Re-thinking Resistance and Resilience

Maria Atanasova talks about the meaning of resilience in her life and how this concept influenced past generations and new generations as well.


Maria Atanasova

5/16/20232 min read

Often, in an attempt at appreciation, Romani women are called “resilient” for their ability to survive under intersectional oppression and patriarchy. The unspoken agreement is that we recognize that Romnja have to be resilient. They have been carrying burdens and facing oppression for centuries and decades.

Some see them as resilient in the face of all forms of discrimination, oversexualization, and deprivation of rights. As a young Roma woman, I realize that one of the most unseen resistances is the resistance of Romani women - our mothers and grandmothers who have been resisting their entire lives, each finding their own way to resist under different circumstances and difficulties.

Many of them have been deprived of their free choice regarding where to live and with whom, as it was all defined by patriarchy before they could even speak. Many had no opportunity for education or support, and many grew up not only in a patriarchal society but also faced a deeply embedded patriarchy in their families and communities. Nevertheless, each of them has been resisting by raising strong daughters with hopes and aspirations, so we can have choices that they were never offered. Without these strong women, there would not be strong daughters.

Giving Roma women as an example of resilience is not only unjust, but it is also a silent agreement that we are okay with this destiny. Moreover, one needs to rethink what message this “resilience” sends to future generations - the daughters of these oppressed women. Do we need to continue this resilience, or do we want to call for resistance?

What if we shift the narrative and start telling their stories of resistance and not resilience? What if we wish and demand more than just survival? We owe it to our ancestors, our mothers, and grandmothers. As much as I recognize the attempts at recognition and the labeling of Romani women as resilient, I would like to challenge this narrative. I see Romnja defining resistance, and I choose to carry it. The one who resists keeps fighting with hope for a better future for those who not only do not have a seat at the table but who cannot even raise their voice. For me, “resistance” is the power to believe that you deserve more, and you are ready to act upon it. Resistance gives hope and aspirations for a better future.

On the 16th of May, our ancestors knew they would be killed, and yet they resisted, inspiring many today. As a daughter of a woman who has been resisting, I choose to continue my mother’s resistance. She may not see it or call it “resistance,” but I see it and acknowledge it as such. The idea of building the Romani sisterhood is the inheritance of the resistance of our ancestors.

Even in the darkest places, there is hope - that someone will continue your fight. Her support and wish for my education have been her resistance to a world full of oppression. She raised me to believe that “I can be more”. Proudly, I take over, and I choose to resist and empower, to tell her story, and to support Romnja.