Roma women’s voices and silences on unjust power regimes [Enikő Vincze]

This paper, presented at the 20th International Conference of Europeanists organized by the Council for European Studies (Amsterdam, 25-27 June 2013: Crises and contingency: states of (in)stability Panel: Romani activism, challenged democracies, contentious politics) aims at offering a general idea about how were “Roma women”  constructed as political subject in the context of the European Union, with special references to the example of Romania. [….]

 CES conf_roma activism_paper EV roma women_2013

The paper observes that during two decades after 1990, the political and policy discourses predominantly framed “Roma women” in the dichotomy of gender versus culture. As a response to the mainstream/ “male-stream” ethno-cultural Roma politics they were (self)conceived as women entitled to universal (women’s) human rights struggling, through their gendered positions, against the anti-Roma racism of the majority population and for a dignifying Roma identity. More recently, in the context of the current broader trends of EU policies regarding Roma one may observe that the “nation-builder” Roma politics is shadowed by a social agenda informed by inclusion policy. But the latter is not addressing class relations and the multiple dispossession of Roma (instead, it treats social exclusion by an approach that places poor Roma in-between individual failures and vulnerable groups), and treats “Roma women” (and Roma altogether) as potential labor force useful for the market economy. Parallel with this, nowadays one may observe a process sustained both by the state and the institutionalized civil society, which de-politicizes poverty pretending that the huge social problems encountered by a big part of the population are a kind of accident or are the outcomes of individual failures of adapting to the market economy and might be handled, at the best, with a project-based approach. Despite of these trends, there are signs in the Romanian public sphere that show the political potential of Roma women. The paper talks about it in the context of the relationship between Roma and non-Roma feminists, and both of the need to fill-in the class gap in women’s movement and to build connections between structural and political intersectionality.

Eventually, in its conclusions, my analysis argues about the (potential) transformation of Roma women (activists) into political actors and about the need for re-politicizing poverty intersected with other (gendered and racialized) forms of marginalization. In this matter, my analytical frame is also based on the approaches within anthropology of policy, according to which policies are not neutral instruments for solving problems, but are forms of power that “organize society and structure the ways people perceive themselves and their opportunities” and are having a contribution “to empower some people and silence others” (Shore and Write 1997:7). In this sense one should identify and challenge – both in research and social activism – the political convictions underlying particular policies that address marginalized Roma (women) or the absence of other policies rooted in specific views about the causes and remedies of (intersectional) marginalization. By this, ultimately he/she might contribute to a Roma politics addressing how – while shaping and sustaining each other – classism, racism and sexism create and maintain socio-economic and cultural systems that dispossess poor Roma of opportunity structures to control their means of living, bodies or representation.

Power point presentation at the conference: EV paper CES conf_Romani activism panel[2]

Fragments from the conference “Romani women for equal opportunities”, June 2011, Timisoara, Romania