None of us will forget the 24 February 2022, when the news broke that Russia had begun its illegal invasion of Ukraine. We in EMMA were amongst the thousands of Hungarians who did not hesitate to pack up our cars and head to the border, where we knew thousands of Ukrainian refugees would be arriving in the coming days, weeks, and months.
At first, we went in a personal capacity, as humans compelled to help fellow humans. But soon the EMMA Association realized there was a huge need and gap for refugee women and girls to have assistance accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare in Hungary. Most urgently, and importantly, they needed to access this care in a dignified and supported way.
This is EMMA’s specialization; we are a national women’s organization which works for the fundamental rights and societal equality of women, paying special attention to gender-based oppression and violence against women during the childbearing and childrearing period, which is known as obstetric violence.
Obstetric violence in the Roma community
The refugee women we were meeting ended up being the most intersectionally marginalized: women and girls from the Roma community. Most of the Roma people coming from the Transcarpathia part of Ukraine have dual citizenship, therefore they cannot apply for temporary protection status. But their dual citizenship status is merely symbolic, as many Roma have never crossed the border and this is their first time in Hungary.
The Roma community has suffered from substantial discrimination, prejudice and racism. Roma children are often undereducated, or not educated at all. The problems faced by Roma women and children are particularly severe; perhaps they are the most vulnerable group of refugees. Both patriarchal social norms and overall social inequalities have an aggravated impact on their daily lives and we regularly encounter a total lack of empathy and understanding when accompanying teenage mothers to medical appointments.
With the intersectional discrimination and vulnerability that stems from not only being part of the Roma community, but now refugees, Roma women and girls are highly vulnerable to obstetric violence. Young Roma women in particular are vulnerable to discrimination in maternity and gynaecological wards. Obstetric violence also includes the violation of human dignity, of patients' rights and of the autonomy of the woman giving birth from a position of authority. Obstetric violence is a highly under reported form of violence, and no European country has so far put in place legislation specifically criminalising it. Yet, it's something we bore witness to with the Roma community time and time again.