The Roma: Role of Women in a Cultural Minority

The Role of Woman in Roma Society

BY Cuyler Cunningham



Summery- For this project, I was required to study and ethnic minority located in Turkey. My group and I decided to study the Roma, or better known as the Gypsies. My part in the project was to give a short description of their history as well as the women’s role in this particular society. Located here, is the basis of my paper and some of the most important information to know about The Roma, and their relationship to Turkey.


History of the Roma– The history of the Roma is very widely discussed and studied by scholars even in the 21st century. In an article titled, The History and Origin of the Roma, the authors state, “The most well-known and most widely-held opinion about the origin of the Roma was that they originated in Egypt, from where they came to the Christian lands. This is evident in the naming of Roma in many countries – Gitanos, Gypsies – but in reality these names seem to be derived from the name of the Little Egypt region in Peloponnesia or Asia Minor,”(The History and Origin of the Roma). With scholars leaning towards the opinion that Roma society in many aspects descend from Egyptian culture; it is also argued that this nomadic culture was heavily impacted by India and their traditions.


Starting in the 14th century the Roma began to migrate from place to place adopting a cosmopolitan sense with each culture they visited. The author of, The History and Origin of the Roma, provides evidence of their migration to India in their statement, “Their language bears witness to their Indian origin; there’s also the surprising similarity of a number of customs, a similar social structure, their choice of professions, the same technology of metal-working, etc. Linguists were able to lay out Romani history very precisely according to the evolution of Romani dialects,”(The History and Origin of the Roma). It is evident that for centuries the Roma have been traveling and evolving with each society they come across, but I want to highlight one location in particular, Turkey.


Role of Women and Migration– The role of women in any culture is a very important concept to grasp. Women are treated differently from culture to culture and it is important to understand the customs of Roma women in the 21st century. In a scholarly article from the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies titled, From Making a Living to Getting Ahead: Roma Women’s Experiences of Migration by Maria Pantea, the author draws on qualitative data, gathered from fifty-four individual interviews of Roma women located in Romania and depicts their role in society. The author states, “It explores how gender norms and expectations intersect migration and what the perceived benefits and costs associated with mobility may be. Women’s personal meanings of migration vary, from ensuring social mobility at home, to family survival. My research indicates that Roma women’s migration is highly dependent on the ‘gender regime’ in their home communities.” (Pantea, 1250) The word gender regime in the context of Roma women explains what Roma society and its male population expect from these women.


Role of Women Continued- In an article published by the European Roma Rights Centre, the author highlights the primary role of women in Roma culture by stating,” The positions of Romani men and Romani women are clearly divided. Unfortunately, women have drawn the losing card… The task of the Romani woman is to take care of the children, to maintain the household, and to hold together the extended family. As mother, she knows precisely the details of her children’s lives, including all of the stupid things they do,”(ERRC). The mother often keeps these moments to her self, for fear of the husband getting enraged. Compared to the Roma men, who are considered to be the master of the family, which involves coordinating the family as well as talking with other Roma men about politics (ERRC).

Roma women, being the caretakers of the families also have desires of their own. In a research article titled, Standpoints of Roma women regarding reproductive health, the authors explain this desire. They state, “It includes the right to a satisfying and safe sexual life, free decision-making regarding having children, equal accessibility of the knowledge concerning family planning and the right to medical services which ensure women a safe pregnancy and labor as well as effective prevention and early detection of illnesses,” (Logar). Roma society of course has its own customs and attitudes towards the culture of health, but its important to understand what role the women has in her own reproductive rights.

Reproductive Rights of Roma Women- There are many restraints effecting Roma women in relationship to their reproductive rights, but men are not one of them. The obstacles facing these women are structural and systematic constraints for example, the lack of financial means, difficulty in obtaining health insurance, and bias towards Roma society (Logar). Even with these factors restraining Roma women from gaining control over their own body, they still revere health as highly valuable. In an interview with Roma women by the authors this attitude is expressed. “One of the interviewed women summarized this in the following statement: “’Everything will be fine, as long as one is healthy’. They expressed an interest in personal healthcare, such as in their attitude to smoking, which would be given up by most women during pregnancy, but by some of them even not in this period: ‘Yes, of course I would, but some do no stop smoking. Yes, I would stop’,”(Logar). This quote captures the essence the role women play in Roma society. They are the sub servants to the males, they are given no education and the only influential power they have is over their family and their body.






7 thoughts on “The Roma: Role of Women in a Cultural Minority

  1. Shannon Alexander

    I learned very much from your abstract. I really enjoyed how easily you incorporated the research you did into your abstract. I was unaware of the origin of Gypsies and their role in Romania society. Its an interesting contrast how there are a number of customs and social structures that are universal throughout this part of the world, like your reference to India. Lastly, I want to mention your last paragraph on the rights of women. Throughout history, we can see in a number of demographics how women’s rights, especially reproductive are suppressed. I think it’s an interesting contrast to see how structure (typically a man) and agency (what a women can do for herself) influences a women’s right to reproduce. In this case, luckily these women are gaining control over their bodies but there are still come countries where women still don’t have control. I think women’s control should be stretched beyond their family and their bodies, they should be given freedom to obtain an education and to be servants to themselves.
    Currently, I am in an Irish Women & Drama class, which from the title is about the women’s role in theatre in the 20th century. I explored how educated is granted in Ireland through the presentation of plays but I think its interesting that migration and mobility at home also connect how well people have access to education. Not only does education cost money but also being able to move to a place where education can be granted also costs money. Migration and education could be key in how these women survived in different times periods of even today. This is seen in Ireland when families would send their boys to school instead of their girls since its always been thought that men were the ones who worked and the women stayed in the house caring for the children. The case studies I chose to support this thinking were Dancing at Lughnasa and Juno and the Paycock. Both of these plays represent to some extent the lack of education women received and how their uneducated choices get them in some trouble. I think we can look at how being a woman was a gender barrier for all aspects such as opportunities, education, experiences, jobs as well as other survival needs. I think too, male influence on women is universal no matter where you are. Like you stated, there is a certain male population and they expect certain things from women. This holds true for women in Ireland during the 1960’s as well as the aspect of positions of genders and there being a clear divide. This might also hold true in Romania with the women’s ability to migrate. I am sure that more men were migrating then women because not only were they making money in order to have money to move but they were also better educated in trades making them more marketable than women.

  2. Josh Celentano

    You’re section on the role of women reminds of what I’m researching in my Irish Women & Drama class. I’m researching what women’s role was in IRA in the 1900s. I expected there to be very stereotypical gender roles in place, but to my surprise, I found that there was a separate group of women from the IRA that worked to accomplish the same goal as the IRA. I thought it was interesting to see typical genders roles being broken, and it was refreshing to find out that women wanted to and tried to participate as much as men did in the IRA’s efforts. Of course, they still filled the role of helping the men, being housekeepers, etc., but they also wanted to help as much as they could in their own way.

  3. Katie Cassavaugh

    Cuyler, I really enjoyed your abstract and how it looks at women in a very non-biased way. Both of my Core 330 classes talk about women and their roles in China and Ireland. In China we learned that women are meant to hide their sexuality. It is seen that women can’t be sexual unless married because they will carry a child that may ruin a family line, but men can be as sexual as they want because they don’t carry or have to acknowledge the child. Women in China were also seen as lesser citizens and due to the one child policy they were given up. My project for Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors is about marriage customs both modern and traditional. In the modern section I talk about how the one child policy is coming back to bite them, there are so many more men than women that the women are able to be picky and make crazy requests of them men.

    Again also in Ireland women are seen as second class citizens, and again expected to hide their sexuality. The project I did for this class talked about the Magdalene Laundries which is where women who were seen as fallen went. Fallen women were those whom had children out of wedlock and the men or their families didn’t want to deal with them. It is sad to see that in many cultures that women were seen as lower than their male counterparts. One play that we read was called Juno and the Paycock in which the end their daughter gets pregnant. The father wants to send her away so that the family won’t be shamed. The mother however takes her children and leaves the father. It is great to see that even in the time when women were being seen as lesser that they can rebel and stand up for their beliefs.

  4. Jackson Roe

    Hey Cuyler, great abstract. I can related this to my Irish Women and Drama project, where I’m proposing a compilation album where the songs are representative about women’s role in Ireland’s struggle for independence in the past century. What’s interesting to me and the source materials I’ve managed to examine, which are several classic and modern renditions of Irish folk songs, is that the role of Ireland as a country is often played by a woman. In the play we read in class, Kathleen Ni Houlihan, by William Butler Yeats, we meet an old woman who cries to the young men in the play that her four green fields had been unjustly taken from her. Of course, the woman, Kathleen Ni Houlihan herself, is representative of the country, and her asking these young men to help her is representative of “mother Ireland” calling her sons to fight for her freedom. I found a song that relates incredibly closely entitled Four Green Fields, by Irish folk singer Tommy Makem. The lyrics state:

    What did I have, said the fine old woman
    What did I have, this proud old woman did say
    I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
    But strangers came and tried to take them from me
    I had fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels
    They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she

    The role of the woman as a representative of the entire country is not uncommon. All of the songs I found in my research use an Irish woman as a symbol, which suggests something much deeper about the role of women during this troubling time. While the Irish men were fighting for their freedoms, it’s clear they held their women in high regard as something to be fighting for.

  5. Madeline Bell

    Thank you for your post, as it was very interesting and enlightening. In my own project for my Irish Women in Drama class, I also looked at the role of women in the culture and how it began to evolve into what it has become today. I think there is a clear parallel between the lives of Roma and Irish women. In both cases, there are clear cultural divides between the gender roles. In both, women are expected to primarily take care of the family and to work at home while the men hold the moneymaking jobs and provide the “stability and security” of the household. In my paper, I am looking into how women took on new roles during Irish Internment and became more politically active, a role that did not go away once Internment had ended. I would be curious to know if there were any historical instances in the Roma community that altered the roles of women and their relationships with men, and maybe that was something that you talked about in your paper.
    Overall, I think learning about the reproductive rights of Roma women was the most interesting. I had not previously known anything about this so I enjoyed learning something new. I felt like I was reading about communities in developing African countries, where the male dominated family structure resulted in much of the same healthcare related issues with females. It seems that Roma women are asking for more rights to take an active role in family planning, which will certainly make waves if the ideology continues to grow. I wonder if the women go through back channels to obtain things like birth control and other forms of healthcare despite external and internal conflicts.
    It’s also interesting to think about how the stigma of the Roma affects the community so much. Could the pressure of prejudice be keeping the Roma from affecting social changes? As in, they cling to their older ways out of stubbornness or even spite? Of course, I think we as Western people are exposed to many f these stigmas and stereotypes. Take the popular reality TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding for example, which definitely exaggerates the Roma and other migratory peoples to extreme caricatures. If we are influenced so strongly all the way here in America, imagine how much worse these stigmas must be in the actual locations of these peoples.

  6. Samantha Raftery

    For my project for my Irish women and drama class, I did research on the Magdalene Laundries and how the women were treated there. Your project and mine can be connected because we both talk about how the women do not have rights to their own bodies. The women who were sent to the Magdalene Laundries was mostly women who had children out of wedlock or some other way that was looked down on by the church. The women had no say in whether they wanted to keep the baby or not. The church just took the babies away and put them up for adoption and put the women into the Magdalene Laundries.

  7. Kerry Broderick

    It was very interesting to read your abstract as the role of Roma women is something that is often not discussed in Western societies. I noticed that the women’s lives are centered solely around the raising of children. For my minority group, the Greek Orthodox, one of the women’s most important roles is also to have children. However, unlike the Greeks, from your research it seems like the Roma women lose some of their individual identity. This is not true of Greek women today. Do you think this loss of personal identity for women harms the Roma culture as a whole? Interesting topic.


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