjectives to describe a future more inclusive Romanian society?

The public should be more OPEN-MINDED to the idea of gender equality. Men are also affected by inequality and stereotypes. They are not allowed to express their feelings, are encouraged to be aggressive and also face numerous gender-based pressures to succeed in life.

NGOs are trying to create a direct contact with the society, so people should be more ENGAGED and CONFIDENT that gender equality is truly shaping their life story.

The Romanian Gender Equality Festival 2014

The Centre for Partnership in Bucharest is co-hosting an annual Gender Equality Festival, inviting the public to take part in cultural and artistic events, workshops and other street activities that are raising awareness on either self-imposed or peer-imposed gender-based stereotypes and restrictions.

Photo: CPE

Photo: CPE

In its 9th edition, the Festival will take place this year from 19 to 21 September, in Sibiu (Central Romania) and represents a successful collaboration between several gender equality NGOs that decided to unite their forces and resources to promote democratic values and human rights in Romania. This year, the public is encouraged to ”Dare to set the tone for change!”.

For the occasion, the Centre for Partnership and Equality is hosting a thematic workshop on true and false myths about women and men, a workshop for people willing to paint feminist messages on T-shirts, interactive thematic games and an exhibition of posters depicting the stories of many successful women who had a strong impact in various fields. Concerts, debates and other activities aimed at young people will also be on offer, encouraging them to get involved and become more aware of the need for an inclusive society.

More details of the Gender Equality Festival in Sibiu are available here.

Read more about the Centre for Partnership and Equality on their website and Facebook page.

Interview conducted for Time for Equality by Roxana Mironescu.

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