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Legal empowerment and gender justice in Smolyan

26 March 2024

In Smolyan, Bulgaria, the Rodopchanka Women’s Club empowers minority women through their project ‘Legal Empowerment and Advocacy for Minority Women‘ funded by MRG’s Minorities, Accountability, Rights, Independence and Organizational Development (MARIO) programme. The organization aims to break gender norms and empower women from Pomak, Roma, Ukrainian and disabled communities, providing tools to assert their rights effectively and foster systemic change.

In the region of Smolyan, Bulgaria, a colourful palette of different religions and intertwining cultures makes the region unique. Pomaks, Roma and Ukrainians live alongside Bulgarians. At Rodopchanka Women’s Club, we see this diversity as an opportunity. For 20 years, we have been working in the civil sector. 

A priority in our work is the women of the Smolyan region, who are often poorly educated about their legal and civil rights, preventing them from actively participating in community development, thereby limiting the growth of the individual and the community. Traditional gender norms still prevalent in rural communities often dictate how women must rely on men for financial and social standing, trapping them in a cycle of dependency. A lack of educational programmes exacerbates this dependency. Meeting their needs is not just a matter of gender equality but a fundamental step in promoting the rights and inclusion of minority groups in Bulgaria.

Our current project, ‘Legal Empowerment and Advocacy for Minority Women’, funded by MRG’s MARIO programme, aims directly to empower women from the Smolyan region who belong to minority communities – Pomaks, Roma, Ukrainians – as well as women with disabilities, and more. Our initiative aims to equip them with the knowledge and skills to assert their rights more effectively. We understand that minority representatives in the region are affected by a unique intersection of vulnerabilities due to their gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. Our approach comprehensively addresses these layers of inequality, laying the groundwork for systemic change in the region.

We plan to conduct community empowerment dialogues, educational workshops in schools and legal empowerment workshops for their legal rights to employment, family and social services. This knowledge will serve as a crucial foundation for these women to break the cycle of dependency and exploitation and encourage them to participate actively in community development.

We will hold open discussions with local authorities to make minority women’s issues an integral part of the local government agenda. We will organize grassroots advocacy campaigns addressing issues such as wage discrimination and access to health care. We are planning anti-discrimination training and joint events with the National Commission on Discrimination. Monitoring and reporting will accompany all our activities.

Credit: Rodpchanа Women’s Club.

This content is a guest post from one of our partner organizations about their work as part of our ‘Minorities, Accountability, Rights, Independence and Organisational Development’ (MARIO) programme. Learn more >

MARIO is funded by the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (2021-27) of the European Union (ref: 101091387).


Rodpchanа Women’s Club