11 May All that I am
Roma Students Initiative is an informal group of young Roma woman who, since 2011, have been implementing activities aimed at raising the visibility of Roma women in universities in Serbia. They started as a small group of a few female students that opposed the selective availability of information that are important for their studying and their future. Social networks were the only available way for them to meet each other and exchange views in the beginning. Through the Facebook group, which currently brings together more than 180 young students of Roma nationality from all over Serbia who have been given the opportunity to pursue higher education, while respecting the principles of solidarity, volunteerism and mentoring, they disseminate information about current events in the student community, youth, Roma and women’s movements and about open calls aimed at improving student standards and non-formal education.
IRS is working to overcome socially constructed differences between young people and nurture the principles of equality, multiculturalism, solidarity and teamwork. The Initiative collaborates with various youth, women’s and student organizations. They ask questions related to the status of Roma students, and all other young Roma people in Serbia. IRS participates in activities and campaigns for the promotion of education of Roma youth, especially girls. They regularly participate in a special session of the Serbian Parliament regarding the situation of Roma. The session is initiated by the Roma Women’s Network, as a part of the “Month of Roma Women Activism” campaign. They are involved in advocacy for better position of Roma in general.
For 4 years they have been implementing activities in the campaign “Month of Roma Women Activism” where they joined Roma Women’s network in Serbia with the intention to, during the campaign period, draw the attention of institutions and the citizens of Serbia on the situation of Roma women in Serbian society. Campaign symbolically connects these two very important dates: March 8 – International Women’s Day and April 8 – International Roma day. Activities in the campaign are aimed at addressing the situation of young Roma women with a special focus on the students and their visibility. Thus, in 2013, they organized an event called “All that I am” with the aim of mutual understanding and cooperation with other young people. This campaign activity gathered female professor from 5 different faculties in Novi Sad, Roma female students, faculty colleagues, representatives of youth associations and the media.
This year’s campaign, with the support of the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization, was marked by an unconventional, traveling exhibition. Through photography they told the story about the kind of future they expect. An important theme of the exhibition was related to education, and what higher education in Serbia can do for a better standard of living for Roma women and whether the future of young Roma is brighter than the future their mothers had. The exhibition and screening of the film that speaks about the situation of young Roma women in the Roma and the wider community have received praises in Vršac, Novi Sad, Niš and Belgrade which was attended by 112 participants who discussed this topic. 33 Roma students were involved in these actions, in different ways. It was attended by the representatives of public and the civil sector.
“We believe that the changes are important, that there is space for those who want to make our society better and that the size and impact of the change do not depend on the size of the donors and their financial support. What’s important to us is the people and their support which we measure by their friendship because we sincerely believe that that is the easiest way to break stereotypes and prejudices. Our actions do not require significant financial resources. They require time, the idea and faith that a just and equal society can be built”, stated the Initiative.
This story is a part of the aspirations of the TACSO Serbia and TACSO by Civic Initiatives to promote good practices of civil society organizations in Serbia and motivate other organizations that invest on daily basis their energy and efforts in creating a better society for all citizens of Serbia