Today is March 8, International Women’s Day. Every year on this day, women and men across the world prepare mobilizations, events, symposia and demonstrations. These demonstrations are held alongside everyday struggles to feed ourselves and our families, keep our communities together, and, simply, to survive. This year’s March 8th celebrations will be especially crowded in Spain, where women have called a Feminist Strike. For this International Women’s Day, we, Romani women, activists, academics, feminists, would like to raise some questions about feminist politics in 2018:
First, how many political parties have a declared feminist ideology? We know that in order to participate in political decision-making, it is necessary to organize parties with representation in the decision-making and government bodies. In many countries, at the national level, there is no feminist party, but a Swedish feminist party, F !, or the Feminist Initiative, won a seat in the last European elections. This party is included in the Parliamentary Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats of the European Parliament. The MEP for F! is Soraya Post. You may be surprised to learn that Soraya Post is Romani. Yes, Romani. Moreover, the surprise increases when you begin to understand that Soraya is not a rarity, nor an exception, nor a whim of fate but one of the many brave, surviving, committed, strategic, diplomatic, empowered and feminist Romani women who have fought for the good of our people and of all the people, since our arrival in Europe back in the 14th century. Because, in spite of what many think, Romani women and men are European. Europe would not be the same without us, nor would we, despite the sorrows we have experienced, be the same without Europe.
So, for International Women’s Day, we, Romani feminists from Spain and the United States, want to provide you with some history of which you may be unaware. Here are just some examples of Romani women from different eras who are an untold part of feminist memory.
Elena Gorolová is the spokesperson for the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. From the 1970s through the 1990s in Czechoslovakia, coercive sterilization was carried out systematically on Romani women and women with disabilities. This program, supported by the 1971 Decree on Sterilization, and bolstered by the 1979 program for incentives for sterilizations for Romani women “to control the highly unhealthy Roma population through family planning and contraception.” Through these national laws and state-sponsored programs, along with other everyday discriminatory practices, possibly thousands of Romani women were forcibly sterilized in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with other countries –Hungary, Romania and beyond—with similar laws and programs in place that allowed for Romani women across Europe to be sterilized against their will.
The Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization came together to tell their stories, in the face of possible violence and with great courage. Women –some of whose names we want to highlight, as they are true feminist heroes. Along with Elena Gorolová, others –Anna, Beáta, Cecelie, Darina, Eva, Filoména, Gita, Henrieta, Ivana, Jana, Kristyna, Lucie, Marie, Olga, Norma, Petra, Romana, Simona, Stepánka, Tatiána, Vera, Zuzana, Hana, Hedvika and countless others gave testimonies of their sterilization. These testimonies, their persistence and activism, are our history. Their courage inspires us to continue our struggle against discrimination, racism, sexism and patriarchy and gives us courage, in turn, to fight for our rights, for the integrity of our bodies and for our stories to be told.
Maria Katarina Taikon Langhammer (Almby, Örebro, 1932-1995) was a Swedish Kalderash Romani activist, a leader in the civil rights movement, a writer and actress. She dedicated her life to improving the living conditions of Romani people in Sweden, fighting so that Roma were granted the same right to housing and education as to the rest of the Swedish population. In 1953, Katarina Taikon succeeded in getting the 1914 ban on Romani immigration into Sweden rescinded.
Her popular series of children’s books, Katitzi, about her own childhood, were aimed at raising awareness about Romani people among the young people. These stories had a profound impact: even in the face of the persistent anti-Gypsyism, they shifted dominant ideas of Romani people in Swedish society and are loved across generations and across ethnicities.
Nina Alexandrovna Dudarova
Nina Alexandrovna Dudarova (St. Petersburg, 1903 – Moscow, 1992) was a poet, Russian translator, teacher, writer and Romani woman. She was part of the group that, in 1926, established the Russian orthography of literary Romani. She was the author of the first book of the Romani language in 1928 and developed some manuals for students. She also participated in the translation of Pushkin’s works into Romani. She was director of the Red Star Cultural Club that contributed to the emancipation of women through the organization of numerous conferences on teaching, pedagogy and literature; Dudarova was active in the fight against religion and promoted hygiene and healthcare for everyone. On the International Women’s Day, in 1929, Dudarova published this poem:
For the Romani Girl (March 8, 1929)
Life is hard for the Romani woman:
The husband always pissed off, having to make money telling fortunes.
Do not! We cannot live like this!
We want another life!
On a new road we will go!
Why do we have to read fortunes?
Let’s take real jobs!
We want schools to learn!
Today is Women’s Day.
Sing little girls, sing also you married Romani women!
RROMANE ĆHAJAQE (8 Tridaraj 1929)
Phares ʒivela pes rromnǎqe:
Rrom xolǎmo, zumaviben …
Na! you ʒives naśti kadǎqe,
Aver mangasa ʒiviben!
P-or drom nevo amen avasa!
Vaś so amenqe zumaviben?
You love them ćaće butǎca!
Skola mangas ta siklǎiben!
Adadives – ʒuvlěnqo dives.
Bagen ćhaja, bagen vi rromnǎ
Prisoners of the Gran Redada (the Great Raid)
On the night of July 29, 1749, all Romani people in Spain – between 9000 and 12000—were to be captured and killed. King Ferdinand VI of Spain, with the instigation and support of the Marqués de la Ensenada and Gaspar Vázquez de Tablada, planned the Great Raid with the declared objective of “exterminating such a pernicious race.”
During the Great Raid, they separated women from men. The destiny for the men was clear: a certain death condemned to hard labor in the arsenals of the Navy. But the Romani people resisted, rebelled and some escaped. The fate of the women was not so clear. There was no anticipation of resistance. The Marquis, the Bishop, the King and his henchmen presumed that the women would simply disappear; that Romani girls would be brought back as slave servants for wealthy families. These gentlemen believed that our women and our girls would submit to their will. And it was not so. Hundreds of letters of complaint reached the Marqués de la Ensenada: the women rebelled, flooded the wells, went naked through the house, rebelling against the priests and nuns, avoiding mass and forced labor. “The desire to return to their freedom makes them so determined and even disgusted that it is rare the day they do not commit one or another attack, which induces us to the cautious suspicion that their boldness and recklessness to fire the house is extended. to frustrate our providence” stated one letter of complaint to the King.
For Romani feminists, we take seriously the intersectional attack against Romani women –patriarchy, racism, sexism and nationalism all moving to destroy Romani people. We also take to heart this important example of Romani feminist memory, heretofore invisible and denied.
Romani Resistance in the Holocaust
Another of the silenced acts of rebellion of Romani feminist memory, and of history in general, occurred in the so-called zigeunerlager, the camp for Roma and Sinti, at Auschwitz. On Tuesday, May 16, 1944, women led an insurrection.
The Nazi authorities had decided to “liquidate” the gypsy camp, murder the 6000 men and women, boys and girls, the Roma and Sinti imprisoned in the camp. The underground resistance at the camp warned the inhabitants of the zigeunerlager. The Roma prisoners armed themselves with stones, with sticks and with the tools they could. They mounted barricades and took refuge in the barracks, waiting for the SS to come for them. They resisted all day and all night. There were many casualties on the Romani side, and there were also Nazi casualties. That day, they did not kill any Roma and Sinti at Auschwitz. The SS were forced to postpone the attempt to liquidate the Romani camp for several months. The following days and weeks, the inhabitants of the Romani camp were starved and many were transferred to other camps. Finally, on August 2, 1944, the Nazis murdered the nearly three thousand Roma and Sinti prisoners who remained in the camp.
In the midst of the unimaginable horror of death and suffering that was Auschwitz, more than 370 babies from Romani families were born. Some survived and lived to bear witness to the death, destruction and suffering. This survival, these stories, these testimonies are also acts of resistance, and testaments to Romani survival and struggle.
Our history is a history of exclusion, of lack of recognition, of denial. The world should start listening to what we have to say, and take advantage of our potential for resistance, resilience and cooperation because the enemy, sisters and brothers, is very strong, powerful and angry. And our enemies grow ever more furious when they see that their words are losing credibility.
If there is one thing we are all aware of, it is that we win the fight together or we will lose all of it. Nobody can be left out. Cooperation has brought us all to this point in history, and only mutual aid, sorority (phenjalipe we say in Romani) will allow us to survive. Women can teach everyone –Romani women are the role models of resistance and survival, of courage and cooperation. We are all in the same boat, and we must keep in mind our history –Romani history, Romani women’s history, our stories—the support and wisdom of our ancestors, our predecessors and sisters. Without them, without their and our stories, we would not have support, knowledge or strategy. We would not have justice.
Open your minds because the road to our freedom will not come on back of the white horse of a charming prince, we have known for some time. It will not come from only from the books of Simone de Beauvoir and other invaluable white feminists. We know those references, and we appreciate and value those ideas and struggles. The world –and we ourselves—must have the courage and intelligence to know our theories, our stories, our history and our struggles. Working together, we will be closer to achieving true equality.
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