Even though usually portrayed as oppressed figures, secondary characters in their fathers, brothers or husbands’ stories, there are Roma women out there who fight each day and are doing remarkable activism work or are actively involved in politics, the Arts or other social aspects of life. În this episode we will learn about two more of this kind and about how they changed the way society sees roma women.

 

Dr. Nicoleta Bițu is the director of the RomArchive committee and co-president of the European Institute of Roma Art and Culture, and is currently the president of the Democratic Federation of Roma in Romania. She is one of the leading activists for Roma and women’s rights in Romania and has been doing so for over 25 years. She began her career in the 1990s, under the guidance of Nicolae Gheorghe, a renowned Roma activist and sociologist, during the inter-ethnic conflicts that were taking place across the country.
Nicoleta Bițu is a recognized and published expert in her field, having collaborated with organizations for Roma CRISS, Open Society Foundation, Council of Europe and European Commission, Romano ButiQ. She was part of the team of the Museum of Roma Culture.
Former president of the Democratic Federation of Roma in Romania and of the Centre for Roma Studies at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies, Nicoleta Bițu now lives in London, where she works as a Roma homeless rights activist.

 

Cătălina Oltean is the first Roma woman to be part of the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD). Originally an activist for human rights, her career started when during her first year of university, she found out about the 500 years of slavery endured by the Roma community, a revelation that pushed her to volunteer for NGOs that help the community. For 11 years, she worked for the Agenția „Împreună” pentru Dezvoltare Comunitară NGO, where she organised workshops on inclusive education, identity and non-discrimination for projects such as “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, in collaboration with UNICEF Romania. In 2020, she ran and was elected as part of the Executive Council for the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD). At just  33 years old.

„Discrimination is real and I have felt it since I was a little girl because I am also a bit darker skinned and come from a Roma family of music players” she says.
Cătălina Olteanu, who recently turned 36, was born in a village in Giurgiu county, one of the poorest counties in Romania, in a family with no material resources. She was brought up by her grandparents, who, despite not having any school degree, saw the education as the only way for their granddaughter to escape the environment in which she grew up.
“I was very lucky with my grandparents because they brought me up and because they really wanted me to go to school and succeed”, says Cătălina, with tears in her eyes.
At 15, she left the village where she was born and moved to Bucharest, to the boarding school she had just entered. She didn’t have an easy life here either. She wanted very much to study law, but was discouraged by one of her teachers. The reason is still etched in her mind: “it’s too difficult for someone like you” she was being told. After high school, she volunteered in Zalău, including working with disabled children.

For a while she didn’t even want to talk about her identity until she saw that the University of Bucharest had a department in her mother tongue, Rromani. It wasn’t until her first year of university, when she was 20, that she learned about the history of her people and the 500 years of slavery. “When I learned that, I came out of the classroom crying. I was a good student at history, meaning I had an A average, but I never knew that,” she adds.

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