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Bulgaria is a country that has huge difficulties with the idea of multiculturalism. Whilst the idea, under various other names is penetrating the rather traditional society, some social groups are still largely excluded.
Despite the saddening fact that animosity towards ethnic minorities is still prevalent (the Roma minority, living in extreme poverty and somewhat willing segregation from mainstream society is used as an example here), effort and progress are being made in the right direction with several public welfare programmes, aimed at re-qualification and employment. Moreover, the 2007 accession of Bulgaria into the EU has unsurprisingly lead to a continuing influx of immigrants from various European countries, who become active members of society, manage to establish businesses participate in local communities and settle into life in Bulgaria. In this sense cultural diversity continues to grow.
Bulgarians, however, tend to think of cultural diversity in terms of the various ethnic minorities, permanently residing in the country, rather than European immigrants. In this respect, social tension still exists. The fact that Islam is the prevalent religion within these minorities (as opposed to the self professed Christianity or lack of religion of the Bulgarian middle class) tends to elevate this tension. Thus, minorities continue to live in separation, both geographically and socially, mostly interacting within the given ethnic group.
In this situation women tend to get the short end of the stick. A survey by the National Statistics Institute shows that as of 2009, there were twice as many illiterate Roma women as there were men. The proportion of permanently employed individuals was even worse – around ¾ of Roma people in employment were men. Without being exposed to various influences and having been faced with this intolerance from a very young age, girls from minorities feel it is not only a duty, but also a sort of relief to withdraw from formal education at an age of about 12-13 to become mothers and homemakers, rejecting any other opportunities. The sad truth is that probably none exist for them, as coming from not only poor, but rather culturally isolated families, most of these women would likely be unable to pursue higher education, even if they were able. Sadly, whilst multiculturalism is on the rise, this does not mean a notable improvement in the lives of a vast proportion of Bulgarian women.
In Britain today one of our biggest political challenges and sources of pride is the increasing multi-culturalism of our communities. As a resident of Leicester City multiculturalism is a lot more prominent where I live than it is for many. Following Idi Amin’s atrocities in Uganda and the 1972 expulsion of Asian citizens a huge outpouring of Indian refugees found safety in Leicester, eventually settling there permanently. Since these events immigration to Leicester has remained high and for the first time in British history Leicester saw a demographic shift where non-white groups made up the majority of the population, with Indian communities making up more than a quarter of the cities populace.
In my personal experience increased multiculturalism in Leicester has been nothing but beneficial. It has led to wonderful new events and communities throughout the city ranging from the bustling Indian shopping district centred on ‘the golden mile’, new and fascinating architecture such as the Masjid Umar Mosque and city wide cultural celebrations such as the November Diwali decorations and fireworks. Although Leicester’s multiculturalism has been hugely positive for the city both socially and economically a large influx of people with different cultural beliefs can prove challenging for local authorities and residents alike, with different cultural approaches to women’s rights often proving most challenging.
Though less prominent now as intolerance has decreased, differences in dress, faith and culture were all picked up on by locals opposed to increased immigration. Cultural practices, though arguably on the decline, such as arranged marriage or the wearing of veils or burkas were seen as completely alien to many in the 70s, and although tolerance and understanding of different groups have improved there are still issues. In my time in Leicester, in just two years there have been two violent English Defence League protests against the cities multiculturalism and though not aimed directly at women have negative connotations for all of Leicester’s ethnic communities. Over all it can be said that women in Leicester have seen increased tolerance since first the mass immigration started, but there are still many challenges to be overcome.
Australia prides itself on being one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than where I live. In the east of Melbourne: you only need to walk down the street to see the number of different cultures living together.
Australia’s main source countries of immigration are New Zealand, the United Kingdom, China, and India. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008 5.5 million people, or 26% of our population, were born overseas. This statistic just demonstrates the cultural diversity in Australia.
In Melbourne, it has been wonderful to see different parts of the city take on a unique cultural identity. For example, a suburb called Box Hill just near where I live has become as a ‘Chinatown’ outside of the city because of it’s wonderful food stores and restaurants.
Victoria Street in Richmond is known as ‘Little Vietnam’ for similar reasons.
Generally within these populations, opportunities for women, such as receiving an education, access to health care and equality within the workforce, are bettered by living in Australia.
There is, however, one community that has been forgotten in all the discussions about multiculturalism, and it is perhaps the most fundamental cultural group in Australia. The indigenous population of Australia – who have inhabited the land for over 40,000 years, and especially the women within this community, have sadly not seen these same benefits of Australian multiculturalism.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the life expectancy within this population is around 16-17 years less than that of the average Australian. The teenage fertility rate is four times higher within this population than overall across Australia. All forms of abuse towards women are far more prevalent in the indigenous population.
Finally, suicide among young females aged between 0 and 24 is five times that of the national suicide rate for females.
It is evident that most women in Australia have seen the benefits of a multicultural Australia, it is important now that we extend these rights and benefits to the first Australians, for the benefit of the indigenous women.