Monday, 09 March 2015 00:00

Muslim Romani Women’s Experience Must Be Intersectional

Written by 
Rate this item
(5 votes)

Different theories argue that the notion of “religion” is not a cultural universal but rather developed under specific historical and political conditions. “Religion”, they say, is a social construction. Recently, during my work stay in Spain, in a Catholic –majority county, most of the Spanish Roma were discussing the role of the religion in their families or communities. Usually the first question was “How many times do you visit a Culto?” (An evangelic church which in the last decades is growing up among Spanish Roma), implying that I, as a Romani woman automatically should visit a Roma church. The negative surprise came when actually I answered that I do not go to the Culto, “I am a Romani Muslim woman”, I said. Frozen face expression! “That’s a problem”, one of them said. I was struggling with my thoughts and efforts to understand why for Roma that live in Spain is unknown the existence of Roma Muslim, until I understood that the identity, including the Roma identity, particularly the gender and religion construction is based on the created Western narratives about which religion “should be practiced” or which one is “better”, or what means to be a “real woman”. Although Dubuisson respects the study of beliefs and belief-systems as legitimate, he argues that the word “religion” is too tense with ideology and too Western in its associated meaning to be useful.

As a Romani Muslim woman and a feminist, in this paper I discuss the urgent need of addressing the intersectional experience of Romani women for being Roma, women and for practicing different religion than the dominated one, their experience inside and outside Romani and non-Romani communities. I also look upon Western construction of narratives about “saving oppressed” Muslim women and how actually those narratives not only have consequences on accepting the diversity with-in the Roma communities, but also increase the multiplied discrimination faced by Romani Muslim women. In other words, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Romani women are subordinated. As follows, in this paper, I also present literature opinions that establish the adjustment of broadly accepted understandings of the above mentioned concepts.


The lack of intersectional approach while addressing Romani women’s experience

Despite the recent movement of scholarship on intersectionality, as well as a flow in feminist scholarship on Islam in feminist studies, feminist research has yet to adequately engage with the role of religion in intersectionality, which entails attention to Romani women, theorizing in feminisms, recognition of ways in which religions have been racialized, and recognition of sentimental attachment to faith. This paper claims that there should be initiatives that will include the more inclusive notion of intersectional discrimination when planning interventions redress the disadvantages of Romani women.

Kimberle Crenshaw (2000) has argued that intersectional subordination is mainly unseen for women who experience numerous forms of discrimination, and it is inadequately addressed, imagining intersectionality as a critical interference into traditional “identity politics” (1994: 179). McCall (2005) suggests that intersectionality means “the relationships among multiplied dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (p.171). Even though in theoretical terms, it appears that intersectionality offers unlimited chances to the specificities of and diversity among Romani women and consideration of ways to act in contradiction of the complex inequalities they face, however, this paper learns that, regardless of the theoretical arguments, in research on Roma and Romani women, intersectionality has been used only limitedly (Kocze, 2011). In other words, researchers, academics, feminists, policy-makers sometimes have looked at intersections of gender and race, unemployment and gender, or gender and poverty, but almost never looked at gender and religion at once among Roma population living in Europe.


Roma Muslims

In Republic of Macedonia where the majority of Roma are Muslim, it is thought that there Roma have conserved most of the identity elements. The existence of Roma Muslim communities in the Balkans is quite frequent, in some countries Roma are also called as Turkish Roma, or Xoroxane/Xoraxane Roma (Council of Europe, Factsheet on Roma). The history of Muslim Roma in the Balkans is quite long and detailed, however, I will not stress it in this analyse since the focuses of this paper is on the lack of intersectionality when discussing Roma and Romani women’s experience and Western created narratives and perceptions about Muslim religion.The first arrival of the Roma Muslims in the Balkans is linked to the Ottoman conquest and the Establishment of the Ottoman Empire during 14th and 15th century (Council of Europe, Factsheets on Roma). Some of them were directly taking part in auxiliary army units or as craftsmen serving the army. Nowadays, major cultural minorities of Muslim Roma are found in Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Croatia , Southern Russia - the Caucasus, Greece (a small part of Muslim Roma focused in Thrace), Egypt, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania (a very small Muslim Romani group exist in the Dobruja region of Romania). Because of the kin ease of migration in modern times, Muslim Roma could be found in other parts as well. Recently, I’ve read a report named What Europe thinks of Muslims, Jews and Roma published in, 2014,  in which there were number of interesting points, some sections showed the diverse negative views about Muslims, Jews and Roma, in the regions, however, the mostly negative views in Europe were towards Roma people (see the chart on the left side below).



After careful examination of these charts, could we suppose that the percentages presented in these charts both for Roma and Muslim people would be higher if the research questions were about Roma Muslims? In fact yes, if we just take into consideration the mistaken understandings about gender, the latest happenings with Muslims in Europe and the everyday hate speech against Roma, especially Romani women, we would easily come to the conclusion that a Romani Muslim woman would be the most discriminated person in Europe.  Actually, different research show that the Roma Muslims of Bulgaria suffer some of the worst racism and islamophobia on record, the discrimination is institutional with Roma families being denied access to education, employment, housing and healthcare. “Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam” (see Amnesty International, Marco Perolini, expert of discrimination). With a struggle to settle the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the multifarious women, one can see that the problem of gender inequality cannot be set at the feet of religion alone. 

It should be also note that when discussing the diversity among Roma people from Europe, due to the lack of knowledge, access and the existed prejudices about the Muslim religion, as well as the established vision of “what it means to be a Roma” in some countries, very often discriminatory actions come from Roma communities. Those communities in which individuals make religion to be seen or understood as a close minded universal religion.



In this paper I discussed the need of addressing the intersectional experience of Romani women and addressed the issues of failing the possibility of not only addressing but also understanding the manners in which Romani women are subordinated. Despite the fact that Roma are already considered as the most marginalized group in Europe, Muslim Roma and Romani women feel discrimination inside and outside the communities, a discrimination shaped by a confluence of powerful forces, political background and language…. it is demotion that is both individually and systemically superior. Significantly, I claim that there should be approval of differences among women in the world, which is approach of different circumstances, to understand and respect the cultural differences.

Regardless of the recent drive of intersectionality, we have been witnessing that feminist research has yet to effectively engage with the role of religion in intersectionality, which entails attention to Romani women.

Abu-Lughod, Lila (2002) Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others. American Anthropologist Vol.104 (30)

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color, in Stanford Law Review 43(6), pp: 1241-79.

Đorđević, D. B. and D. Todorović. 2004. Roma Religion and Religious Customs. Niš, Serbia.

Kocze, Angela (2009) Missing Intersectionality Race/Ethnicity, Gender and Class in Current Research and Policies on Romani women in Europe. Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality, in Signs 30(3), pp: 1771-1800.

Piatti-Crocker, Adriana and Tasch, Laman (2012). Unveiling the Veil Ban Dilemma: Turkey and Beyond. Journal of International Women's Studies, 13(3), pp. 17-32. 

Shabana Mir, 17 Reason why women wear headscarves. Open Society Institute, Essay

Surdu, M. & Surdy, L. (2006) Broadening the agenda: the status of Romani women. Budapest: Open Society Institute.

Sztojka, Katalin (2000) Romani women in Romani and majority societies in Roma Rights 1/2000, p. 33. Budapest: European Roma Rights Center.


Online source:

Council of Europe, Factsheet on Roma

Racism and faith discrimination, Muslim Discriminated Against for Demonstrating their Faith, 25 April, 2012



Read 641818 times Last modified on Monday, 09 March 2015 19:41

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.