One of the most important activities that we have developed in our history is the First International Congress of Roma Women “The Other Women”.
It was a Congress led by Roma women and organized by the Drom Kotar Mestipen, which took place from the 8th to 10th October 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.
303 Roma women from 15 different countries: Spain, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, France, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, England, Italy, Macedonia, Portugal, Serbia and Ukraine attended. They met to discuss and discuss the difficulties they face and how to deal with it by finding common solutions.
The congress was structured in three main axes: education, labor market and feminism.
On the first day, on Friday the 8th of October, the opening table of the Congress was formed by Ana Contreras as the president of the Drom Kotar Mestipen and Androulla Vassiliou, European Delegate for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth who participated through a virtual channel.
The first day was focused on education, and the main title of the conference was “I have a dream”. Different Roma women participated, explained their dreams and their goals to all the participants:
During the morning the topic explored was education and during the afternoon we discussed how to promote the inclusion of Roma women in the labor market. For both sessions, the same structure was respected: firstly, it was explained what research studies have been carried out and generated best practice results and a knowledge exchange in relation to educational success or about labor inclusion of the Roma community. The second day, Saturday the 9th of October, focused on two themes: education and employment. In the morning the theme was education and in the afternoon it was discussed how to promote the inclusion of Roma women in the labor market. For both sessions, the same structure was respected: first, it was explained what research has argued about educational success or about labor inclusion of the Roma community. Then, a roundtable was held on successful actions for both areas.
After that, the Roma women separated in several groups where they discussed what had already been presented until then: the challenges and how to face them. The idea of creating these working groups was to create a comfortable environment, where all Roma women would be motivated to join the debate, providing examples from their own communities or from their personal histories.
After working in these groups, a moderator collected the conclusions of each group, which were read in the joint session. For example, Roma women in Greece explained the following in the education work group:
The afternoon session was focused on employment and the main conference was entitled “What does the international community know about the practices that contribute to the inclusion of Roma people in the labor market?”
After the main conference, several experiences of good practices were presented in order to obtain the employment inclusion of Roma women. A Roma woman from Greece said:
During the last day, the Congress focused on “Roma Feminism of the 21st Century”. Nicoleta Bitu and Montse Sánchez-Aroca presented Roma feminism from history and from the conception of a dialogical feminism. A feminism that promotes solidarity among all Roma women and includes all their voices, betting on equality of differences. After the conference, a roundtable of experiences was held entitled “The Challenges of Today, the Opportunities of Tomorrow”. In this table participated four Roma women who narrated their different experiences working from a dialogical feminism; as they are working to overcome gender violence, to reconcile family life with their professional training, as they conceive of themselves as the engines of change for their own families and their community.
At the end of the session on Roma feminism, the closing ceremony of the Congress was held. It consisted in the reading of two documents that compiled the main issues that were discussed throughout these three days in the sessions: the conclusions of the Congress and the “Gitana Declaration of Barcelona”. The conclusions were presented by three Roma women: a young student from Navarre, Spain; a middle-aged woman from Portugal and an adult woman from Seville, Spain. One of the conclusions was with respect to education, an issue in which all women agreed, that all mothers or grandmothers are able to study. One woman’s comments, “My dream is to come to the next congress with a folder and be able to read for you what I have written”.
Another participant read the Declaration of the Roma People of Barcelona, a statement where all women commit to work together and conserve their struggles to improve their futures and the future of their community. Both documents, Conclusions and Declaration were sent to the European Commissioner of Education, who asked the participants and the Drom Kotar Mestipen to continue in this way.
During the three days of the Congress, 30 volunteers, Roma and non-Roma volunteers, supported the Drom Kotar Mestipen in organizing the Congress, carrying out all the tasks that needed to be done.