Photo essay: Life for Stela Savin, a Roma girl challenging gender stereotypes in Moldova

Date: Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stela Savin attends the eighth grade in Hînceşti, central Moldova, and her dream is to become a world boxing champion. She comes from a Roma family where she is the fifth of seven siblings. Her two older sisters had engaged in several sports themselves when they were younger but had to stop when they got married.

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“I fell in love with sports as a kid. My brothers trained and I did not want to just look. I wanted to do the same.”

After two years of training, Stela participated in regional boxing competitions and won a few medals. Her trainer and her family are big supporters.

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“I am honouring our Roma traditions. I am never going to abandon them. However, I don’t want to leave school and training and get married. I have a dream and I am going to do all I can to make it happen. I don’t know why girls think they can’t do the same as boys do?”

Traditionally, Roma girls in Moldova tend to get married and start families early in life. Many cut their education short and leave school to start a family. Often it is taken for granted that at a very young age they will marry the man their family has chosen for them. Stela respects her family and works hard, but in return she asked their support for her own life choices. Luckily, she got their full support.

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A 2014 UN study indicates that Roma women and girls are one of the most disempowered groups in Moldova, at the intersection of gender discrimination, racism, class and other systems of discrimination and exclusion. Roma women and girls across the country still face inequality in social, economic and political life.

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Stela’s story was collected by Elena Sirbu (center), a journalist of Roma origins, in her new series on inspirational Roma women. Funded by UN Women in Moldova, the project seeks to collect and disseminate real life-stories of Roma women and girls from different walks of life, with a strong will to follow their dreams. Elena travels around the country to record their stories and collect them in a special newsletter and blog.

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“UN Women has supported Roma women in Moldova since 2011. The UN Joint Program Women in Politics, with the support of the Government of Sweden, encouraged Roma women to participate to the vote in 2015 and helped the first Roma women to be elected to local councils,” says Ulziisuren Jamsran, UN Women Country Representative. “By collecting stories of strong Roma women and girls across the country, we aim to make Roma women more visible on Moldovan media, breaking traditional stereotypes. For women to count, they need to be visible – and especially their rights need to come to the forefront.”

Credit for all photos: UN Women Moldova/Diana Savina