“A gypsy woman’s life is always hard,” Clara tells us. “Men give the orders and women put this into practice.”
Clara and her younger sister Perty belong to the Gabor family, a highly esteemed clan within the wider Roma community. In the face of systematic and social discrimination, many families in Romania have lost or deny their Roma identity, but the Gabor community has fiercely guarded its culture and traditions in the face of prolonged attempts of assimilation into mainstream European society. This is immediately and strikingly evident in their long, pleated, elaborately patterned skirts and Perty’s waist-length braids with ribbon woven in. As a married woman (albeit divorced), Clara wears more somber colors, with her hair braided at the base of her neck and covered in a patterned headscarf.
Clara and Perty’s family has long given up the nomadic lifestyle, and the Gabors have been settled in Valenii, a village in Transylvania, for as long as anyone can remember. Their father, highly respected in the village community, upholds the traditional family profession of metalwork while at the same time working as a community police officer. We spent a week with this family, and with Clara and Perty we learned about the complicated experience of being a Roma woman in 21st century Europe, balancing strong traditional values with strong feminist beliefs.
“In our community we have to get married very young,” Perty explained. She had just finished her day’s chores and sat down to speak with us. “A traditional girl’s life would be like this, getting married at like 13 or 14, getting pregnant 1 month later, then be a slave in the house, never go out of the house, have so many kids and clean and wash and cook for your husband. That’s, like, the perfect wife. But that never happens, because we are also human, right? I don’t see that kind of life for myself. I’m the kind of person where if my husband tells me something wrong I will beat him up with my shoes!”
The tradition of arranged marriage has helped the Roma people preserve their identity and culture in the face of hundreds of years of (often brutal) assimilation attempts. Perty, age 14, is due to be married within the next year. She joked about the…