CEU's Simona Gamonte, program coordinator for the University's Human RightS Initiative (HRSI), was honored by the Romanian Roma Women Gala (Gala Femeilor Rome) in the category "Human Rights Activist" for her ongoing dedication to and work in the field of human rights. The gala was initiated in 2011 to honor Roma women who work to improve the lives of Roma communities.
"I feel very happy that I was recognized," Gamonte said. "Even though I'm not working in Romania, this shows that the work I'm doing is appreciated across borders. And even though I'm not directly working with Roma communities, it shows that Roma women in human rights careers can be acknowledged."
Gamonte was nominated by a mentor, Roma rights activist Crina Marina Morteanu, who, in fact, encouraged Gamonte to apply to CEU's Roma Access Program after she completed her undergraduate work and a master's degree in Romania.
"I recommended Simona for this award because it was a great fulfillment for me to see her vehemence and perseverance in promoting human rights, especially Roma women's rights," Morteanu said. "Simona is among the few Roma women who present themselves as public Roma feminists. She's developed personally and professionally very quickly and I consider her a positive example for many Roma girls and women from Romania (particularly from her city) and all over Europe. She followed her dreams with patience and hard work and sought a better education; she uses this education to promote diversity and anti-discrimination not just linked with the Roma minority and girls/women, but for other groups that are discriminated against too."
After completing her MA in Politics, Gender, and Minorities at Romania's National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, Gamonte was unsure about taking Morteanu's advice and applying to RAP. "In my head I thought: Why would I even be accepted? but Crina really pushed me to apply and she wrote me a letter of recommendation. She's been following my career ever since."
Morteanu is especially invested in the education of Roma scholars because she believes it has a powerful effect of society as a whole. "There are multiple forms of discrimination against Roma girls and women which are connected to socioeconomic inequalities and poverty," Morteanu said. "Because of this we need to invest in young Roma scholars, as a mechanism of avoiding exclusion or violence and respecting fundamental human rights."
After graduating from RAP in 2011, Gamonte went on to pursue an MA from CEU's Department of Gender Studies. One of the only programs of its kind, RAP's long-term goal is to prepare young, outstanding Roma scholars to further their education, to conduct local and international academic and advocacy work, and to serve as role models and leaders for the Roma community overall. RAP recently received a $350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and a €113,000 grant from the Sigrid Rausing Trust. Both foundations are longtime RAP supporters.
"Before starting my studies at CEU in the Roma Access Program, I talked with a RAP alumna about the program who told me that the experience changed her life. I have to say that now those words are embedded in me and this experience has changed my life in a way that I could not imagine," said Gamonte. "My studies at CEU and the feminists whom I've met in Budapest have enriched my critical thinking and broadened my perspectives of how to implement the knowledge I have gained from my studies. HRSI has been an amazing opportunity where I am able to engage in activism that touches upon different layers of human rights issues and put into practice my educational background."
Unable to attend the ceremony in Bucharest, Gamonte's mother Lenuta Gamonte accepted the award at the gala on March 6. Gamonte is currently directing CEU/HRSI's production of "The Vagina Monologues" and is working with Morteanu to have the script translated in Romanian for a future production in Bucharest.
For information in Romanian and pictures from the gala, visit: http://galafemeilorrome.ro/. Information in English on Roma women's rights and the gala can be found here: https://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/invisible-roma-women-celebrating-spaces-of-self-representation/.