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Fatima Bergendahl

Stockholm, 27.09.2015

"Every woman has to decide alone by herself if she wants to work outside the house. It’s not like five hundred years ago, now we are in the 2000s. Here everybody can go to school, not just stay at our towns, cook for our family, and be with the kids. If we want our kids to have better future, me as a mother I think that every woman should go to school."

Alina Covaci, Confession

The Health of Roma Women - Some Thoughts

“During the last years I have noticed a clear trend. Roma women living in Roma communities are a lot more aware of the importance of education and health education as a tool for empowerment.”

There is a well known saying: “Teach a Roma woman and you will teach a whole community”. In terms of health, this means that the woman’s role is not only to take care of her family’s health. She is also responsible for her whole community’s health. But is this really true? And is it still applicable nowadays and where?

The next question would be who takes care of the woman who is herself a caretaker? We know from day-to-day life that Roma women’s health tends to come last on their list of priorities.

When it comes to health-related decisions, people, and Roma women particularly so, are quite often influenced by their extended family. It is very interesting to see and realize that the relationship with the health-care system is very complex because it is not only a relationship between the health-care system and one individual, it also involves the Roma woman’s whole family.

I often wonder why there is so little information on the health needs and interests of Romani women. What I have very often heard in the last two-three years around me are some clichés but at the same time representing the painful truth: “Because of poor living conditions Roma women’s access to health care is lower then non-Roma’s. They have a shorter life expectancy in comparison with non-Roma”. Also we can see or hear day by day about abuses in the health-care system such as segregation in maternity wards, denial of treatment or denial of medical check-up, refusal of doctors to put on their lists Roma people, the need to pay out of pocket money to the doctors in order to get a consultation.

What makes me feel confident about the future concerning these issues is that during the last years I have noticed a clear trend. Roma women living in Roma communities are a lot more aware of the importance of education and health education as a tool for empowerment. During my work travels I could see that many Roma women desire their children, including their daughters, to continue their education, recognizing that this will greatly increase their chances for employment later on.

As someone working to promote the health and health related rights of Roma, I am particularly happy to see the interest of Roma mothers in supporting their children to choose a medical education. It is also so great to see that Roma women are aware that increasing the number of Roma health doctors and nurses will reduce the human rights abuses in health-care systems.

The latest developments in terms of programs and advocacy efforts of the Roma NGO sector are actually feeding our motivation and making us - the activists - continue our fight against systems, to push for solutions in order to improve the access of Roma women and therefore their communities to health care.