Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

The Amazing Invisibility of Roma Women

29 Jul

Yesterday, the other Dzeno intern and I went looking for an exhibit displaying photos of Roma women. Our office thought it was unimportant, but still interesting enough to send us, just for our own education. We wandered around and around, down tiny alleyways and winding streets. We finally found the address, and an exhibit of photographs, but it wasn’t about Roma women at all. There was only one picture of women, and the rest of the small exhibit covered Chernobyl victims.

We were almost certainly at the wrong place. But this fruitless quest for images of Roma women seems to represent my week here at Dzeno. I am, unquestionably, a feminist. I believe that women deserve both equal chances and equal choices. I don�t mean to be the arrogant outsider criticizing another culture here, but it seems to me that Roma women have neither the same chances or the same choices as Roma men. And what’s even more sad, they seem unaware that they might deserve better.

This whole discussion started this week when we received a call for grant proposals from the UN Fund to end Violence Against Women. Although (being a very discouraged grant writer at this point) I thought that it was a long shot for Dzeno to apply, I suggested that to the office we come up with a project as a good way both to get money, to broaden Dzeno’s profile and possibly to have an impact on the female Roma population of the Czech Republic.

I was unprepared for the resistance I encountered to the idea. “It’s outside of our scope,” I was told, or “Roma women aren’t ready for that sort of thing” and “it’s not their priority.” As Dzeno is a pretty capable, liberal environment, I was completely taken aback that while they were quite willing to humor the whims of an American intern and discuss the issue with me at great length, they clearly feel completely unprepared to take on such a sensitive issue in public.

Even before coming, I had heard several things about the situation of Roma women that were disturbing. Stories of forced childhood marriages and stories of second class citizenship. Roma women like to be beaten, apparently: it’s the way Roma men express their love. Of course, all of this depends on the place and the individual. But in general, Roma women seem to be the lowest of the low. Intellectually, I knew this before coming. But I didn’t really think about it. It just seems impossible to me that, anywhere in Europe, the issue of violence against women can still be shrouded in such silence, and such shame.

Before writing this blog, I quickly googled out Roma women’s organizations. There just aren’t that many of them, and those that exist haven’t really even scraped the surface on the issue of violence against women. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Roma women aren’t active in promoting their rights. It’s the fact that no one has taken on the challenge of violence against Roma women that bothers me. It’s like this problem is truly invisible.

Call me culturally insensitive, but I truly believe that women don’t deserve to be beaten, and that violence is not an acceptable way of showing affection. Someone needs to stand out on this issue and let Roma women know that they too have rights, and that the rights of Roma women are human rights too.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jul 29th, 2005

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