What is Reproductive Justice? An Introduction to the Romomatter Project

Girls looking over the city

By Manuel Garcia-Ramirez and Daniela E. Miranda, University of Seville

Reproductive justice is the recognition and protection of the rights of couples and individuals to freely make decisions about having children. This includes when, where and how many children to have and other aspects of the right to reproductive health and an equitable relationship. Not all couples are able to exercise these rights, often for reasons of gender, race, age, class, sexual orientation and others. Women, especially among the Roma population, are often deprived of reproductive rights. They lack equal social, economic and political recognition and thus can’t live their best lives.

Why is reproductive justice important for Roma girls’ wellbeing and futures?

Roma rights have been consistently violated since the arrival of the Roma people in Europe. Eighty percent of Roma people in Europe live in extreme poverty. This can result in a 10 to 15-year reduction in life expectancy, low levels of education, as well as economic exploitation and political exclusion. In essence, Roma people are invisible. In addition to systematic exclusion, childbirth at young ages (particularly 10-14) and the violation of the rights of Roma women hinder the progress of the Roma population. An estimated 2 percent of European Roma girls and 16 percent of adolescents are traditionally married or cohabit with their partner.  Six percent of Roma early mothers complete their primary schooling. Roma girls are seriously affected by discrimination and racism and have the lowest level of life satisfaction compared to other social groups.

Early marriage and childbirth are detrimental to Roma girls and are a systematic violation of their reproductive rights. It impoverishes their lives, increases their risk of suffering physical and mental health problems, and makes them vulnerable to domestic violence. Early childbirth also prevents them from continuing in the educational system and finding jobs and entering the labor force. Having children at early ages deprives these girls of their childhoods, and prevents their children from enjoying appropriate parenting.

A reproductive justice framework helps us understand how and why Roma girls become young mothers.

By looking at this issue through the lens of a reproductive justice framework, we can better understand why Roma girls are caught in these circumstances.  In fact, in Roma communities women live amidst norms established within and outside their communities.  The majority of Roma women and girls often choose motherhood as the best- and sometimes only- opportunity to matter in public and private life.  And yet Roma girls should not have to make this choice in order to matter. Reproductive justice for Roma girls means providing them the option to become mothers only if and when they are ready.

What can be done to achieve reproductive justice for Roma girls?

The Romomatter Project* engages Roma girls in participatory-action research. We aim to make Roma girls matter in terms of reproductive justice through promoting community change. The project work includes:

  • Identifying the processes by which Roma girls decide to become mothers as well as the results of this decision.
  • Creating spaces for stakeholders and Roma girls to identify their needs and strengths and design and implement actions.
  • Promoting the values of reproductive justice in public services and community resources.
  • Empowering Roma girls to matter and addressing discrimination of Roma teen mothers.

Building knowledge around Roma motherhood and mattering is crucial to reproductive rights.

Despite the need for social and health policies that address Roma teen motherhood, policies have only hinted at sexual and reproductive health issues over the last decade. They have not considered the sensitive and diverse needs of Roma girls and women. In order to understand thelink between Roma mattering and reproductive justice we must first learn about the individual experiences of Roma girls and what it means to be a Roma woman and mother and other factors that shape their lives.

Roma girls have the right to the resources and support needed to make decisions about motherhood.

The lack of opportunities to matter in multiple contexts is a reproductive justice crisis. Roma girls matter, and they must be given the opportunity to access resources and conditions to flourish on their own terms. Roma reproductive justice begins by giving Roma girls the opportunity to lead, to use their voice to decide what is important to them, and if and when to become a mother.

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