Romani Women's Rights
The Romani women's movement has evolved organically through the wider pursuit of Roma rights by Romani women and men over the years in response to the initial (and mostly continuing) lack of attention to women's issues on the part of the predominantly male "leaders", some of whom viewed patriarchal traditions as integral components of Romani identity and culture. Romani women's first steps to speak out about their rights as women and to challenge the idea that certain practices are a part of Romani culture have often been met with criticism, rejection or have been simply ignored. The fact is that women's rights in all contexts tend to be a cause of controversy, but particularly when in juxtaposition with other characteristics such as race or ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, etc.
I am by no means trying to undermine the work of Romani women activists or say that is easy at all. As Truman Capote says, "More tears are shed for answered prayers than for unanswered ones." This seems particularly enlightened within the current context wherein we see that activists that decide to overcome fears and speak about human rights violations are often crushed by their governments, police, media, public opinion, etc. It is also important to point out that in many cases there is no clear line between formal activists and other Romani women making acts of activism/defiance, seeing that very often these two categories overlap. The main difference in the situation of a formal and non-formal female Romani activist is in terms of the support received from her peers and colleagues that non-formal activists rarely have and that helps her to persevere in fighting discrimination.
The Romani women's movement is often criticised for the fact that real tangible change in the situation of Romani women has not yet happened. However, the fact that the ERRC has changed in such a short period of time from lacking a gender perspective to having a number of activities in this area is a victory of the efforts of the Romani women's movement. This is an important victory because the ERRC, not a specific Romani women's rights organisation, has the ability to broaden the base of the Romani women's movement and increase the limited resources available. The ERRC and other organisations may also be able to contribute to the development of the holistic perspective of Romani women's rights, with expertise in other areas such as housing rights, employment, etc., which are necessary for addressing Romani women's issues.
The Romani women's movement is probably much bigger than conferences and reports allow us see, and the fact that there is something that we could start calling a movement is already an extremely positive thing. Female Romani activists (and hopefully men, too) might work collectively or individually, in accordance with their opportunities, as women's rights advocates, as Roma rights advocates, as teachers, as home workers, as lawyers, as mothers, or in any other capacity, against the illusion of male superiority and against racism. The Romani women's movement is as much about personal change and self-empowerment as it is about collective and social change.