Changemakers

Roma women lead across generations

Carmen Gheoghe on the power of Roma feminism.

Stories

Ashoka Fellow Carmen Gheorghe founded E-Romnja to bring visibility to the Roma women shaping solutions for their communities.

By strengthening intergenerational bonds, Roma women are building civic, economic and organizing power. They’re addressing housing and infrastructure issues, as well as gender, sexual and reproductive rights. We recently spoke with Carmen about the birth of Roma feminism in Romania, and how moving at the speed of trust paved the way for resilient community responses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Watch the full conversation here. Here are a few of the highlights:

An invitation to learn about Roma communities

Though by some estimates Roma people make up nearly 10 percent of Romania’s population, patterns of racism and social exclusion persist in Romania and across Europe. During the pandemic, for example, police has disproportionately targeted and sentenced Roma communities scapegoated as “super-spreaders.” To this day, Roma history remains absent from education systems, and myths perpetuate across generations. With this reality in mind, Carmen kicked off the conversation with an invitation for all non-Roma people (also referred to as “Gadjo”) to learn more about the rich history, cultures and contributions of Roma communities across the world.

When access to water is a feminist issue

In her early 20s, Carmen pursued a Master’s degree in gender studies in the United States and started studying American feminist literature. While a lot of the thinking around reproductive justice and gender-based violence resonated with her, much of white feminist literature didn’t quite fit her lived experiences as a Roma woman. She felt a need to expand the definition of “feminism” to include issues such as access to housing and water. When she returned to Romania and founded e-Romnja, she set out to mobilize Roma women around these issues.

Validating lived experience as knowledge

Carmen is determined to birth a new women’s movement in Roma communities — and she is equally committed to seeing it gain visibility and credibility in academic circles. She pursued a PhD, where she faced blatant discrimination from certain professors who openly doubted that empirical, lived experiences of Roma women could constitute knowledge. Carmen was undeterred.

Stepping into your power & showing up

E-Romnja turns 10 years old this year. They’ve worked with Roma women across Romania and neighboring countries to support the growth of mutual aid groups and build up civic, economic and organizing power for their communities. The effects are long-lasting for communities, and for the individual women who participate. Here’s a poignant example of what happens when a woman finds her voice and takes her place at the decision-making table:

When crisis leads to self-organizing

Pandemic restrictions made community work particularly difficult for e-Romnja and many social entrepreneurs across the world. Even though Carmen and her team were unable to be physically present for months at a time, local women took matters into their own hands and continued the work. The power of Roma women — and the staying power of Carmen’s work — shined brighter in the midst of crisis.

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This conversation is part of insight series on what’s next for women and girls’ rights in Covid times, supported by Beiersdorf. Read more about the future of gender equity. Photo courtesy of E-Romnja.