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Around 41 years passed since bell books addressed her iconic question to white feminists in the U.S. “Ain’t I a woman?”. 41 years and women of color still struggle to occupy their spaces within the feminist movements. We can talk about business, academia, politics, or any other sphere of life, women of color are still trying to find ways to raise their questions as bell hooks and others did.
Since the last decade, gender equality has gone through enormous changes and improvements. There are more and more women in business who gain amazing success and shape the way we think about leadership. It was not too long ago when women did not even have the right to vote, however nowadays we can see women prime ministers, EU commissioners, and public servants. Moreover, I guess I do not have to detail the undeniable contribution of women and feminist scholars in academia and science.
While feminism has been developing and changing, the world recognized the need to train gender experts. Fortunately, there are countless universities where special departments, trainings, and courses opened up for people who decide to dedicate their career to work on gender issues. According to my definition, a gender expert is a professional who has a grounded knowledge about how gender, race, religion sexuality, class etc. effect societal issues, and also puts this knowledge into practice by using a diverse range of mediums (art, scholarship, activism, politics, business, and beyond).
However, what we really do not want to see even within this still relatively small professional circle, is that regardless of our efforts to build an equal society, we still maintain inequalities within us.
I am a gender professional. I am a feminist. And nonetheless, Roma.
My identities shall never be taken away from me.
There is this clear picture in front of me, when I first entered the introduction class at the Gender Studies Department. People with a big smile, excited to start the session. And there is me, already feeling weird around these people. This feeling has followed me throughout my whole life. I have been the only Roma in most of the classrooms, so I am kind of used to this feeling. I even started to love it. The feeling of being an outsider is not so far from women of color and queer people. Many of us even mastered it and turned into our power. However, this feeling did not leave me after completing my master and starting to work. Here I am in this big world, questioned by white feminists about my own identity as a Roma person and a gender expert. Here I am, listening to women working on gender issues that have no clue about the experiences of Roma women and girls, and yet trying to educate me about it. When I offer my professional help, they respectfully thank my offer and send an unspoken message with their face “Do not worry, we got this!”. In those moments I ask myself “Ain’t I a gender professional?”. “Ain’t my knowledge and experience are as valuable as yours, or any other white woman’s?”.
These questions never let me alone in the past years. They are following me like my own shadow. However, it is not mine. It is the shadow and racism of those white feminists who do not see me equal to them, only because I proudly say I am Roma. And yes, I say it proudly because in my whole life people were trying to convince me otherwise. Trying to hold me down in the schools while I prepared for exams, when I spent hours writing articles in the library, or when I questioned their white lies. It is also painful to see the opportunities I never got. If you are a woman who knows what she puts on the table and still the table seems to be empty in the eyes of those who have the power to help you achieve your dreams, you know what I mean. You can work twice or even three times more than your privileged peers, you can have innovative ideas and great critical thinking skills, if the people in power do not value you are held back.
Roma gender professionals are an essential part of the society. Europe has no chance to ignore the more than 12 million Roma people throughout this continent, and the millions outside of Europe. Europe has no chance to not care about Roma women and girls, as they have been contributing to Europe’s cultural, political, gastronomical, academic, economic heritage. And the world should not hold back, but rather give Roma gender experts spaces and opportunities to use their unique and inevitable knowledge on gender issues. Because after all, we are not only Roma, women, and feminists, but we are also professionals who are the owner of knowledges that are essential to nowadays’ societies.
Therefore, the question should not be “Ain’t I a gender professional?” but rather “How can we cooperate together for a more equal society?” What is your answer?