They are also one of the most vulnerable groups in the face of coronavirus. These problems are truly important to solve, and for this purpose, the Association of Roma women “Romni voice” was established in Zaporizhzhia. Its head Anzhelika Belova told us about her experience in the topic and the reasons she decided to become a regional representative of the Ukrainian Women’s Congress in her city.
About the triple discrimination for Roma women and her personal way
I was a student when I had received a scholarship from Roma educational foundation. Due to many components of the program by the International Renaissance foundation, I was plunged into the process of public activities. We were explained what stereotypes meant, what discrimination was, how to become a leader. I got that it was familiar for me because of the things that I and my parents have gone through. That’s why, as my husband says, I picked up the train and started the journey.
Last year I launched an NGO “Association of Roma women “Romni voice”” and now I understand the problems this vulnerable group – Roma community and Roma women especially – is faced with.
They suffer from multidiscrimination. It is caused by gender inequality because she is a woman, she is a Roma woman. And she is inside the Roma community. Which sets tight limits for the rights of Roma women.
I had been working in “Lach Dromi” for 5 years before launching my own NGO – it is a right defending Roma organization. There I understood that when you were in your informational bubble, you communicated only with the Roma organization discussing the same topic, then you needed to widen the circle of people interested in the idea of gender equality, and share your experience with different social groups. For example, there are girls with disabilities among us in the regional Ukrainian Women’s Congress network, together with the people who represent other vulnerable groups of people.
Photo from Anzhelika Belova’s Facebook page
I joined Ukrainian Women’s Congress because my greatest motivation is to communicate with more people and explore new aspects of gender policies together with promoting the interests of vulnerable people, especially women in our Zaporizhzhia region.
«Women do not come to organizations headed by men»
I’d been working with Roma people for 5 years at “Lacho Drom”. We had many appeals from women, although women regularly do not come to organizations headed by men. It is more comfortable for them to appeal to women according to Roma tradition. That’s why we decided to establish a women’s organization. Our goal is to make leaders from women, develop their leadership skills, and conduct different educational courses to improve women’s economic state.
One more important thing is that we have “closed” meetings where we can fairly discuss the issues of gender inequality and gender violence. It was impossible in “Lacho Droma”, for example.
There are some specific issues that are inappropriate to reveal in men’s presence according to cultural traditions again. One of them is the topic of physical violence. So at first we need at least to start the dialogue about the wrong things about relationships in society. We need to talk about the wrong approach when a woman is raised being forced to get married at 16 or 18. When other girls get an education and start their careers, a Roma young woman gets married and gives birth to a child. And it is obvious that when she is 25 or 30 it is really difficult for her to make up for this time.
Attack of a man armed with a knife
Nobody records hate crimes all over Ukraine because note 161 of the Criminal Code is ambiguous – it doesn’t say a word about what is the hate crime.
I experienced the situation when I was attacked. It happened on 24, October 2019. I asked my husband to stay with our child and left to arrange one of the events. The meeting lasted for about 2 hours, I was coming home at 12 o’clock and got attacked by a man with a knife at the entrance of a house.
I do not utterly understand the reason. And it still frightens me. That could be caused by my activities. There are many people who do not like our activities – so-called right-wing radical groups. That could be the reason that I’m a woman. And the third possible reason for that attack is that my husband does: he fights corruption as a public activist.
The attacker was arrested in a truly short time. The police did nice work, and my friends also helped the case when shared the post about the attack on social media. He was arrested at the same day due to an anonymous call.
The trial is still ongoing, we’ve already had 5 or 6 courts. The accused pleads not guilty, and it is impossible to prove that he had a motive to attack me because I’m a woman or public activist. He just says nothing.
The state’s national Roma strategy
We had many meetings with NGOs and created a new action plan till 2030. It has been delivered to local authorities already, and departments have started to add their comments.
Strategy (National Roma strategy of Ukraine) existed before, but it required an action plan. That’s why it was ineffective because it had no clear indicators. But even in that imperfect form, the document let us come to the places where we could not even approach before.
Photo from Anzhelika Belova’s Facebook page
Simply – we could not come to police with the problem of Roma nationality discrimination and say they were attacked. But when we got the strategy it became much easier to talk to authorities and local managers… They are ready to cooperate now.
We need the new document to enforce the social and political participation of the Roma community. It is particularly important to have facilitators of Roma interests among local authorities. That is right and that is obvious.
There is also a component of gathering the information. We consider it a vital one. We talk about statistics and involving NGOs. It’s clear that we are not able to perform a full census, but we could get more or less true statistics with the help of Roma mediators. We need this huge analysis to understand how many Roma live here, what help would they need. If we could perform that all over Ukrainian territory, we would have understood which tool and algorithms to use to overcome educational, medical, or job issues.
As for me, it is important to implement the mechanism for easier application for personal docs. Many Roma people do not have any docs (15% of all) and we need that easier procedure for parents to get their passports and birth certificates and do this for their kids.
Main challenges for Roma women
What are these challenges? They are access to education, the possibility of self-realization, and making free choices – it is not available now. It is relevant everywhere: whether to have child or not, get married or not, choose a husband, your profession, an age for marriage. There are many challenges, but I mentioned the basic ones.
There is not any Roma woman in Verkhovna Rada, but we have Zemfira Kondur, who works in the Council of Europe as an ambassador of tolerance. But she is mostly occupied in rights defense activities of international foundations and other important structures.
There were women who ran for local elections in 2020 – Maryna Bublyk from Chernihiv, Eleonora Kulchar from Uzhhorod. But no one got a mandate. Still, that was our victory, because so many women – almost half from all candidates – were women. In my opinion, this is the result of NGOs’ activities. For example, “Chirikli” has had political schools for the past 2 years.
You know, that would be great if the program had worked. It is hard to involve many people and many regions when the activities are inspired by NGOs. But when we are together with the state authorities, things change, and the laws help to solve the problems of different people.
If we talk about education, I have to mention that we had a poll among women in Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk region, and 40% of them have an incomplete general educational level (it is fewer than 9 classes), and 20% have no education at all.
The influence of pandemic on Roma community and women
The pandemic had a huge influence on women and most of them (60% in Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk region, according to our research) work in trading and sales. When the lockdown came, most of them lost their incomes. The bigger part of the Roma community still works unofficially, and there are many people who gather scrap metal, fluff, nuts, worked at local markets.
We try to develop their entrepreneurs’ skills. We launched business-planning courses, manicure lessons for girls to master this specialty. Also, we had SMM educational programs. All these activities are aimed at the self-development of Roma women.
When the pandemic started, we had been working on the project of delivering humanitarian aid to the elderly Roma who often lives with their children. We gave them masks, antiseptics, and brochures about self-defense from the virus. People were glad to get that, I saw no opposition from their side. So this is an issue of the social and economic matters, because many people lost their incomes, wages and that was not an easy period for them.
Photo from Anzhelika Belova’s Facebook page
The second major problem we were faced during the pandemic was remote education. The kids-pupils who had no proper technical equipment for it, were just taken apart from the distant educational process.
How to get to know the Roma community
I offer you to join 2 our organizations. They are “Lacho Drom” and “Romni voice”. They are active in Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk region. You can send us a message, give us a call, or just come – we are open to people. We are on Facebook and Instagram.
There is also a great international organization “Chirikli” at the national level. They work with Roma women. They are called – International Roma women fund “Chirikli”.
Additionally, I wish you to watch the film “Remember”, which was produced with the support of the International Renaissance foundation. It is about the Roma genocide. There is also a film «To Be Equal: Untold Stories» and it has my story too. It is about women leaders – the way they live and the reasons they started their public activities.