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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."

Interview with Ethel Brooks

'I am still very much impressed by what Ethel had to say. Her thoughts and passion to help the Romani people amazed me and refilled me with energy. So here I share the interview we did with her. Enjoy it and share it!' - Katalin Barsony, Executive Director, Romedia Foundation

What do you think about the expanded nationalist movements in Czech Republic, Szlovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria?

I find the rise of nationalist movements and the wider acceptance of nationalist parties throughout Europe extremely frightening.

While in the past, it has been easy for non-Roma activists and scholars to ignore the anti-Romani sentiment in Europe, and the increasing violence against Roma, the current period shows ways in which we as a people have become the scapegoats of European crisis. Romani people have faced violence, discrimination, expulsion and disenfranchisement throughout history; in the current moment, things are worse than ever.

Over the past several years, we have seen Romani people being murdered in Hungary, expelled from their homes in all four countries, attacked by mobs and threatened with death in Bulgaria --the violence and threats against Romani people have become frighteningly widespread. I am currently writing about how the situation for Roma is a bellwether for the politics of Europe, and I truly believe that is the case in this moment; the threat that we face throughout Europe is, in fact, an indicator of the future of politics in Europe and beyond.  The fact that in Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia --and in France, Spain and Italy-- fascist parties have received both popular support and that of ostensibly "centrist" governments is shocking on every level. 

We have to fight against this growing nationalism, both in popular movements and at the level of the nation-state; the very existence of the Romani people is under attack, as is the future of all of Europe.

What is feminism in a modern context?

While I cannot give a universal definition of feminism in the modern context, I can say that, for me, feminism is about analyzing power, laying bare hierarchies and fighting injustice.  It provides a framework through which, as a Romani woman, a scholar and an activist, I can "speak truth to power."*

What is the role of feminism in the Romani movement?

Romani women have suffered racism, sexism and multiple forms of discrimination.  We have maintained our families and our communities; we have sustained our culture and our language.  We are strong women, and often we are left without voices in both the Romani movement and the feminist movement. Romani feminism is a way of making our voices heard, and of claiming our place as Romniya both in our local communities and globally.

My mother was one of the strongest women I have known; she is my role model and my hero, and she raised me with love, teaching me by example how to be generous, to read and to ask questions, and to be an active member of my community.  My mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my cousins, my daughters --all of them inspire me, as strong, beautiful Romani women and girls. While they may not call themselves feminists, I see in them the embodiment of feminism, of strength and power, and of love, humor and critique.

Why have you decided to speak up for your community?

We are in a crisis moment.  I have to speak --we all have to do something to try to change the dire situation in which we find ourselves. We are being killed, sterilized, thrown out of our homes and denied employment.  Our children are denied education, and, even in the midst of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, we are excluded from political decision-making.  Because there are so few of us who have had the chance to become educated, who have been able to go on to university education, and because non-Roma in every field still think that they can speak for us, it is urgent that I speak out for my community, that I use whatever power I have to fight back, in whatever way that I can, in order to change things for the better. I see so many amazing Romani activists, people who are devoting their lives to defending Roma all over the world, who are creative, who are protesting, who are strategizing and finding ways to make the world a better place, for Romanies and everyone else, too.  They are my inspiration; I can only do my small part to try to make a difference.

Do you think is important that we have www.romawoman.org?

I am thrilled that we have


!  I love watching the faces, hearing the voices and learning about the lives of Romniya throughout the world.  I so proud of the activism, the courage and the brilliance of my sisters, and I am excited that we can share our experiences through the "I am a Roma Woman" project. This is an incredible project, and I am honored to be part of it.  I am proud to be a Romani woman, and to share in the stories here.