Even though unclear, it is now broadly agreed that Europe’s Roma and Gypsy populations can trace their origins back to an Indian Diaspora in the tenth century, with ‘Egyptians’ arriving in Britain by the early 16th century. Despite facing persecution, Gypsies established themselves, finding niches in both town and countryside, sometimes being protected by landowners who found them useful as a supply of casual labor, for entertainment and sometimes simply by the inconsistent application of the law.
In England, Gypsies were ruled as a distinct ethnic group under the 1976 Race Relations Act. Irish Travellers were granted this status in 2000. Gypsy and Traveller people still have the lowest life expectancy and are the most "at risk" health group in the UK, as well as being excluded from many of the basic social and legal structures. Gypsies and Travellers traded with, worked and lived alongside the rest of the population, suggesting a high degree of interaction between the communities, particularly in casual agricultural and seasonal labor.
Gypsies lived in peri-urban encampments or even cheap lodging in cities over winter alongside working-class populations, making and selling goods, moving in regular circuits across the countryside in the spring and summer, picking up seasonal work, hawking and attending fairs. Far from being ‘a separate people’, their economic survival, in fact, depended on close engagement with the wider population. Though they might seem like they are without any rules, UK gypsies do have stringent rules their women have to follow. Take a look at what rules UK gypsies have to follow to get pregnant and during their pregnancy:
14 Marry And Get Pregnant In Your Teens
Unmarried young men and women are not allowed to socialize alone together because of the emphasis on female chastity. When a gypsy boy finds a girl that he is interested in or would like to kiss (typically at a wedding) he does something called “grabbing” where he literally just grabs her arm or pick her up completely and makes off with her. Couples marry young - girls at around 16 or 17, and boys between 18 and 19.
They're not supposed to marry non-travelers but marriage to cousins in families is common. Once married, the man rules the roost. As seen on Channel 4's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, weddings can be over the top and extravagant. The girls have large princess-style dresses, tiaras and extravagant wedding cakes. Weddings are seen as huge social events where travelers can get together. They're also perfect places for men to look for dates.
The 'newlyweds live with the parents of the husband. The bride is called bori, which means "one that my vitsa has acquired through marriage." The bori takes on most household tasks, giving up all outside activities for some time. For a couple to have only one or two children is rare; usually, there are three or four. It is obligatory to live a year or two with the parents, at least before the first child is born. This pattern is reinforced by the urban housing shortage.
13 Must Continue To Do All The Housework
Gypsy women are generally pulled from school from a young age. They are taught how to take care of the house and the children in the family. Since their role in life is going to be that of a housewife, most of them don't seem to get any choice in that matter. Gypsy women are supposed to do all the household work. They are not allowed to work outside or find a job.
A day in the life of a gypsy mom, whether pregnant or not, typically includes raising children, cooking, cleaning and other household tasks.
Gypsy mothers have a higher than average rate of miscarriage and stillbirth and this is likely due to their aversion to prenatal checkups and care and they leave it all to chance and fate. These women also tend to have a shorter gap in between pregnancies, which can sometimes lead to complications and sadly sometimes fetal demise.
Nothing comes above a spotless house for a Gypsy wife and mother which is kept spic and span at any given time. Even when she is pregnant, the Gypsy woman often spends up to five hours a day scrubbing their homes.
12 Your Husband Is Not Allowed To Give A Helping Hand
The Gypsy moms live by their own set of rules and they are a fascinating lot. The girls are raised to be housewives and mothers only. They have normally pulled away from their formal education around age ten or eleven and a new education of sorts begins. The young Gypsy girls are religiously and rigorously taught how to keep house, cook and raise children.
Gypsy parents often times arrange their daughter's marriages for them, although as they grow older they do have some say in whether or not they consent to the marriage ever taking place. Once married, the man rules the roost.
"Almost all Gypsy men are violent," writes Mikey Walsh (a pseudonym used for his own protection). "It's ingrained in the culture and the life they lead, and impossible to avoid."
"Women were strictly forbidden from 'mollycoddling' boys in case they compromised the tough masculinity that was expected of Gypsy men," Walsh writes. "The men leave the women alone to deal with issues like health care, education, and finance, so if the women do want to talk about violence [...], they can do so without fear of the men listening. Even if the woman is pregnant, the menfolk will turn a blind eye to matters concerning family responsibilities."
11 No Breastfeeding
The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding worldwide, and it is known that those least likely to breastfeed are women from disadvantaged groups, particularly Gypsies and Travellers.
For them, deciding how to feed babies, outside influences such as health professionals, played a part in giving information and advice, but most commonly, mothers were influenced by the common ways of feeding babies in their own community, and what they had observed other women doing, particularly their own mother. For mothers who do wish to try breastfeeding, this could be problematic because, in some ways, breastfeeding was seen as challenging the customs of the community. It usually differed from what other family members had done, it was behaviour often linked to gauje women, and most importantly it conflicted with taboos about privacy and women’s behaviour in public.
For some, breastfeeding almost seemed to contain implications of sexual impropriety, or brazen behaviour unbecoming to a Gypsy woman. And there was much fear of the male gaze, and concern that men would perceive a breastfeeding mother as not fitting in with traditional ideas about Gypsy-Traveller women’s behaviour. Breastfeeding in the United Kingdom as a whole hovers around 34%, but that number plummets when we are addressing only Gypsy mothers. Roughly 3% of new Gypsy moms will breastfeed their infants in the initial days following a birth but 0% of those women continue with that particular feeding practice after six to eight weeks postpartum.
10 The Increased Risk Of Birth Defects
Results of a study (J Epidemoil Community health) carried out amongst Gypsies and Travellers in UK in March, 2007 read as "Gypsies and Travellers reported poorer health status for the last year, were significantly more likely to have a long‐term illness, health problem or disability, which limits daily activities or work, had more problems with mobility, self‐care, usual activities, pain or discomfort and anxiety or depression as assessed using the EuroQol‐5D health utility measure, and a higher overall prevalence of reported chest pain, respiratory problems, arthritis, miscarriage and premature death of offspring".
These studies indicate high infant mortality and perinatal death rates, low birth weight, low immunization uptake and high child accident rate.
Endogamy is the term used to describe marriage within the community. The Travelling community is very closely knit, and Travellers tend to get married at a particularly young age. In the 1986 survey, 74% of Travellers had been married by the age of 20. There is a strong tradition of endogamy within the Travelling Community, as Travellers seek partners who understand their culture and wish to share in their way of life.
Endogamy often leads to consanguinity, meaning "same blood" marriages. Technically, any marriage between second cousins or closer is consanguine. While there are no health risks specifically associated with cousin marriages, consanguine relationships may have health risks for any children produced. Inherited genetic disorders are more common when parents are related, as the chance of both parents carrying a mutant gene is much greater.
9 Maternity Leave Is Not A Thing
Traveler girls are often taken out of education prior to secondary school to prevent them mixing with boys from other cultures. Within the community, the girls are taught from a very early age that they are to cook, clean and serve the boys in their family and eventually their husbands. In the Gypsy or Traveller community, you will find that most of the women do not work outside of the home.
Because of this, women stay in the home to complete chores like cleaning the house, cooking and taking care of the kids. Along with doing the housekeeping and child-rearing, gypsy women are often seen just hanging at home watching reruns on TV, chain-smoking and constantly cleaning their caravan.
For some of the girls and women who grow up in Gypsy society, they feel depressed and oppressed by the male-dominated society. The modern Gypsy woman may be stuck in the cultural equivalent of the modern 1950's; destined for a life of domesticity and tied to her husband forever. In the Gypsy culture, divorce is a rarity. If the women do need to work to help support the family you can usually find them doing some sort of textile work or simply out on the streets searching for money.
8 Getting Pregnant Is More Important Than Education
The young Traveller or Gypsy children, just as the name suggests, do a lot of moving around. Because they are often on the road moving from one place to another, education is not considered a priority. If the children do attend school, both the boys and the girls usually leave school by the time they are 11. The boys leave around this age because their fathers want to take them out to learn life skills. For the girls, the parents fear they will meet and mingle with boys from other backgrounds and that’s forbidden.
Gypsies are often illiterate as well because formal education is just not a priority for them. But just because they do not attend formal school doesn’t mean that the children aren’t learning.
Many of the families instead focus on art, music, survival skills and learning about wildlife.
Within the Traveller or Gypsy communities, the teenagers marry at a very young age. The average marriageable age for girls and boys is around 15 and 17 respectively.
One major rule is that they are only allowed to marry other gypsies. They are not allowed to marry a “gorger” which is a slang word used to describe someone that is not a Romany gypsy. Boys, however, have a little bit more leeway to marry someone outside of the culture as long as they adapt quickly to the gypsy way of life. On the contrary, the girls are definitely not allowed to marry outside of the culture because the belief is that women are the guarantors for the survival of the population.
7 Have As Many Babies As Possible
In today's world, two or at the most three kids is considered normal. In the Gypsy culture though, they believe that the more children you have, the better. Most girls get married in their teens and early marriage means early pregnancy.
For the women of this ethnic group it is common to deliver up to ten babies over the span of their lifetime. They follow the Roman Catholic faith which does not encourage family planning or contraceptives and therefore, unplanned pregnancies are way too common. So are miscarriages and congenital abnormalities.
Gypsy women are not allowed to seek medical help during their pregnancies. They do not go for check-ups and scans like regular mothers do. The health of the mother and baby is often ignored. Since they are not allowed to marry outside the clan, getting married to first and second cousins is also a norm. Therefore congenital malformations and anomalies also are very common.
Since the Gypsies do not want to interact with the "settlers" they are probably unaware of the risks and dangers of teenage pregnancies and incestuous relationships. The average life expectancy of Gypsies and Travelers is 59 years, which is way below the national average. Lack of education and low literacy rates only adds to the problem.
6 Peculiar Customs
Once married, her husband rules the roost. The men would never allow a woman out with her friends. Gypsy girls are often taken out of education prior to secondary school to prevent them from mingling and exposure with boys from other cultures.
Until they are engaged, some teenage traveller girls are subjected to the 'grabbing' courtship ritual, where a boy grabs a girl they want to kiss or date. Strict rules makes sure girls aren't allowed to approach boys, so it's up to the males to tempt the girl away from her friends.
This bizarre custom can look demeaning and it seems the girls simply accept it as something that is part of their culture. Travelling communities believe in the principle of no intimacy before marriage and girls who break this code are singled out and is considered dirty and risk being left on the shelf. Unmarried young men and women are not allowed to socialize alone together because of the emphasis on female chastity.
5 Boys And Girls Are Raised Differently
In their culture, the mothers raise girls and fathers raise boys. Interfering in your spouse's child rearing style and technique is unheard of.
According to Mikey Walsh's biography Gypsy Boy: One Boy's Struggle to Escape from a Secret World, "Almost all Gypsy men are violent," writes Mikey Walsh (a pseudonym used for his own protection). "It's ingrained in the culture and the life they lead, and impossible to avoid."
As a result, the author Mikey became a walking-wound of bruises, swollen lips and eyes and endured his father's "training" for years. Yet his horrified mother and older sister could only watch: "Women were strictly forbidden from 'mollycoddling' boys in case they compromised the tough masculinity that was expected of Gypsy men," Walsh writes.
Girls are trained to change from a child to a housewife. From a very small age, they are taught to cook clean and keep the house. There is not much else to do since they are pulled out of school by the time they are 11 or 12 years of age.
4 Must Stay Pure
The Gypsy population in the UK is comprised of two major subgroups: the Travellers and the Roma Gypsies. Roma Gypsies trace their heritage back to Northern India while the Travellers primarily come from Ireland. Both these nomadic groups have views on education, courting, occupation, and community. A typical Gypsy girl would be taught about being self-sustaining and not being dependent right from an early age.
For some, instead of going to school, they were taught about the arts, music and dance. Their education was learning about wildlife and nature, how to cook and how to survive. Many could milk a goat and ride a horse and could identify ink caps, puff balls and field mushrooms and knew where to find wild watercress and sorrel. By the age of eight or nine, they could light a fire, cook dinner for a family of 10 and knew how to bake bread on an open fire. The beginning of the Gypsy woman's life is spent planning her wedding which will generally happen between ages 14-22.
If women are in their 20s when they get married, they are beginning to be thought of as an old maid. The outfits the women wear are quite revealing. While these girls are taught to reveal their bodies to attract men, they are also taught on not to have a sexual relationship with any men besides their husband. If they disobey this trend before marriage, they are generally marginalized and shunned.
Traditionally a girl should have no more than four boyfriends beforehand, and she is encouraged to turn down suitors multiple times before giving her consent.
3 Hormones Aren't An Excuse
In the present times when the concept of family is failing, gypsy children are taught from a very young age that family is the most important. Children grow up in an environment of unquestioning obedience and respect to their elders, so much so, that their marriages are fixed by the parents and the boy and girl just go ahead with their parents' decision.
Even after marriage, the bride and the groom stay in the groom's parents' house for the next two years or at least till the first baby is born. The hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and postpartum emotional doldrums are never accepted as excuses for being rude to the elders in the family. Traveller kids have a strict Roman Catholic upbringing, and their culture in general, means that any form of talking back to their elders will not be tolerated.
It is a cultural distinction that sets them apart from the modern day families that surround them. Children are taught at a very early age that the elders in the community are highly respected and anyone who is rude to them, is looked down upon by the entire community. Families ensure that they visit the elders regularly and should anyone be hospitalised, the entire extended family takes on as their responsibility to look after them.
2 Don't Report It
When Channel 4 aired My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in UK, it focus mainly on the outlandish wedding dresses and flamboyant expenditures. It did nothing much to bring out the real problems that gypsies and travelers face. According to an article published in theguardian.com, Julie Bindel who personally visited the traveler communities, found that poor health and poverty were the women's real issues. Bindel, who interviewed a few women there, met Kathleen who lives with her six children in a three-bedroom trailer, is fairly typical of an Irish Traveller woman, except that she is separated from her husband.
Along with many other Gypsy and Traveller women in the UK, Kathleen was a victim of domestic violence. "I left him and went back to my mammy but he kept finding me, taking me home and getting me pregnant," Kathleen says. She now feels safe because she has male family members living on the same site. "With my brother close by, he wouldn't dare come here." It is rare for women to call the police for help.
The rate of suicides among Traveller women is significantly higher than in the general population, and life expectancy is low for women and men. And as many Traveller girls are taken out of education prior to secondary school to prevent them mixing with boys from other cultures, illiteracy rates are high, says Bernie O'Roarke, outreach and resettlement worker for domestic violence charity Solas Anois.
1 Follow Gypsy Law At All Times
Since gypsies are very private about their lives and do not mingle with the "settlers or settled people", not much is known about their laws and rules.
Since they live as a community, everyone is expected to obey the laws. According to the mirror.co.uk, it is thought that the law protects travelers from external and internal threats but also serves as a code that organizes their society. The law serves to protect traveler interests, rights, traditions, and ethnic distinctiveness.
These rules and law have been very instrumental in preserving their culture. Both Romani and Travelers follow very strict rules when it comes to who they marry. All Gypsy girls are required to stay chaste until their wedding night. The women hardly ever stand up for themselves even as they endure years and years of mistreatment, only because it is a law in the community that they cannot and should not trust strangers.
Many have accepted to remain illiterate because the law of the community prevents them from mingling with children or people outside their culture or continuing their education. They even refuse medical aid, vaccinations and health checkups for the same reason.