Romani women face discrimination because of cultural stereotypes, lecturer says

Natalie Sullivan

Despite recent advances in human rights laws worldwide, laws for Romani women still allow discrimination because of cultural stereotypes, said a guest speaker on campus Friday. 

Human rights activist Alexandra Oprea spoke about the subordination and lack of reproductive rights for Romani women, and how their experience parallels with that of minority women in the U.S. The Romani, also known as Gypsies, are an ethnic group that originated in India but now live mainly in parts of Europe and the Americas.

Ian Hancock, linguistics professor who is Romani, said he believes the Romani’s history of migration has subordinated them and made them subject to discrimination. 

“They’re a population with roots in Asian language and culture but existing primarily in the West, which has created problems since day one,” Hancock said. “They’re eternal outsiders. They have no country, no army [and] no government to belong to.”

Oprea, who is Romani, said she believes discrimination toward the Romani arises because of their poor economic and social status. According to Oprea, they are the poorest ethnic group in Europe, and 80 percent of Roma in Romania and Bulgaria live on fewer than $4.30 per day. Their literacy rates are also among the lowest in the world: Only 31.7 percent of Roma in Europe have finished primary school, according to Oprea. 

Because of these social and economic factors, Romani women have few legal rights, Oprea said. During childbirth, Romani women are often forced to sign consent forms for sterilization procedures, even though they cannot read, according to Oprea. She said this discrimination exists because of cultural stereotypes about Romani women. 

“The rape of Romani women isn’t considered a crime because of this Jezebel trope [of the Roma],” Oprea said. “People see Gypsy women as ‘welfare queens,’ sexually promiscuous and irresponsible. 

The discrimination and subordination Romani women face parallel that of minority women in the U.S., Oprea said. 

“Like African-Americans and Native Americans, Roma have a long history of subordination in the hands of white supremacy,” Oprea said. “Just as the rape of black women by white slave masters was essential to the perpetuation of the system of slavery in the U.S., the rape of Romani women was essential to the system of slavery in Romania.”

Angel Fuhre, Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies senior  said she did not realize the extent of the discrimination Romani women experience. 

“It was shocking to me, to think that this is 2014, and all of this is still going on,” Fuhre said.

Oprea said more support is still needed for Romani women — both in the U.S. and worldwide. 

“We don’t have a Romani civil rights organization in the U.S,” Oprea said. “There needs to be more laws protecting Romani women and avenues for outside support.”