Ain’t i a gender professional?

The text reflects on the enduring struggle of Roma women, to assert their identities and expertise within feminist and gender equality movements. Despite progress, pervasive biases and systemic barriers persist, relegating them to the margins of both academia and the professional sphere. Through personal reflection, Marina confronts the challenges of being an outsider, yet proudly affirms her Roma identity and expertise as essential contributions to societal progress. The narrative underscores the urgent need for recognition, inclusion, and solidarity in the fight for genuine gender equality, emphasizing the indispensable role of women of color, including Roma gender professionals, in shaping a more equitable future.


Marina Csikos

4/17/20244 min read

About 173 years passed since Sojourner Truth addressed her iconic question to white women in the U.S. "Ain't I a woman?". 173 years and women of color still struggle to take their well-deserved spaces within the feminist and women’s movements. We can talk about business, academia, politics, or any other professional sector, women of color are still trying to find ways to raise critical questions about meaningful representation and equity. Over the last few decades, efforts striving for gender equality have generated great changes and improvements all over the world. There are more and more women in business who have gained amazing success and shaped 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. Besides business and politics, we have witnessed the undeniable contribution of feminist scholars in academia who shaped how we approach science and how we conduct research. While feminism has been developing and changing, the world recognized the need to train gender experts who acquire the necessary knowledge and practice to help advance societies and resolve contemporary issues. Fortunately, there are countless universities where gender studies departments, training, and courses open their doors for people who decide to dedicate their careers to fighting for gender equality.

However, what we still fail to see even within this relatively new professional field, is that regardless of our efforts to build equal societies with inclusive labor markets, we still maintain inequalities within us, gender equality professionals.

I am a gender professional. I am a feminist. And nonetheless, Roma. My identities shall never be taken away from me.

There is still this clear picture in front of me when I first entered the class at the Gender Studies Department. People with big smiles were excited to start the introductory session and the new academic year. And there was me, already feeling weird around these people. This feeling, however, was not so unfamiliar to me. This feeling has followed me throughout my whole life.

The Outsider. The Stranger. The Other.

I have been the only Roma in the classrooms and spaces throughout most of my academic years, so I kind of used to this feeling. If I am being honest, with the years I even started to like the feeling, and I think I embraced it. The feeling of being an outsider is not so unfamiliar for women of color. Many of us even mastered it and turned it into our power. Even though during my master’s studies I felt the most included, inspired, and understood in an academic environment, the feeling of being an outsider has followed me all these years sometimes stronger, sometimes not so much. Not so surprisingly, the feeling just grew when I graduated and found myself in the labor market. Actually, after a few years of being in a more or less inclusive environment at the university, getting into the labor market felt like I got back to the “reality” again.

There was I in this big world, questioned by white feminists about my abilities as a Roma person and a gender expert. There was I, listening to women developing research and policies for Roma women who have no clue about the experiences of Roma women and girls, and yet trying to educate me about it when I challenged them. When I offered my professional help, they respectfully thanked me and sent an unspoken message with their face: "Do not worry, we got this!". In those moments, I asked myself, "Ain't I a gender professional?". "Ain't my knowledge and experience as valuable as yours, or any other white woman's?".

These questions have never left me in the past years. They are following me like my own demons. However, these demons are not mine. They are the demons and racism of those white feminists who do not see me as equal to them, only because I proudly say I am Roma feminist. And yes, I say it proudly because, throughout my whole life, people were trying to convince me otherwise about my culture’s beauty and value, trying to hold me down in schools while I prepared for exams, when I spent hours writing articles in the library, or when I questioned their white lies in the books. Sometimes, 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 the table still 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, and you can have innovative ideas and great critical thinking skills, if the people in power do not value you, they will hold you back.

Roma gender professionals are an essential part of the societies. Europe just simply cannot ignore the more than 12 million Roma people on 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, and 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 and intersectional issues. Because after all, we are not only Roma, women, and feminists, but we are also professionals who are the owner of knowledge that is essential to today's societies.

Until the world is busier maintaining racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc. than recognizing the potential and value of women of color including Roma women as gender professionals, we cannot talk about valuable and effective changes in gender equality. We, women of color gender professionals asked too long the same question “Ain’t I a gender professional?” It is time to claim our spaces and honor our foremothers’ efforts and sacrifices by standing strong and showing solidarity for our own and other people’s liberation.