Romany Women Confront Prejudice from Inside and Outside their Community

Women of the Roma diaspora are organizing across Europe in attempts to challenge patriarchy within the culture, and bigotry from the outside world, reports The Guardian. Roma women, commonly known as “gypsies” are triply discriminated against in their daily lives, “As Roma, as women, and as persons belonging to a socially disadvantaged group” as the Council of Europe 2002 reported. However, current attempts to organize Roma women, as well as the recent election of the first Roma member of the European Parliament, Ms.Livia Jaroka, illustrates the upsurge in activism and constructive efforts on the part of women to improve both the conditions of their lives, as well as that of their community as a whole.

The seven to nine million Roma living across Europe face discrimination and abuse in most countries they live in or travel through, ranging from poor quality health care, to inadequate education and housing. The Guardian reports that there are regions where Romany unemployment runs at nearly 100%. Roma women often face the brunt of the bigotry and economic suffering. A report issued last year by the Center for Reproductive Rights found that racial hatred in Slovakia, where the Roma form about 10% of the population, was fuelling coerced and illegal sterilization of Romani women. Within their communities, women face problems of strict gender roles which encourage early marriages, many children, and limited access to education, says The Guardian.

However, out of these hardships and the culmination of various grassroots initiatives, an organized movement has emerged, such as the National Association of Gypsy Women in the UK, and the International Roma Women’s Network, which, with representatives from 28 countries, is the broadest organization of its kind. These organizations are working to improve healthcare, access to education and employment opportunities, reported The Guardian. Furthermore, the first Roma member of the European Parliament, 29 year old Livia Jaroka, intends to work with Roma NGO’s, such as the women’s groups, to create a body within the EU to monitor and improve the living conditions of her ethnic community.

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EU Observer 7/29/05, The Guardian 7/29/04, Feminist Newswire 3/4/03

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