Origins of Roma organization in our region
First written traces of Roma organization in our region date to 1920s with an establishment of the first informal women’s singing society in Roma district Čair ma’la in Niš (Serbia). Members, women of different age groups performed in front of Roma and non-Roma audience in various cities of Yugoslavia.
Even though there is no written evidence, it is well known that Roma women were a part of antifascist actions as well as Antifascist Women’s Movement (AFŽ).
Since the 60’s, Roma folk dance companies across Yugoslavia had active Roma women participants, but that was not recorded, either. In folk dance companies men had public exposure and women were represented mostly as dancers, all the while they held important roles in organizing.
During the period of clashes and suffering in the 90’s in Serbia, new strength of women’s resistance rose amidst overall nationalism and misogyny. Idea of women’s human rights has received a new dimension via women’s activism in Roma, women’s, and youth organizations. Roma women’s activism shed light on marginalized groups and on obvious everyday discrimination suffered by the Roma women. During this time, local human rights reference handbook added the “double discrimination” entry.
Definition of double discrimination describes how Roma women receive such treatment as women and in the same time, as minority, marginalized ethnic group. It soon became clear that this term had to be replaced with “multilayer discrimination” or “intersectionality”. This emphasizes that discrimination happen across multiple systems, such as class, sex, sexual orientation, religion, health status, etc.
Forming of Roma Women’s Network
A group of women formed a collective called Women’s Space, in 1997 in Niš.
This group recognized that consciousness about multilayered discrimination and problems of Roma women lacked in the visible civil and women’s sector. In the same time, Roma Women’s Center Bibija becomes established. Activists of this center courageously entered Roma communities across the city and later, beyond. During 2000, Kragujevac Roma activists in charge of improvement of Roma status, formed Roma Informative Center – program that included Roma women as well. Next, organization Young Roma Explorers was formed. Their headquarters were in Stara Pazova at first, later transferred to Žabalj. Women activists in this program create and perform women’s programs. In Novi Sad, organization Amarilis starts working around this time and it serves Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women.
There is also Humanitarian Roma society in Niš, which focuses on distribution of humanitarian packages and empowerment of children, youth and women. Society Sastipe in Vranje works on improvement of Roma women’s health. There are also other organizations, like Dukat in Kruševac, Youth Center in Valjevo and Union of Roma students in Novi Sad.
Even though the networking idea dates back to the 90s, our first Network meeting occurred on December 2nd and 3rd 2004.Roma Women’s Center Bibija (Belgrade,Serbia) organized a founding meeting of Roma Women’s Network. Fourteen Roma women activists from different organizations with women’s programs, developed a strategic plan for Network’s work as well as systems of inclusion of Roma women in The Decade of Roma Inclusion.
The Network Today
Some of the initial organizer of The Network are not active anymore. Some organizations changed their name and structure. However, in just a few years, number of women activists, Roma women organization and initiatives grew exponentially. The Network is 25 organizations strong today and initiatives cover entire Serbian territory. New activists are constantly joining us and our goal is to push minority and gender issues and understanding all the way to a political platform.
Inside of The Network there are subgroups that encompass activists in the region, such as: Roma Women of Vojvodina, Banat Network, Activist Network of South Serbia “Together We Can”, Roma Women of Belgrade.
We fight for systemic solutions of Roma women’s problems. Accomplishment of women human rights. For education, work, employment and economic strengthening. Improvement of health preventions. Against family violence and human trafficking. We are for Roma women participation in public and private life, cultural development and many other aspects that create the foundation of human rights and dignity.