October 20, 2022 for many women in Bulgaria is probably just another monotonous day, but for more than 50 Roma women it was the beginning of a new period of their lives. They gathered in the “Europe” hall of Veliko Tarnovo University “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”. The occasion was the National Gathering of Roma women under the title “Girls with dreams: Let’s turn the page!” The university is also a place for Roma women!”. At the meeting we discussed the challenges each Roma woman face, the challenges she faces in her work and everyday life, the strong role models to motivate the participants to face the difficulties along the way of education, opportunities and the importance of mothers supporting their children.
Тhe Vice President of Bulgaria Iliyana Iotova, the Rector of Veliko Tarnovo University “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” Prof. Dr. Hristo Bonjolov, Neiko Genchev – Deputy Mayor of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality and the Regional Governor of Veliko Tarnovo Region Georgi GuguchkovThe were special guests who honored and supported the initiative to empower Roma women to seek a path to a better future.
And while the men left the meeting after the official welcoming, Iliyana Iotova stayed almost for the whole Gathering and took active part in the discussions with Roma women. Her presence and active participation was a particularly strong message. In her welcoming words, Vice President Iotova stated that “we must understand the traditions of the Roma. To be able to know more about their history, about their livelihood, what really excites them, about what they revere, about the relationships inside the home. Only then, if we know this essence, only then will we be able to find the good suggestions, we will be able to be adequate.” She strongly welcomes the willingness of Veliko Tarnovo University to host this meeting. “It is very important that young people are stimulated. A young person is stimulated and educated through the Bulgarian education – at school and then at the university. This is the natural place for such discussions. Our teachers work here in this building. There is no one better than them to give good advice, to tell us about history… and through history and the past to say “this is how it is decided and you can make the appropriate decisions”. We must make sure that young people see their future in Bulgarian education […] They say that a person’s life is a blank sheet of paper. Everyone writes this white sheet of paper themselves. It is as long as we are allotted. But what is written inside depends largely on each of us. I would very much like, not only for you, for every Bulgarian girl, for every Bulgarian young person, to use the conjunction “and” more often when writing this page. And I get up in the morning early, and I see that I slept well, that I look good, and I want to go to school, and I want to go to work, and I want to tell about my life today, and I want to meet many friends today, and I want tonight, when I come home, to have something to tell my children, and I want to have something to brag to my parents about, and I want to have more and more colleagues to be friends with, I want to have more friends. Let this little conjunction “and” be used more and more. Because that’s how dreams are born. And that’s how dreams come true.”
“When a person is ambitious and when s/he really looks positively at the world and wants to show that s/he is also ready, s/he is not another dough, s/he is not different from everyone else. On the contrary, how s/he will realize her/himself tomorrow depends on his/her own strength and self-knowledge. In order to achieve all this, we also need something very important. This is the example we follow. We have often talked with “Amalipe” and other civil society organizations about how important this campaign is “for everyone who follows – pass it on!” If some have already achieved their successes, they attract more and more people…. let’s pass on what we’ve learned, let’s tell each other without hesitation where we’ve gone wrong, where we’ve failed, because that’s how we’ll make sure that the next one who comes after us and who takes this example and who wants to continue in our direction , to protect him/her from the mistakes we have already made and lost a lot of time because of them. To tell what we have achieved, to give him/her advice, to give him/her a hand… Long may this campaign continue.”
“It is good to show the good examples, not to paint only with poisonous paints what happens in Roma families with Roma girls: we already have a significant number of examples. When we show these good examples, we tell everyone: you have an alternative, you can count on a helping hand, you have people who will help you and you have every chance to make your dreams come true. Let’s do it together. There is no reason why anyone should try to lock them up in certain, very conservative societies, in ghettos, they are one of us,” said Vice President Iotova. “These problems cannot be dealt with in a campaign way. This is even dangerous and does not produce any results. We need a policy of small steps, to support mediators, to support civil society extremely much, because it is on the ground. “, the vice president also pointed out.
Teodora Krumova – Program Director of the Amalipe Center shared that “the purpose of the meeting is to talk about who we are, where we come from. what is behind and ahead us.We are not starting from scratch, and in order to have the opportunity to organize this meeting, many other Roma women have already taken the first steps.”
Prof. Dr. Hristo Bonjolov, Rector of Veliko Tarnovo University “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”, shared that “the most important thing is the unification of our society. We must somehow bet on this education, because you see that in today’s world without education a person cannot realize himself. Here the emphasis should be on everyone. … There is no other window to the world than education. Whatever the differences, we have to commit to this school, together with the parents, to educate the children so that we do not end up in these cases… I am sure of success, but it comes with unity, not with division.”
The deputy mayor of the municipality of Veliko Tarnovo, Neiko Genchev, said that education is the key to solving the problems. “I really like the name of the initiative that you have chosen, because a person who has dreams has not given up. The one who has dreams has a future. The Roma woman has a future, although she sometimes has to fight on two fronts, because gender inequality is a fact, both in domestic and social relations. Some Roma women live as they did 500 years ago. A society in which a part of it lives in the past cannot move forward. On the other hand, we have a huge potential in the face of these smart and beautiful women – the Roma women… the best means for the advancement of women in society is education.” “We achieve everything because we know it can be achieved, nothing is impossible! If you have a goal to strive for, you can always achieve it“, shared Teodora Krumova. She expressed her gratitude for the support from the institutions, without which achieving the set goals would be much more difficult. “The idea of the meeting is to leave here with specific ideas and plans that each of us can make in our own locality. Going back to pass that on to the girls and women we work with.”
In the second module, the participants shared real examples and difficulties they have faced so far. The difficulties they encounter during their work as educational mediators or teachers, the early marriages, the still existing domestic violence not only against Roma women, but also children. The girls shared what inspires them, what helps them survive the hard stories they face. The general opinion was how important it is to know that you are not alone, that there is someone to call when you need, someone to share successes with, but also problems. It turned out to be extremely useful that we were able to adapt and continue our meetings during the pandemic, albeit over a virtual coffee. And, of course, they all emphasized the power of role models.
Vice President Iliyana Iotova expressed her gratitude and admiration for the women who took part in the event. “In just one hour, you managed to make me believe that this country has a future, because you all follow the political situation. My team and I feel like we are in an oasis of kindness, of positive news and of many warm-hearted, energetic and ambitious and most importantly – very good people who are doing something most important and giving young people faith, faith not just in something, and most importantly – in yourself. That they can literally walk through walls, change their lives, break stereotypes, fight long-established dogmas and show that this fight and this struggle is worth it, because they all have a better destiny than what they are what their grandparents and parents expected or thought about… I have an observation that our grandparents lived well. The missing generation is our parents. And this does not apply only to the Roma community. This is a problem of our country as a whole… It is very commendable and one wants to help you because you are the people who disagree with it, grumble against it and want to change it.” Mrs. Iotova shared that the President’s institution is always open to signals. “We have the leverage and the means to contact the relevant authorities discreetly enough so that we don’t put anyone in danger…. I think there is more to be owed regarding your work. For years I have dealt with the topic of violence against women, not only in the Roma community. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made this problem even more drastic. The perpetrators felt unpunished. Women can’t go outside, they can’t complain, they can’t go to their workplace. This broke out as a second epidemic. In our society, these issues are not talked about…”
Silvia Stancheva – regional pedagogical coordinator for the districts of Shumen, Targovishte and Razgrad, presented data about the state of education of Roma women. The problems with early marriages, the importance of the parent-child relationship were discussed. “A mother is the person who loves her child the most and who can do anything for her. We as mothers need to show this to our children. And not for the children to say “I want to run away from home, that’s why I’m going to get married.” It is not known in the other house, in a new family, whether the child will be well, whether he will be so loved and cared for.
The topic of domestic violence in the Roma community was not forgotten either. The participants shared about cases of domestic violence not only with Roma women, but also with children. They shared that one of the most difficult parts of their work as educational mediators is precisely the topic of domestic violence. They indicated that victims need support, but the most important thing is for the victim herself to be willing to take action to end the abuse she and her children are suffering. The film “Turn the Page” produced by the “Amalipe” Center was also presented.
In the last session, the participants were divided into groups, and each of them had to present their strongest impressions from the national meeting of Roma women and their action plan until the end of the school year.
The meeting ended with lots of smiles and inspiration. The motivated Roma women expressed their joy at the new acquaintances they made during the few hours spent together in a joint photo.
AID has published the first video relevant to Roma women talking about Education in the framework of the RTransform project. This is one of many audio-visual materials that will be created to collect Roma women’s voices at the Roma Women Student Gatherings around Europe, which will include interventions and interviews with participants and experts. You can find it here
Central European University Budapest (CEU) – Hungary
The meeting was held in Budapest at CEU, the Central European University where 26 women participated.
The Central European University is one of the best universities in Hungary and offers great opportunities for students.
Most Roma girls don’t even know about this opportunity and don’t have the skills and education needed to enter. We managed to invite some friends who told the girls all the necessary information about this university. The girls had the chance to visit the building and meet some of the students studying there. Accommodation was also arranged for them in the dormitory of this university.
We tried to invite and address women with few opportunity to express their views on public issues. They chose a very important topic and it was very important that they were heard and that their message was passed . Our topic was the impact of the war in Ukraine and its consequences on our daily lives and access to services.
We celebrated the meeting by listening to each other, exchanging information, making suggestions and an evening of informal discussion and a dinner at a very nice place in Budapest where everyone could eat whatever they wanted.
The activity, which was attended by about 60 Roma women from different parts of Catalonia, had as its central theme Family Education.
Roma Women Student Gatherings are a pioneering activity organized by the Romani Association of Women Drom Kotar Mestipen, the first of which was held in 2000. Drom Kotar Mestipen is the first Roma women’s organization that existed in Catalonia.
If last October 2021 the 20th edition of the Gathering was held at the Rovira i Virgili University, in Tarragona, this Spring edition took place for the first time in the area of Terres de l’Ebre and Montsià, in the Catalan region of Tarragona. You can see more in the following video.
The main conference of the Gathering was delivered by Professor Carme García Yeste, Professor of the Department of Pedagogy at the University Rovira i Virgili, and director of the Consolidated Group recognized by the Catalan government, Methodology of Educational Research with Social Impact (MEDIS).
After the inaugural conference, the role model table was held, with the testimonies of Roma Women from different backgrounds. From vocational training students to undergraduate students, to women who are studying for their university access exams.
It should also be mentioned that during the Trobada, a childcare service was in operation. This space, run by members of the organization team and volunteers, was designed so that the little ones could enjoy themselves by doing different activities while their mothers took part in the Trobada.
The event was opened by Ms. Cesca Domènech i Ruera, Director General of Civic and Community Action of the Government of Catalonia; Mr. Adam Tomàs i Roiget, Mayor of Amposta; and Dr. Rosa Maria Kostic Cisneros, President of the Romani Association of Women Drom Kotar Mestipen.
In February 2022, Rosa Cisneros and Kauser Husain from Coventry University delivered an RTransform Workshop for the Widening and Participation team at Coventry University.
The session allowed for the RTransform team to present the project, discuss Successful Educational Actions, point to positive role models within the community, and highlight possible next steps. The session was titled: RTRransform: Improving Education for Gypsy, Roma, Travellers in the UK’s Higher Education System.
Rosa Cisneros (Coventry University) and Terezia Rostas (CYFP) delivered the RTranform Workshop on April 26th, 2022. The two met with the University of Sheffield staff and Faithstar team to support the education and teacher’s manual being developed that aims to discuss education and diversify sex education materials. Evie Muir from Sheffield University is tasked to create resources for teachers around Sex and Relationships, informed by parents of faith and culture. The research team reached out to Cisneros and Rostas to learn more about the RTransform project and the workshops.
In late April the online workshop was delivered to members of the research and teaching team and in Mid-May, the group will reunite to carry out an in-person workshop with grassroots Roma women from Sheffield, UK, where the National Coordination Committee including Lucia Mohamad will be present.
On the 10th of February, 2022 the RTransform UK team, which included Rosa Cisneros from Coventry University and Terezia Rostas from CYFP, helped develop the educational strand of their work. The workshop allowed the duo to meet and teach the Theatre Deli staff and to present the RTransform project and our work. The session opened up questions about engaging young Roma girls in their educational activities and highlighted how education is important to young people and the community. The workshop not only engaged the directors, key teachers, and facilitators of the educational side of Theatre Deli but also included the trustees and finance and marketing staff.
Drom Kotar Mestipen releases the video of the XX Roma Women Student Gathering of Catalonia, which took place last 23rd of October in the Catalan city of Tarragona. The activity, organized by the Romani Association of Women Drom Kotar Mestipen and hosted by the University Rovira and Virgili, gathered around 200 Roma women with the purpose of discussing education-related issues. The video shows some of the more important parts of the Gathering, such as the role model table, the main conference, or the working groups. DKM wants to thank all those who made this inspiring video possible.