By Victoria Pavlova, Safe World Student Writer
Bulgaria is a small country in the located in the southeastern part of the Balkans. As one of the two most recent member-states of the EU, it has attracted a fair amount of attention in European media in the past five years.
Bulgaria’s main areas of development potential are tourism and agriculture; both areas have attracted large amounts of foreign investment. Tourism has been steadily on the rise since 2005, with large amounts of private investment (foreign and internal), and the number of foreign tourists increasing by between 4 and 6 percent each year since 2005.
Some notable criticisms from the European community have been expressed with regard to the country’s continued struggle with corruption and organized crime. Two consecutive EU commission reports note that while significant progress has been made with regard to anti-corruption legislature, their implementation is still behind, and convincing results remain to be seen.
For these reasons, several countries – including the Netherlands, have expressed their disagreement over Bulgaria joining the visa-free Shengen zone.
For all its progress in the area of democratic and civic values in the past three decades, Bulgaria still remains a country of turbulence and pronounced irregularity, particularly with regard to ethnic equality and women’s rights.
The legislation is there; however, the enforcement is lacking.
Because the country is dealing with issues of corruption, the implementation of relatively new legislature, continuing reforms in education, and the most recent problems imposed by the global economic crisis, questions of equality tend to fall by the wayside.
Human trafficking is a promient issue within the realm of organised crime. Bulgaria still serves primarily as a country of origin for trafficking towards countries in Western Europe and the USA.
Men, women and children are all vulnerable to trafficking for the purpose of forced labour and women are forced into prostitution as well. Because of the poor living conditions of minority women, it is especially easy for them to fall victim to promises of a better or easier life abroad – and be led into prostitution. The Bulgarian government is making progress in the struggle against human trafficking with the adoption of a national referral mechanism and new legislature, ensuring that no victims of trafficking are punished.
However, progress is slow and international reports have deemed it unsatisfactory. While trafficking is a more significant problem for minority women, the majority are not completely exempt from it.
Generally a low standard of living is the biggest risk factor.
The lack of central enforcement for women’s rights – particularly in the Roma community, has led to the creation of various civil projects and NGOs for this purpose, testifying to the self-empowerment of these women.
'Mother Center' is one such initiative, created by Roma women with funding from several emancipation initiatives. The aim is to help underprivileged women of any background acquire skills, look for jobs, and generally increase their influence in society.
Film made by Integro Association, Bulgaria - part of the project 'Networking the Mother Centres', supported by the Open Society Institute. Mother Centres in Bulgaria are established with the support of Integro Association.
Most of these initiatives are regional; some operate on a national level and they focus on a range of women’s rights issues from skills and jobs projects, to help for victims of domestic violence. These organizations are a testament to the fact that where government support is lacking, civil initiatives and NGOs are working towards improving conditions for women.
With respect to working conditions, pensions, salaries. and general social standing there aren’t any obvious points of inequality for the majority of women.
The problems most women in Bulgaria face are largely cultural. That is, the prevailing culture in the country is a strongly male-dominated one. A pervasive stereotype of women in the media is that of an over-sexualized woman, and young girls and women are encouraged to strive for physical perfection above all else and go into “gender appropriate” careers.
The popular “chalga” subculture in the country contributes to this phenomenon; however, it would be inaccurate to say that this is the only factor, as gender stereotypes are still largely prevalent across many western cultures as well.
Overall, Bulgaria has made considerable progress in both its economic and political development and with regards to rights and equality. While a lot remains to be done, the pace of development in the country is increasing.
Victoria Pavlova is a Safeworld Student Writer and is studying Politics and Sociology.
"Born and raised in Bulgaria, I’d been used to a certain way of life, which my recent move to England has put in a new light.
I’ve always found curious the extent to which people (including myself) take culture for granted and internalize it...
There seems to be a degree of objectivity that comes with travelling and this is a quality that I hope I can transfer to my work for Safe World and to a successful career in journalism after university. I believe that words hold the biggest power – to change minds – and they should be used well."