Outnumbered, but Not Silent: A Roma Woman Speaks Out

It’s never easy to be outnumbered. When Agnes Osztolykan became a member of Hungary’s Parliament in 2010, however, she wasn’t just one of four Roma members -- she was the only woman from the minority Roma community.

That didn’t stop her from speaking out for Roma. Even in the face of aggressive opposition, Agnes fearlessly advocated for equal rights and inclusion for Roma and minority rights in Hungary. She also began important work on the Hungarian government’s education program and is a fierce activist for Romani children’s education.

A year after she was elected to Parliament, the State Department honored Agnes with the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award. As we celebrate 10 years of this award, which has been given to nearly 100 women in 60 countries, we reached out to Agnes and asked for her thoughts on courage, the award, and what the next generation needs to know about leadership. 

In a perfect world, women and girls would be: equal with man and proud!

In three words, what does courage mean to you? Human, dignity, and faith.

What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony?  A lot of foreign and smiling faces at the ceremony -- people were proud of me without knowing me personally.

What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States? Henriette Ekwe Ebongo from Cameroon, she was a truly courageous woman!

How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work? I’ve got much more faith to continue my work.

What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you? Endurance and the will to act!

What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress? The skepticism, especially when we are tired and disillusioned.

What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? Are there any projects you’ve worked on since the award?  During my parliamentarian work I could show so many people in Hungary that a Roma woman can work as an MP and could be a real decision maker and a professional expert in the field of education. Since 2014, I have been working on promoting the early childhood development of Roma children. Currently I am working on a PhD research plan on the same subject, which I would like to finish in the United States. 

Who is your role model? My grandmother, who was able to stand up even in the most difficult situation and to step forward. 

What should the next generation of women leaders know about leadership and courage? What can they do to continue your work? They have to believe in themselves to be capable of accomplishing great things.    

About the Author: Grace Choi is the Policy Advisor on Social Inclusion in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a series that will -- surrounding the 2016 International Women of Courage Awards -- explore the insights of courageous women's rights advocates from around the world.

Agnes Osztolykan poses for a photo. [Photo courtesy of Agnes Osztolykan]
Posted by Grace Choi
March 24, 2016

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