Success Stories

Roma Women Ditch the Script

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Roma activists filming "I’m a Roma Woman" campaign in Budapest, Hungary.

When Katalin Bársony’s grandmother wanted to send her daughter to high school in Budapest, her husband said she would become an “outsider whore.” Her grandmother didn’t listen to him, went against tradition and as a result, Katalin’s mother became a well-known activist for Roma rights.

When it was Katalin’s turn to go to school, there was no question about her right to education. Even though only one in ten Roma children complete high school in Hungary, she went to university and bucked the patriarchal tradition and anti-Roma prejudice that prevented many of her girl friends from even getting through schoolhouse doors.

At the age of 23, Katalin directed the first-ever documentary series on Roma communities around the world. Mundi Romani, a project of Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Romedia Foundation, was broadcasted on TV stations all over Hungary and received numerous awards. After an episode uncovering the death of 28 Roma due to the worst lead poising in Europe’s history, the Roma refugee camp was closed and around 3,000 people relocated to a safer, nevertheless segregated, neighborhood.

“Things are changing and we are part of that change,” said Katalin, today the executive director of Romedia Foundation, where she uses film to change how people perceive Roma communities. Not an easy job, as hatred of Romahas been woven into Europe’s cultural fabric for hundreds of years.

A History of Social Exclusion

At 12 million, Roma are the largest and most discriminated minority in Europe. Roma communities are isolated in ghettos and have trouble getting jobs because employers don’t want to hire Roma workers. Roma students are segregated into substandard schools and often sent to institutions for children with mental disabilities. There is such an inequality in health care that infant mortality rates are doubled and the average lifespan for Roma is around 10 years lower than the rest of the population, according to an OSCE study.

On top of all this, Roma women experience high levels of violence and in many traditional Roma communities a woman’s job is only to support her family. When they do exist, data on Roma women show that they are less educated and fare worse economically than their male counterparts.


Katalin Bársony, Executive Director of Romedia Foundation.

Roma Women Rise Together

Despite these statics, Roma women are the most powerful agents of change as they relentlessly challenge the “customary” ways women are treated in Roma communities and in the society beyond. Global Fund has doubled our support for Roma women’s rights organizations over the past three years and we’ve seen some major wins.

Roma women activists advocated for and won the European Court of Human Rights condemnation of the Czech authorities’ practice of forced sterilization. In Macedonia, Roma women’s organizations are going beyond providing services to local communities by connecting with like-minded groups so they are better positioned to fight for social justice together.

Funding Change

Global Fund steps in with general support for Roma women’s organizations because often times, local authorities in Eastern Europe are unwilling to spend or be seen as spending on the Roma community and “women’s issues.” At the same time, spending on housing, education and health care, which should improve the situation of both the majority population and Roma women, often stops where the Roma neighborhood starts.

“If you just throw money at the problem, but neglect changing society, then nothing will happen,” said Gabriela Hrabanova, Policy Coordinator at European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network and RomaReact.

A New Future

One of the only ways to fight prejudice is to change cultural norms - change the way people perceive and relate with their Roma neighbors. This is a serious undertaking that requires work across generations. Knowing this, Katalin and her colleagues train Roma girls to use media so they can become advocates of a different vision for their community.

“You have to keep moving, even when it seems that the work is leading nowhere, the impact will come later,” said Gabriela about what motivates her. “You have to sacrifice to make life better.”


Hiking for Women's Rights


The three have crawled their way to summits, their backs pressed close to the ground by sharp winds. They’ve had wild moose at their heels and slid down wet trails in the rain.

Seven-year-old Sage and ten-year-old Alex have been hiking with their mother, Trish for most of their lives. From the peaks of Katahdin in Maine to Elbert in Colorado, they have hiked all over the US. Their next challenge: El Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route spanning nearly 500 miles.

For Sage and Alex, hiking is more than exercise; it fuels their campaign to raise money for the Global Fund for Women. After reading about our unique approach to women’s rights, the family knew they wanted to get involved by asking their friends and family to donate in honor of their journey.

“A lot of girls around the world need education and health,” said Sage, explaining her reasoning behind choosing Global Fund for her fundraising goal of $5,000.

It’s no accident that Sage and Alex have such a keen understanding of philanthropy at such a young age. Trish intentionally raises her girls with a social conscience.

“Hiking is not just something we do for ourselves,” said Trish. “We believe it’s important, whenever possible, to do what you can to support causes you believe in. If everyone did that, a lot of our problems would be straightened out in short order.”

With hours of training required for their two-month journey, Alex and Sage try to keep it all in perspective.

“It seems like it’s going to be a great adventure,” said Alex. “I used to be nervous, but now I’m really excited.”

Read more about Sage, Alex and Trish on their blog.


Tale of Two Techies


By Lydia Holden, Communications Lead for Grassroots Girls Initiative

"I don’t want to lead a life like my mother, where she is dependent on others financially. I want to be independent and learn on my own," declared Shabham, a 19-year-old girl living in Delhi, India.

Shabham arrived from a rural village 13 years ago, where being an educated, self-sufficient girl is not only undesirable, it is shameful for the family.

"They think she will just talk back and do whatever she likes and won’t be obedient. My [extended] family in the village is constantly asking if my parents have found a husband for me because younger relatives are already married," said Shabham.

With great difficulty, Shabham was able to persuade her parents to let her finish high school. But after graduation, her father said "no more." Low-quality public education and her family’s financial situation only prepared her for low-paying jobs. Furthermore, her father and brothers had instilled in her such a fear of the outside world - under the guise of keeping her safe - that, "I was really scared talking to people and would break down and cry," said Shabham. "I always needed company if I went out anywhere."


FAT's new and improved technology center.

Overwhelmed with the boredom of sitting at home day after day watching TV, Shabham was feeling pretty hopeless until a friend told her to go to our grantee partner, Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), for a six-month free course in computers.

Though India is ripe recruiting territory for tech companies, only 21 percent of IT industry workers are women. Of those, few reach decision-making positions. This is one of the reasons the Global Fund prioritizes tech funding for women's groups like FAT.

Though Shabham had never used a computer before, she liked that FAT strives to empower marginalized and economically poor girls in Delhi by closing the technological divide between men and women.

"Technology is here to stay and not something we can fight against," commented FAT Executive Director Gayatri Buragohain. "Technology controls government and development, so women’s voices are hugely needed in technology, but their voice is not present."

After three months at FAT, Shabham’s life changed drastically—for the better. She applied to university and found a telecom position to pay her tuition. The intrepid spirit Shabham developed at FAT really shone when her father refused to sign her admission form to university. "I told him that when you come for the signature for the marriage document, I will deny in front of everyone and not sign."

With shrewd determination, Shabham is not only studying, she gets high praise from her father, who now brags about his child at university. As Shabham comes into her own she continues to visit the FAT technology center, which recently received a face-lift thanks to a Global Fund supporter, Craig Newmark.

"I want to be a role model and teach other girls for free. In my village the girl relatives are talking about me and saying, ‘Shabham finished 12th grade, so why can’t I?’ I want to help those girls who can’t come out of their house."

Through a partnership with the Nike Foundation’s Grassroots Girls Initiative (GGI), Global Fund for Women and other leading grantmaking organizations are empowering adolescent girls like Shabham to effect social change.


Remembering Marisela Escobedo Ortiz


"Tell me how you live with so much pain?” asked Marisela Escobedo Ortiz. "I can’t keep living this way. I don’t want to live anymore."

Norma Ledezma Ortega took Marisela’s hands in hers and said, "Marisela, pain is never going to leave. It’s going to be with you until the last day of your life so make it your ally."

Norma of grantee partner, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, remembers the pain in Marisela’s eyes that day. "I saw a tired woman, but I saw a mother who was going to fight against adversity, against the same death that awaited her."


Marisela's last protest on the night she was killed. Photos credit: Official website of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz.

A few weeks later, Marisela was assassinated outside of the governor’s office in Chihuahua, Mexico, while she was protesting the release from prison of her daughter’s murderer, Sergio Barazza. Marisela became an ardent women’s human rights defender after the violent death of her daughter Rubi, whose body was found burned and dismembered in a garbage bin. Norma and Marisela met after judges freed Rubi’s murderer, in a meeting with other mothers who were seeking justice from government officials. The two exchanged phone numbers and Marisela decided that lawyers from Justicia para Nuestras Hijas would represent her case.

On International Human Rights Day, we remember Marisela Escobedo Ortiz. We honor her courage, love for her family, and commitment to justice.

"Remember her as the mother who died as she wanted to, fighting and demanding justice for her daughter Rubi," said Norma. "Remember her so that her death isn’t in vain. She will serve as an example of unconditional love, fighting against the worst enemy: injustice and impunity."

Seeking Justice

Femicide is one of the most serious problems facing women in Chihuahua. Since 1993, the city has seen a wave of unsolved murders. Victims as young as six have been raped, tortured, murdered, and abandoned. Hundreds simply vanish. Global Fund for Women supports women who are at the front lines responding to these horrific crimes, like Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, an organization of family members of women who disappeared or were murdered. The group locates missing women and girls and seeks justice for survivors and their families.

Since 2002, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas has carried out 50 investigations, litigated four cases against alleged murderers, presented three cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and won six convictions. As a result of their work, 30 forcibly disappeared women have been found alive. In 2005, Justicia convinced the state government to hire a team of forensic anthropologists to identify the remains of women in the state of Chihuahua; as a result the remains of more than 30 women were identified.

"The love for Rubi and the radical decision to not stop fighting for justice that she so yearned for has been an example to follow," said Norma, reflecting on Marisela’s impact on Justicia para Nuestras Hijas. “Marisela was the woman who died a fighter but she didn’t lose the war, she only lost the battle.”

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