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.