Romani Women in European Politics. Exploring Multi-Layered Political Spaces for Intersectional Policies and Mobilizations.

Abstract

Amongst highly marginalized minorities, such as the Roma, intersectional groups – i.e. those positioned at the crossroad of several axes of oppression, such as race/ethnicity-, class- and gender-related concerns – are the major victims of injustice and discrimination. Their intersectional invisibility forces them to struggle for their recognition as political interlocutors by both national and supranational institutions, as well as by civil society actors (such as mainstream movements and single-strand organizations). This article-based dissertation addresses the role and position of intersectional marginalized groups in contemporary European politics. It does so by focusing on the case of Romani women. More precisely, it explores whether European multi-layered political spaces contribute to fostering or hindering intersectional policies and mobilizations, both at the national and the transnational levels.

This thesis contributes to two main bodies of literatures – namely, on political intersectionality and on the Europeanization of social movements. First, it investigates the political opportunities and spaces that national and supranational political actors offer for intersectional policies and mobilizations to be established and developed in Europe. Second, it examines how intersectional constituencies perceive these spaces and how they react to them. These questions are addressed throughout four different articles. The first article asks whether, and to what extent, intersectionality is incorporated in equality policies, at both the EU and domestic levels. To do so, it constitutes a new set of indicators to evaluate how much intersectionality-conscious such policies are. The second paper investigates whether the EU integration process presents (political) advantages for national intersectional political actors, or rather intensifies their marginalization from mainstream political agendas. Findings show that the EU creates both opportunities and constraints for domestic intersectional activists – thus, confirming the function of intersectionality as a ‘double-edged sword’. The third piece argues that similar EU-driven political opportunities provided in countries with a similar historical path (i.e. Romania and Bulgaria) can turn into different political ‘practices’ – such as levels of participation in domestic politics and policy-making, access to financial resources, and so on – depending on the usage that domestic activists (are able and/or willing to) make of them. In doing so, it demonstrates that a focus on (intersectional) agency is necessary, as opportunities and usages are equally important in the exploration of movement performances. Finally, the fourth article asks how Romani women activists have responded to the opportunity spaces created for them by international organizations at the European transnational level, and demonstrates that not always such spaces have corresponded to what activists perceive as safe and functional arenas where to articulate their intersectional concerns and collective claims. To foster the understanding of activists’ responses, it develops a heuristic tool which allows the systematization of activists’ reactions to the top-down ‘rules of the game’.

Using a qualitative research methodology, mostly based on data gathered through expert (semi-structured and unstructured) interviews and analyzed via Qualitative Content Analysis, this thesis demonstrates that creating opportunity structures and spaces for intersectional minority groups is not enough, and that their quality matters. Through the case of Romani women, it reveals that an intersectional analysis can significantly contribute to further exploring and conceptualizing agency and good opportunities – thus, advancing a critical turn to the study of contemporary social movements.

 

Outline of the Chapters

This article-based thesis is composed of two main parts (policies and politics) and four main ‘chapters’ (i.e. articles), which represent the corpus of the dissertation. These four pieces are harmonized by common introduction and conclusions. Chapter 1 focuses on intersectionality operationalization and asks whether, and to what extent, intersectionality is incorporated into the policy tissue at both the EU and domestic levels. With the aim to answer this question, this chapter examines the policy responses identified by the EU and some of its Central and Eastern European member states – namely, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania – to the intersectional needs of Romani women. Building on the literature on political intersectionality, it analyses these responses by exploring different policy fields – from equality and non-discrimination to Roma integration – and using a cross-case comparative methodology. The main innovation proposed by this chapter is the development of a set of criteria for assessing and comparing the ways intersectionality is operationalized for policy purposes. In particular, it proposes five criteria based on both institutional machineries (Krizsán et al. 2012) and less-institutional standards, like the presence of an ‘intersectionality vocabulary’ in both policy documents and legal tools (Lombardo and Rolandsen Agustín 2011) as well as the implementation efforts of national governments for supporting specific groups ‘at the intersections’.

Inspired by the literature on the Europeanization of social movements, Chapter 2 asks whether the EU-driven political opportunity structures for collective action contribute to intersectional mobilization domestically. More precisely, it investigates whether the EU integration process determines (political) advantages for national intersectional political actors, or rather facilitates their marginalization from mainstream political agendas. Do emerging forms of ‘activism at intersections’ (Kruckenberg 2010) have access to a broader or a more limited range of EU-driven opportunities? To answer this question, this chapter uses Romani women’s activism in Romania as a case-study. Specifically, it identifies a set of EU-driven POS for Romani women advocates and uses (political) intersectionality as an innovative analytical tool to explore them.

Chapter 3 argues that similar EU-driven political opportunities provided in countries with a similar historical path can nevertheless turn into different political practices – depending on the usage that domestic activists (are able and/or willing to) make of them. In particular, it explores how Romani women advocates in Romania and Bulgaria have seized and translated into practice the opportunity structures induced by the EU integration process. In doing so, it firstly discloses the main similarities and differences of Romnja’s activism(s) in the two countries by developing a comparative analytical framework based on five categories – i.e. strategy, agency, repertoire, alliances and positioning vis-à-vis the wider Romani movement. Secondly, it proposes a set of three EU-driven opportunities for collective action – namely, (1) the provision of a relevant legislative framework in the fields of gender-equality and anti-discrimination at the domestic level; (2) the increased participation of Romani women activists in national policy-making and consultation processes; and (3) the increased access of relevant organizations to financial resources and level of professionalization – and investigates how domestic activists have used them.

Finally, Chapter 4 illustrates the political opportunity spaces for Romani women’s activism created by international organizations at the European transnational level in the last twenty years, and asks how these intersectional activists have responded to such spaces. To answer this question, it develops the ‘(Un)Safeness Response Line’, an innovative and versatile analytical tool which allows the systematization of activists’ responses along a scale based on five categories – namely, compliance, compromise, contestation from within, opposition, and denial. Building on the observation that Romnja advocates do not always perceive the spaces and opportunities created for them as safe spaces – i.e. “accessible, inclusive, participative and effective (political) spaces for activists to raise their voice, share their concerns and influence policy, political and decision-making processes” –, this chapter explores whether and how these activists have been able and/or willing to translate (what they perceive as) unsafeness into safeness when mobilizing transnationally.

The final conclusions consist of two different parts. The first one summarizes the main findings of this doctoral study. In particular, it clarifies how each chapter contributes to answer the overarching research question driving this dissertation – i.e. how do multi-layered political spaces foster or hinder intersectional policies and politics, at both the national and transnational levels? The second part illustrates the main contribution of this thesis to the two bodies of literature it predominantly builds upon – namely, the extant scholarly work on political intersectionality, and the emerging studies on the Europeanization of social movements. In doing so, it suggests avenues for advancing a critical turn to the study of contemporary social movements – thus, fostering future research on intersectional mobilization in Europe.

 

Keywords: European politics; intersectional mobilization; political intersectionality; political opportunities; Romani women; safe spaces; social movements.