Addressing the Unmet Needs in Sexual and Reproductive Health of Brazil’s Roma Women

Brazil’s Roma women face persistent challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare, prompting them to mobilize for change. Despite their integral role in society, existing healthcare systems often overlook their needs.


Sara Macêdo

4/16/20242 min read

An inherent gap persists in addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of Brazil’s Roma women. Consequently, Roma women have taken it upon themselves to mobilize and influence public policy within their communities, aided by a comprehensive guidebook. The Roma community is an integral part of Brazil's societal fabric, contributing significantly to its cultural tapestry. Ensuring that their unique health requirements are met aligns with the foundational principles of the Unified Health System (SUS), often lauded as the world's leading health system. However, it's disheartening that the SUS fails to adequately address the healthcare needs of Roma women.

By bridging the divide between policy and practice, we endeavor to rectify this gap in the purported universality of public health guaranteed by the SUS. Our aim is to facilitate a reality where Roma women are assured their right to health, tailored to their customs and particularities.

Regrettably, national data concerning the sexual and reproductive health of Roma women is lacking, obscuring vital insights into their access to prenatal and reproductive care. This dearth of information underscores the urgent need to dismantle barriers to healthcare access.

Ongoing dialogues are essential to dismantle taboos and safeguard the rights of women who frequently encounter inequality and vulnerability. Moreover, it's imperative to acknowledge the complexity of understanding sexual and reproductive health from a Roma perspective.

Despite Brazil boasting the second-largest Roma population outside of Europe, spanning over 500 years, it's disconcerting that their presence remains overlooked. Roma women play a pivotal role not only in biological reproduction but also in the social reproduction of their communities. However, the disproportionate burden placed on them often exacerbates health issues such as depression, further hindering their access to public healthcare services.

To address these disparities, it is crucial to engage with the reality of Roma women, respecting their diverse ethnic groups and ancient customs. This entails developing tailored approaches to healthcare delivery that honor their rights and traditions.

Efforts to tackle the health challenges faced by Roma women in Brazil must be comprehensive, encompassing issues such as infectious diseases, chronic conditions, prenatal care, and nutritional insecurity. Central to this endeavor is prioritizing sexual and reproductive health, an area that remains largely neglected in ethnic communities.

The constitutional mandate emphasizing health as a fundamental right underscores the need for inclusive policies that mitigate health risks and ensure equal access to healthcare services for all citizens, including Roma women. Despite the existence of policies such as the National Policy for Comprehensive Health Care for the Roma/Gypsy People, implementation remains elusive.

The illusion of an absence of tension or challenges surrounding public health policies for Roma people must be dispelled. Acknowledging and rectifying the disparity between theory and practice in policy implementation is paramount. This guide serves as a tool to address the pressing question: "How can we effectively engage with Roma women on sexual and reproductive health?"

Recognizing the historical marginalization and stereotyping of Roma people, we must actively combat prejudice and advocate for their visibility and rights. The journey towards consolidating Roma women's health as a legitimate area of study within public health discourse is rife with obstacles, yet imperative for their survival and well-being.

Amidst the complex landscape of contradictions and challenges, fostering meaningful dialogue and empowering Roma women as agents of change in their healthcare journey is essential. This guidebook and accompanying campaign seek to catalyze collective action and financial support to ensure Roma women's access to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare, paving the way for a more equitable future.