Roma Women for Change

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  • Foto: Romani Gender Experts

    Starting their activism in the Roma settlements where they grew up, Marina Csikós, Alba Hernández, and Maria Dumitru Ruiz questioned traditional social roles, among which were often the stereotypical ones about Roma women and their (non)participation in public life, education, and employment. Attending the master’s programs at the Central European University, they continued to build their dream, which years later led to the launch of their initiative – a feminist Roma collective called Feminist Collective by Romani Gender Experts.

    Together dedicated to researching the topics of intersectionality, feminist knowledge production, anti-racism, and gender-based violence, they state that the idea of the Collective was born after a significant experience, yielded by a high-level European meeting that focused on Roma and Traveler women. As Roma women with a lot of knowledge and professional experiences to share, they found themselves in a tokenized position where their voices were not heard even though the space was supposedly created for them. This pivotal moment led them to reflect and discuss their positions and challenges as Roma women gender professionals, which eventually resulted in launching the Collective in October 2022. One of the main issues that connected them was the negative experiences they had when seeking employment opportunities in the field of gender equality.

    We witnessed how non-Roma peers with the same or even less educational and professional experience get better job opportunities than us. Of course, this was due to systemic inequalities caused by racism, classism, colorism, etc. that we have all experienced one way or another, not just in the labor market. We, Roma women gender professionals, do not only lack opportunities working on mainstream issues but also when applying for jobs that focus on Roma women. This situation puts Roma women gender professionals in a precarious position, where we are not able to utilize and demonstrate our expertise, the founders state.

    Before launching the Collective, they conducted a thorough analysis of existing resources within the Roma women’s field and they recognized that many Roma feminist NGOs are already doing significant work at national and local levels. Rather than duplicating their efforts, they wanted to create something which was still missing within the field – a professional network/collective for Roma women gender equality experts.

    They aim to provide a safe space for Roma women gender equality professionals to gather, to improve the connections between them, stimulate professional growth, and exchange knowledge and experiences among them but also with mainstream and Roma institutions working on gender issues.

    Our Collective’s beginning was characterized by an effortless process of coming together, driven by a shared set of experiences that enabled us to envision the project cohesively and in unity. As we strive for our project to succeed, we hold mutual respect as a cornerstone of our work, on both personal and professional levels, respectively. We extend this value to all members of the Collective and validate individual experiences to ensure effective collaboration and awareness of our diverse geopolitical context and cultures. We consider our differences as a source of enrichment for the group, and we strive to create an inclusive and secure space for all members. 

    Regarding gender issues and women’s position, they maintain a critical feminist perspective that is pluralistic and intersectional at its core, and with which the members of the Collective agreed upon its accession. As the Collective is still in the developing phase, they are focused on building cohesion within the group. They are getting to know each other personally and professionally, being aware, that while differences in opinion may arise, they should be viewed as opportunities for growth through (self)reflection.

    Both youth and expertise

    As Romani feminists, they have met many misconceptions about feminism within their families and communities, from their friends and colleagues. Even now, Roma women are excluded from mainstream feminist movements, and areas that support the fact that mainstream feminism still needs to tackle the racism within its structures, stress the founders of the Collective. They continue: People who have not researched the different feminist waves and the depth of the concept, often have a distorted image of how a “feminist” should look like. They mostly associate feminists with bald-headed, raging white women who hate men and want nothing but total power over everyone. Feminism as a movement has been associated with white middle-class women for many years and many underrepresented communities were not part of that movement. A “traditional Roma woman” definitely does not/or rather should not fit under this category. So when our Roma fellows/families see us as feminists who strive for gender equality but still respect others, when we aim to fight for justice for our Roma people, when we approach people with love, just then they realize what feminism is about.

    When it comes to the understanding of gender equality and feminism among young Roma women today, the founders state that it is very fortunate that girls and women today have more opportunities to learn about and contribute to the different feminist movements than their foremothers. While 30-40 years ago there was no social media and Google, underprivileged girls and young women had almost no chance to be informed about feminist theories and developments. It was mostly the privilege of the white educated women and girls who had the means to buy books and attend colleges.

    They emphasize the importance that nowadays, young girls and women can download entire books and articles for free, that many feminist social media activists make feminist ideas available online, and young girls can also get information about protests, activities, and debates much more easily than ever. Besides, they add that the contribution of girls and women is undeniable, which makes feminist movements much stronger and more creative, and their strength, critical views, and creative solutions are needed not only by feminists but also by other movements.

    In our Collective, we specifically focus on young Romani gender professionals for these very reasons. Young Romani women professionals have great potentials, which is often dimmed by racism and sexism in the gender equality field. Therefore, we aim to bring young Romani gender equality professionals to the spotlight and let their powerful and smart voices be heard by more and more people.

    Both education and employment

    Even though they know that Roma communities are highly diverse, they are also surprised that their call has reached many countries, even continents. Most of their applicants, and now members, are coming from European countries like Spain, North Macedonia, the UK, Hungary, Romania, etc. But they also have members from the United States and Brazil which makes the Collective geographically interesting and diverse.

    The Collective is focusing on young Roma women gender professionals, which means that all Members are younger than 35 which creates a dynamic environment during the discussions. But what is even more amazing about the Collective is that the diversity of fields which the Roma women professionals came from greatly reflects the need to include gender equality in all spheres. The professionals have experience working in the spheres of health, academia, civil society, physiology, communication, political science, arts, etc. Since gender equality (along with anti-racism and decoloniality) affects all spheres of life, it is important to influence as many areas as possible, say the founders of the Collective.

    So far they had one Members’ Meeting where they could learn more about the Roma women and slowly start their work together. In the upcoming weeks, they will publish critical articles, be more active on social media, and organize capacity-building training, especially for Roma women gender professionals. Soon after that they are planning to target institutions that are already dealing with or planning to engage in gender equality in one way or another. We want to make sure that the voices and expertise of Roma women are heard. In that way more and more institutions/organizations will decide to work with us.

    Aware that improving the standard of living of young Roma women directly affects their prospects for the future, through their program, the founders question the topics of intersectionality and how discrimination affects the employment of Roma women despite their work experience and level of education. If we just look at the job opportunities of Romani women gender equality professionals, we can confidently say that class, ethnicity, gender, and many times sexual orientation has a lot to play. Speaking from experience, we can say that Roma women gender equality professionals have much fewer opportunities to get a job with the same (or even better) educational and working experiences than non-Roma professionals. Anti-Roma racism and structural inequalities still create an obstacle in most of the work fields, where gender equality is not an exception either. 

    The stereotypical representation of Roma women is also reflected in the employment process, and their high level of unemployment is most often justified by the problem of demand on the labor market and low level of education, which the Roma women gathered in the Collective cannot identify with. What society ends up with is countless Roma women gender equality professionals who have all the knowledge, expertise, and dedication to work on making our communities better but have no opportunities to do so. This is a huge mistake and untapped opportunity for our societies, where radical changes are happening from almost one day or another and where creative and expert solutions are required, they conclude.


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