International Romani Day and Necessary Integration of Romani Feminism
Guest Commentary by Jessica Reidy
As a Romani woman, I swallow a lot of anger.
April 8th, International Romani Day, serves the necessary purpose of marking our visibility and our presence all over the world. The outpouring of Romani-created articles, essays, stories, poems, music, and artwork all dedicated to our own diverse identities across so many far-flung, yet culturally united groups is frankly astounding, and should be celebrated every day, not just on this holiday.
However, this holiday serves as a cultural and educational keystone—the more we publish about ourselves and our fight for human rights and representation, the more likely it is that the outside community, the recipient of our appeals, will hear us, and will pause to consider. Too often, we are faced with the task of educating a sizable figure of the outsiders we meet about who we are and who we aren’t.
Too many times, I’ve had to patiently swallow, smile, and say, “No, my family are not criminals,” “Yes, I can read,” “Yes, Roma are real,” “No, you should not say ‘Gypsy’ because, yes, it is an ethnic slur, even if you like it,” and so on. The burden of correcting ever-ignorant assumptions about us should not fall on us as individuals, going about our daily lives, maybe having a bad day, maybe we’ve received more hate mail telling us that our people are scum and that we all should have died in Auschwitz.
Maybe that anger surges in our throats at the wrong time, or if we’re lucky, at the right time. International Romani Day, ideally, will relieve us, as individuals, of some of this burden. The more we are are legitimized internationally, the more likely it is that outsiders will begin to educate themselves, either willfully or accidentally. Likewise, this is why it’s so important that we continue to build platforms, like RomArchive, for us to honor each other’s work and build our own cultural canon.
But there is something else I’m angry about—so many of us will articulate, without hesitation, the dire need for Romani rights, and yet, not all of us, men and women alike, will identify as feminists and acknowledge that Romani women’s rights are just as important. I feel comfortable defining feminism as the belief in equality between genders.
Many people, Roma and non-Roma alike, are under the misguided assumption that feminism is about subjugating men, when in actuality, feminism is about dismantling these systems of subjugation and oppression, and understanding the cultural, ethnic, and class issues that are inextricably tied to gender and sexual identity. Our community’s patriarchal system is part of the Roma’s global oppression because it is the way in which we oppress ourselves.
If we cannot make room for equal rights for Romani women and LGBTQ* identities, how will any of us ever truly be liberated? Organizations like E-Romnja and the Romedia Foundation’s “I am a Roma Woman” campaign, as well as Romani women’s rights defenders such as Morgan Ahern, Ethel C. Brooks, and Alexandra Oprea, are all essential to our movement of change.
Recently, E-Romnja, founded by Carmen Gheorghe, has made great strides in Romania to address domestic violence within Romani communities, a difficult issue considering law enforcement’s apathy toward both domestic violence and Romani women. There is also the complication that Roma are consistently depicted as a violent and misogynist culture, and while this is obviously an untrue generalization, it makes it difficult to address issues of violence and misogyny within our culture, the same issues that exist in every other culture.
As a survivor of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and rape, I understand as well that, at least in my family, the horrors of war and cultural trauma have normalized violence and trauma, and my family has suffered these dangerous cycles from one generation to the next.
When Gheorghe writes, “We are often urged by male Roma activists to choose the fight against racism over the one against sexism, so as to not ‘fragment’ the movement,” she speaks to the very heart of the issue. Women’s rights are the issue, too. If we fight for our humanity, our right to safety and equal opportunities, then we must fight for all of us. Gheorghe continues, “I know Roma men who believe that Roma women are irrational and unable to hold public positions. Should we, as feminists, follow the masculine model of leadership and forget about the gender component of our identity in order to be in power? I don’t think so.”
On International Romani Day, let us include gender and sexuality in our fight for equal rights. Romani Women and LGBTQ* identities make up who we are as Roma, too, and are important and deserving of safety and freedom. And while it may be difficult to acknowledge the complicated issues of violence and discrimination amongst ourselves, ultimately, nothing else will establish our global equality and rights. What better way to unify us and demonstrate our humanity than to work to protect and include all of us, without question or fear of “fragmentation.” Let us be allies for each other.
We are all Roma, and we rise together.
Jessica Reidy is a writer, professor, editor, and yoga teacher, who also works her Romani family trades, and is writing a novel set in post-WWII Paris, following the life of a Romani circus burlesque dancer who becomes a Nazi hunter.
Find out more about her on Jessica Reidy’s blog.
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