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10 máj 2022
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We support Roma women who live in generational poverty. What will equality bring them?

In Slovakia, we help people who live in social exclusion. Thanks to financial, social or work counseling and trips outside the community, they gain greater self-confidence and with it a chance for a better life. However, generational poverty brings with it another burden that falls specifically on women. We talked about why it is necessary to support women’s equality in this environment as well with Monika Bosa from the EsFem association and Janka Urban and Edita Kovář from the Vyrovnávanie šancí association, who collaborate with us on the Gender Equality for Roma Communities project.

n generational poverty, expectations are also transferred from one generation to the next, all of which a Roma woman must manage. Photo: Peter Vološčuk

Why is it important to support gender equality even in marginalized Roma communities?M.B.: For a simple reason, because it is relevant everywhere people live. J.U.: But it must be said that gender equality is a bit of our Western construct, which must be approached sensitively and with understanding in some cultures. In marginalized Roma communities, this also means perceiving the gender stereotypes that operate there, and we are not the ones who will suddenly change it.

Women are often unable to draw on female friendships, to create a female group line, because it is broken by too many dividing lines. 

Janka Urban, Vyrovnávanie šancí association

E.K.: Women from excluded Roma communities are at a disadvantage, because they do not know what gender equality is, that they could want something in this area, and these are big changes for them. We try to show them what it is, so that they realize what possibilities they have and that they could live a little differently than the usual stereotypes.

What complicates the situation of Roma women in excluded communities? 

J.U.: Dividing lines often run through communities, either by individual families or geographically, the upper and lower parts of the settlement are separated and there is some long-term tension, or the Olaš and Slovak Roma are separated. Women are somehow subject to these lines and cannot draw on female friendships, create a female group line, a group of friends who support each other, because it is broken by too many such lines. 

E.K.: Generational poverty is inherited and women are used to living in those patterns. Even if a person offers them another option, most of them do not take it, they take it as their lot: I am a Roma woman and I live in such a family, we have such rules. It is very difficult to disrupt the hierarchy they have. But there are of course cases when it works.  

Not only new stimuli, but perhaps also new friendships. Women’s networks are a source of strength and understanding for women. Photo: Peter Vološčuk

Could you give an example?

J.U.: We once had a talk with a women’s group where we interpreted pictures together. We came to the point that one of the women would like to leave her man. But we relativized it a bit, that we can be free even in relationships. We told the woman that it is commendable that she takes care of a disabled man for a long time. However, she felt that there was little room for her as a person. In the debate, she realized that the needed space exists and she doesn’t have to leave anyone. In the situation she is in, she always manages to find a piece for herself. Such little things emerge from our meetings. 

What do you think is most important when working with women from excluded Roma communities?

J.U.: Above all, we try to give them a voice. 

M.B.: The activities that we do with women within women’s groups are not directly aimed at a specific change, but at the same time, that change happens immediately. Women even think about the fact that they can want something, they can want it together and they can help each other. And not only women, but also entire families. Ideally, new female friendships will be formed. Women’s groups operate within several of our community centers. We will introduce how these meetings go next time. 

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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