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“Non-Roma role” or how to be a Roma woman?

With this text, the author expresses her own opinion and does not intend to hurt the readers’ feelings.

We are taking history lessons, but we are still unable to comprehend them. Patriarchal doctrines in 21st century society are creating more and more inconvenience for women and making it impossible to live their lives. I was born in a Roma family, but I was brought up according to my environment. However, in the experience of acquaintances, I was well aware of harmful principles of those who decide how to live your life.

“A choice without a choice”

The patriarchal way of life leads to the inculcation of the “ideal wife” archetype from childhood. Growing up is accompanied by the goal of creating a happy family, which necessarily depends on how well-behaved the girl is and how she meets the norms of the Roma community. That is, consciously or semi-consciously, but the main goal for a Roma girl in the family is a successful marriage, not self-realisation. As a result, there is a lack of gender parity. Men are given the right to resolve all matters, make decisions for a woman, and sometimes impose restrictions on her will. First, the girl is under the control of parents, brothers, and then – her husband. The theoretical right to choose is, for example: you can choose clothes, but it should match the type, a certain length, openness, cuts-outs. That is, there is no de facto choice, the same applies to the age of marriage, field of activity, nationality of the partner and further on the list. Of course, we are not talking about one hundred percent of families, but the lion’s share of them.

I was 15 years old when I met a Roma girl in Zaporizhzhia. My friend and I went for a walk and my attention was drawn to a lonely girl who was a little older than me. She was riding on a swing. We managed to communicate only when we met at this playground. Then I was very surprised that she was taken from school after the 8th grade. Her parents explained it referring to her age and the harmful influence of peers of other nationalities. It was a pity when I found out that her older brother was still studying. And the problem was the parents’ fear for the “spoiled” upbringing of the girl as a future wife. Later she married and may have a baby. That’d be okay if it was her own choice to become an “ideal wife” at the age of 17-18.

“Non-Roma role”

I enjoyed studying since school, because the results were good. My family supported me in this. I was fair-haired and light-skinned, so no one could say that I was Roma by appearance. I have never experienced bullying at school or university, even when my peers found out about my nationality. However, sometimes I felt pressure from relatives and close friends, who wanted to push me into the normal pattern for them. The graduation party was a disappointment for me, because I didn’t attend it. The party took place in a restaurant on the banks of the Dnipro river, where it was planned to meet the sunrise. My relatives’ prejudices were played against and my mother was persuaded not to let me go to the celebration. I was worried about it, because I realised that I deserved the same holiday as others.

The next barrier was the admission to the university. When choosing a future field of activity it was heard from the side of my environment: “journalism is not for her”, “when she gets married, she will have to quit”,”this is not a profession for a Roma girl.” Did it offend me? – No. Even then, I realised that I did not want to spend “life in the kitchen.” Traditions are wonderful, but I did not want to confuse them with the way of life, especially justifying the spoiled years and the possibility of self-realisation. According to “experienced wives”, journalism was a mistake, because no Roma husband would let me shoot something there (that is, “something there”).

By the way, to the surprise of my distant environment, I became a journalist and got a job after my first year of university. Of course, even then the calls for marriage and the risks of being left alone did not stop (and I was only 19 at the time). From time to time, working on human rights issues, I became more and more immersed in the problems of the Roma. Not all the problems were obvious, because I did not have many negative experiences. However, even so, I had a long time to look for and eradicate certain behavioural habits that simply hindered my work or establishment in society. Restrictions and the desire to “correspond to upbringing” suggested feelings of guilt for dissent, and in some cases we had to face criticism from senior relatives. 

Today, Roma women are uncovering their potential, there are shifts in the process of emancipation, but they are not as global as they could be. Education is becoming a crucial stage on the path to independence, it will prepare girls for life and work, increase their self-esteem, status in the family and community. When you have an education, a job, a goal – life through the prism of other people’s thoughts becomes questionable. Probably the solution lies in the need to get an education and engage in self-development in any environment. Then, perhaps in one or two generations, Roma women will finally be fully responsible for their lives and choices.

 

Ruslana Polianska

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