How Engagement of Roma Girls Builds Equity in Reproductive Health – SCRA Biennial Conference

Empowerment word cloud

by Manuel Garcia Ramirez

Romomatter is one of few projects to tackle how Roma girls relate to their communities

The Romomatter team was excited to present the Romomatter Project at the annual meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) – American Psychological Association Conference in Chicago in June. The SCRA focuses on research that aims to prevent unhealthy behaviors and promote empowerment and wellbeing among communities – a topic that is a key focus area of Romomatter. The team was excited to be able to engage with SCRA, given its significant global impact in terms of community resources available to scholars engaging in community action research.

An Overview of the Romomatter Contribution at the Conference

At SCRA the team presented a symposium on the Romomatter Project in the context of community psychology. They also described the methods we use to engage in participatory action research with Roma communities to benefit Roma girls and give voice to their experiences. We talked about evaluating the way in which the project builds empowerment capacity among Roma girls using the Empowerment Evaluation Framework and presented the Romomatter Project Think Tank.     

We invited Issac Prilleltensky (University of Miami), Penny Foster-Fishman (Michigan State University), and Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar (University of Illinois at Chicago) to participate in the symposium, and all gave detailed presentations of the different aspects of the work to the audience.

A Sense of Mattering is at the Center of Engagement of Roma Girls

One of the key contributions to the conference was a presentation of how Roma girls’ sense of mattering can be linked to reproductive justice issues to transform the role of Roma girls in their communities.

The sense of mattering in one’s community or social group refers to a feeling of belonging and of being connected and important to others. This in turn is linked to a feeling that others may be proud of us. In the context of the Romomatter project, Roma girls develop critical knowledge to make sense of what motherhood means to them and hence, what it means to matter in their communities, whether and when they choose to become mothers.

Romomatter partners from the University of Seville talked about some of the challenges of transforming the way that the Roma community engages. For example, current models are based on providing resources without linking them to Roma needs or desires. The challenge is compounded by the lack of participation of the Roma community in political spheres and in decision-making. In addition, there is lack of trust between the Roma community and public service providers, and Roma women do not have any meaningful influence, which makes tackling gender issues even more difficult. There is a need for engagement across the board that involves girls, the Roma community, advocates, researchers and others.

To this end, the Romomatter project aims to engage with key stakeholders and Roma girls, through mapping assets, interviews and focus groups, in order to help build and strengthen a community that is sensitive to girls’ voices and choices. Researchers play a role as facilitators and builders of knowledge around the process.

The symposium was presented on June 26 at Saint Louis University in downtown Chicago. Manuel Garcia-Ramirez served as the representative of the Romomatter consortium and introduced the project. He was joined by Issac Prillentensky, who introduced the concept and theory of mattering and shared his deep knowledge of the subject, Penny Foster-Fishman, who spoke about building alliances, and Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar whose intervention focused on the Empowerment Evaluation (EE) framework. EE promotes collaboration and interaction among all participants and is characterized by its focus on self-reflection and continuous feedback. Evaluation is one of the keys to carrying out Romomatter successfully. 

Romomatter aims to empower but is aware of challenges

At the conclusion of the symposium we held a discussion session with the audience. A participant residing in Bulgaria commented on the difficulty in working with Roma communities in Europe, a challenge of which we are well aware. Others expressed skepticism about the risks involved in empowering the Roma community and commended Romomatter as one of the few initiatives making efforts in this direction. Despite that other organizations have experienced difficulty in accomplishing positive results with the Roma community, we aim to tackle some of the challenges, address some of the difficulties, and help pave the road for more organizations to work successfully with Roma communities. This will ultimately help support their integration, health and overall wellbeing, which will also contribute to better life circumstances for Roma girls.

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