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04 apr 2022
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Crocheting also builds mutual trust, says our colleague about the women’s group in Petrovany

“When a Romani man comes home from work, he eats and sits. But a Romani woman can’t rest until the children lie down and sleep. You can’t just go somewhere to drink coffee. The house must be welded, cleaned, otherwise there is a fire on the roof. He has to chop wood, or go somewhere else to get the wood, bring water. They often have beautiful houses inside and out, but when there is no water, it is difficult. And in the house it’s the same all the time: Mom, this and Mom, that. The same thing over and over, the women are tired,” describes the daily routine of Roma women living in exclusion, our colleague Gitka from the community center in Petrovany. 

At first glance, the meetings of the women’s group look like a gathering of friends over coffee and shared hobbies. However, the two hours that the women have reserved for themselves once a week at the community center gives them much more. They get a space of mental rest that they don’t find at home due to their daily responsibilities. They also create a safe circle in which they can share their worries and joys with other women.

The meetings were more intense during the summer

“You’ll learn a lot when we sit down and crochet, make tea and talk. And they know that they will stay in that circle, that it won’t get any further, things from personal life… They know what and when to say, mutual trust is built here,” says Gitka. In addition to conversations, the women also engage in joint activities. At the time of the pandemic relief, for example, they baked pancakes together or prepared pudding for the children so that they could have a snack after returning from school. Before Christmas, they made ikebana and shared their family traditions. The feeling of joy that they could create something with their own hands and take the product with them to beautify their home for the holidays was priceless.

At every meeting, the women also systematically sew. They started with small things like shoe bags for children. Later they switched to crocheting. They first learned simple patterns and crocheted square cushions. Gradually they got to more complex patterns and blankets. Thanks to a volunteer from the civic association Malíček, who helps women with crocheting, the women also crocheted clothes for premature babies, for which it is otherwise difficult to find small enough sizes.

Not only a space for sharing, but also for professional help

Our task is to give women a voice, because they are not used to thinking for themselves. We are based on the experience of our association, where we use many didactic games, books and, let’s say, handicrafts. But they are only the basis of the whole activity, the topics that we start talking about emerge from them. Sometimes it is difficult to explain some abstract concepts, for example, that someone should concentrate or endure. And with these games and books, we can materialize it. For example, look, was she thinking about something else now? And that is concentration. If you try it somewhere else, things will go better for you. And through these games and readings, we also try to get to women’s topics. 

Janka Urban, Vyrovnávanie šancí

We implement women’s groups (in addition to Petrovany, also in our communities in Roškovce and Kojatice) in cooperation with the civic association Vyrovnávanie šancí. Thanks to the help of female experts, local women also get to talk about the topics of women’s health and parenting skills during informal meetings outside. Gradually, they learn something extra not only about themselves, but also how to open up, communicate better and emancipate themselves.

The women’s group now meets once a week and always crochets or sews

Meeting in the community center helps women on other levels as well. They learn regularity, a sense of responsibility is built in them, when they cannot come, they announce it in advance. And as part of women’s meetings, problems are also often revealed that our colleagues can help them with as part of their regular agenda. In this way, our colleague Gitka helps, for example, with communication with the kindergarten, the health post office, or other authorities with which people living in social exclusion often cannot communicate effectively on their own.

It also happens that a man in the family has a problem finding a job, but is ashamed to come to the center to ask for help. His wife confides in the women’s group about this problem and, on the basis of this, arranges for her husband a job counseling session with one of our colleagues.

Gitka, herself a Roma from the community, as a center worker who helps women in the field of social integration, also plays another important role: she is often a bridge between the women’s needs and the professional help they can receive at the center.“Women rarely trust a man, and although they have known my two colleagues for a long time, they prefer to ask for my help. They trust women more, husbands are often jealous,” Gitka explains the dimension of traditionality in the Roma community.

Gitka tries to inspire women beyond the boundaries of meetings in the community center.

I encourage them to talk to the children at home. When they have a free time I advise them to not spend it just by sitting in front of the TV. They can also play some kind of game together, for example, pexeso, or solve puzzles together. One of the women recently confessed to me that they rarely talk at home. She gives the children something to eat and then cleans up again, washes them, and so on. I tell them how important it is that they talk to the children. For example, when a child comes home from school, unless his mother asks him, he doesn’t know what happened there. And the child might even say on his own if there was a problem or praise, but he doesn’t know how to start. Many times it is enough for the mother to be interested in how it was at school and the child is already talking.

One of the recent activities was a story book. It was a box that the women made and decorated at the center and took home. It was supposed to serve as links on which children and parents wrote what they would like to experience together, for example a visit to the cinema or the zoo.

Gitka with women from the community. Photo: Tomáš Halász

Gitka’s two male colleagues from the center, Lukáš and Marek, do not disturb the intimate circle of women within the meetings of the women’s group. However, paradoxically, one man from the community also participates in the regular meetings, some time ago there were even two. Their interest in crocheting and sewing brought them to it, which they both did very well. They became an obvious part of the women’s group, they were connected to the women by family ties, but also by the fact that they had known each other for many years. They also received support during the meetings and even brought something themselves – one of them knows how to comb hair very well, so he advised the women, for example, on choosing suitable hair cosmetics.

Our colleagues in community centers have long been dedicated to children and adults who were born into an environment of generational poverty. Thanks to their support, they are able to fit into everyday life better, and the vision of a better future is suddenly a little closer to reality. In the case of women, even more specific help is needed: since it is women who are the engine of these communities.

The project Gender equality for Roma communities, which was supported by Norwegian grants and the Slovak state budget, is implemented together with EsFem and Vyrovnávanie šancí.

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