The general objective of RoMOMatteR is to tackle gender discrimination by empowering Roma girls’ mattering to help them envision their own futures and choose motherhood only if and when they are ready. This will allow Roma girls to become active players who participate in all decisions and actions affecting them.
Roma teenage motherhood in at-risk contexts is deeply embedded in a tangle of multiple discriminations and used by certain sectors of European society to validate the rejection of Roma1. It also impoverishes the lives of women and girls, increases the risks of mental and physical health, making them vulnerable to domestic violence, school dropout and precarious employment2. Often, Roma teenage motherhood in at-risk contexts violates the fundamental right of girls to “be girls” and that of the children to enjoy positive parental care that guarantees their development3.
Nearly 2% of European Roma girls between 10 and 15 are traditionally married or cohabit with their partner; only 6% of Roma teenage mothers complete primary schooling, and they generally dedicate their time to housekeeping4. Although access to protection systems of impoverished Roma women and girls has improved, the International Organization for Migration5 signals that public protection systems are failing in providing sensitive services to address sexual and reproductive health inequities suffered by Roma women and girls.
Roma teenage motherhood is usually blamed on cultural patterns in which Roma women’s mattering is based on the values and respect of as central family figure, wives, mothers and caregivers6. Mattering is the “perception that others depend on us, are interested in us, are concerned with our fate, or experience us as an ego-extension exercises a powerful influence on our actions7. Mattering involves recognition -signs that we are accepted in our environment- and influence -certainty that others need us8. Mattering is essential in the development of the self and social development9.
Some experts argue that teenage motherhood could be better understood if we explain it as the search for women and girls to be valued by others in settings where they are irrelevant and undervalued10. In fact, many studies have shown that teenage motherhood is often associated with emotional stability, purpose and responsibility as well as a strong sense of belonging to a cultural community11.
(1) Colombini, Mayhew & Rechel, 2011; Cukrowska & Kóczé, 2013; Hotchkiss, Godha, Gage & Cappa, 2016; Stojanovski et al., 2017; Halonen, Jilani, Gilmore & Bustreo, 2017.
(2) Boden, Fergusson & Horwood, 2008; Almeida, Casanova et al., 2013; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014; Ngum, Liamputtong & Mcmichael, 2015
(3) See https://rm.coe.int/168066cff8
(4) European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2013
(5) See http://equi-health.eea.iom.int/
(6) Magyari-Vincze, 2006; Fundación Secretariado Gitano, 2012; Martsenyuk, 2015
(7) Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981, p. 165
(8) Scholossberg, 1989; Prilleltensky, 2014
(9) Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981
(10) Elliott, Kao & Grant, 2004
(11) Janevic et al., 2012; Benza & Liamputtong, 2014; Ngum et al. 2015
RoMOMatteR proposes that the discrimination suffered by Roma girls due to teenage motherhood in at-risk contexts can be reversed through an empowering process that links Roma girls’ mattering to reproductive justice12.
We understand reproductive justice as decision-making processes (procedural justice) and resource allocation (distributive justice) that guarantees the right of every girl of her sexual and reproductive health based on the respect to their personal autonomy, gender identity, life expectations, and the right to live in sustainable, safe, and fair communities13. This process will enable at-risk Roma girls’ contexts to become agents of personal and collective change.
The acquisition of recognition (R) linked to distributive justice (DJ) implies acceptance and respect for their identities and goals and guarantee of resources. The acquisition of influence (I) linked to procedural justice (PJ) ensures fair processes in which Roma girls have their own voice and are acknowledge as political agents. Both processes are inseparable; R+DJ without I+PJ leads to passivity, dependency and welfare clientelism while I+PJ without R+DJ leads to hopelessness and distrust14.
This process will involve all relevant domains for the development of Roma girls. First, this process implies acquiring critical thinking through reflection and evaluation. Critical thinking will lead girls to identify other roles and occupations besides motherhood. Participant girls could learn that conditions in which they live might change because they are not by nature as their cultural traditions dictate and that their living conditions are not unalterable. Alternatively, critical thinking will capacitate girls to provide new meanings to their mattering and their motherhood from their cultural values and use them to imagine a thriving life. Secondly, this process will allow girls to envision new resources, roles and networks that will enable Roma girls to pursue their life goals. Finally, this process will champion Roma girls to advocate for collective actions focused on the construction of safe and healthy contexts that will allow them to decide on their mattering and choose motherhood freely. Altogether, this complex process implies the dialogical and dualistic construction of their self and life scenarios.
(12) Martín-Baró, 1993; Watts & Serrano-García, 2003; Prilleltensky, 2014; Montero, Sonn & Burton, 2016
(13) Ross, 2007
(14) Nelson, 2013