11. 3. 2020.

Meet, Do Not Judge!

Radmila Nešić’s life, and partially her professional career in recent years have been marked by activism. She has been running Ternipe Association for ten years now, the association that currently coordinates the work of Roma Women Network. The Association was founded in Pirot, where Radmila lives, and works with programmes and projects for Roma integration in the society, with special emphasis on youth and women.

Radmila Nešić was only seventeen when she married. Her husband was barely 31 when he passed, and she was left alone with two children aged five and ten. The family tragedy forced Radmila to rise above her new living situation and do something for herself and her children. And she has done much more than that.

In recent years, her living and in part professional path was highlighted by activism. She has been on the forefront of the Ternipe Association for ten years now, the association that coordinates work of the Roma Women Network. The Association was founded in Pirot, where she lives, and works with programmes and projects for social integration of Roma, with special emphasis on youth and women.

During the Month of Roma Women Activism and the campaign “Early Marriage Does Not Constitute Roma Culture – Meet, Do Not Judge!” her Association, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, and with the support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, within the German Development Cooperation Project “Inclusion of Roma and Other Marginalised Groups in Serbia”, organised a two-day capacity building training in Belgrade for Roma Women Network members.

My uncle is a conductor, my sister is a violinist, my other sister a lawyer, and neither of them declare as Roma.
Radmila Nešić

The campaign particularly underlines early marriages, since the early marriage in itself constitutes a Roma stereotype and that topic has been brought into focus earlier this year by the abduction of Roma girl Monika Karimanović, with comments and media statements often loaded with prejudice that early marriages constitute Roma tradition rather than consequence of social and economic status of Roma women.

“By working in the field, we have recognised that motivation behind early marriages is poverty and vice versa, that poverty is a resulting consequence of early marriages. It is a vicious cycle”, Radmila Nešić explains.

“Presence of early marriages is a fact in some Roma communities, but not due to tradition or culture, but instead due to inaccessibility of education, employment and other social and economic circumstances present in daily lives of Roma men and women”, she explains.

Early marriages, in fact, are part of patriarchal culture everywhere, says Emeritus Professor and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Centre with the ACIMSI University in Novi Sad, Mrs. Svenka Savić.

“Serbia lacks current data on early marriages outside the Roma community, or even if it had any, they would not be published. Organising and working on early marriage prevention is essential, however, our education system prevents us from doing so. A road to change is incremental and requires significant education both within the Roma community and within all other communities, to arrive at an understanding”, says Svenka Savić.

The campaign on the occasion of the Month of Roma Women Activism includes series of activities and events throughout Serbia. Since one way to combat prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination is through positive examples, the focus of campaign activities is in showcasing positive experiences.

They are to illustrate successful stories in the media, on social networks, at round tables and workshops, during outdoor activities, film screenings and other activities, where women leaders and RWM activists are to be introduced along with many other Roma women and girls who embody positive examples and a triumph over prejudice – as they are educated, have not married as children, are attending universities, work…

Prejudices and stereotypes about Roma are abundant. This is not merely an assumption or an impression. It is a well-supported fact.
Petar Antić, GIZ

“Prejudices and stereotypes about Roma are abundant. This is not merely an assumption or an impression. It is a well-supported fact. The Labour Market Discrimination Survey, completed in 2019, suggests that more than 70% of employees agree or partially agree with the following statement: “Roma people dislike working”. This attitude is prevalent even among respondents who condemn discrimination. That further suggests the utter importance of helping people shed light on stereotypes and prejudice as habitually the main reasons for discrimination. Campaign’s message is therefore: “Meet, Do Not Judge!”, Petar Antić from GIZ explains.

Antić also underlines that the discrimination Roma women face is quite often multifaceted.

“Results of the survey Citizens’ Attitudes on Discrimination in Serbia from 2019 show that two thirds of citizens (69%) believe discrimination in Serbia is extensively present, while 50% see Roma as the ones most exposed to discrimination, right after women (33%).”

As in the entire Western Balkans region, members of the Roma minority in Serbia are among the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. Adding to structural disadvantages, the Roma minority also faces discrimination owing to stereotypes and prejudices.

From personal experience, Radmila Nešić explains that some of her family members steer clear from declaring themselves as Roma specifically out of fear of discrimination.

“My uncle is a conductor, my sister is a violinist, my other sister is a lawyer, and neither of them declare as Roma”, she explains.

On the other hand, stereotypes tend to be deeply rooted in some of the Roma minority. Roma women and girls suffer multiple discrimination and are facing patriarchal attitudes within their communities that prevent them from having equal access to education and employment, health and other social services.

“Can you even imagine the position of women over 50 looking for a job, and how difficult it is if they are Roma? If we add to the mix prejudice and stereotypes that Roma like to steal or dislike working, what are their real chances of finding a job? Prejudice and stereotypes stand as tremendous obstacles in exercising their basic human rights”, Antić concludes.