Romomatter Activities Resume Amidst the Pandemic

Romomatter Resumes Activities

Romomatter resumes activities to respond to increased vulnerability among Roma women and girls

By Daniela E. Miranda, University of Seville

The COVID-19 crisis quickly presented new challenges for Roma communities across Europe due to the entrenched antigypsyism that they faced prior to the pandemic. Rapid national governmental actions overlooked the preconditions of vulnerable Roma groups, and their experiences were hidden from mainstream responses.

This was consolidated by the discrimination within national institutions, victim-blaming from local politicians, press that catered to negative images of Roma and their neighborhoods and policing efforts that treated some Roma people as third-class citizens. Each of these elements contributes to sustaining unjust living conditions and top-down approaches that continue to define Roma realities. 

Non-governmental organizations and the third sector have been ineffective in meeting Roma community needs.

Non-governmental organizations and third sector actors assumed responsibility for the extreme conditions in neighborhoods, unable to extend themselves to provide basic resources for entire Roma communities. The abandonment of these neighborhoods highlights the need to advocate for Roma and not solely depend on the kindness of individuals and non-governmental organizations to provide basic resources.  

In Spain, a group of Roma women, now a formal advocacy group by the name of yiló, partnered with our team at the University of Seville. Together, the team designed and implemented a rapid community assessment and took action through community advocacy strategies. We identified the narratives of local Roma communities, monitored discrimination in the press, and advocated for responsive institutions during confinement based on their realities. In specific, we interviewed Roma neighbors, mapped discriminatory narratives in the press and social media, developed a crowdfunding page, reached over 2,000 signatures on a change petition, signed letters at the European level, identified allies, launched a successful press release, and carried out a television interview. 

Community advocacy by a new Roma organization has led to effective engagement with city policy representatives. 

These consistent efforts over the course of one month led yiló to reach the Mayor of the City. On May 6th 2020, a Zoom call was held between yiló, two researchers from the US, the Mayor, and City Council representatives. This moment of recognition between the City Council and yiló was a turning point, as the City Council recognized the lack of efforts in Roma communities, listened to their voices, and promised to do better.

However, the efforts have not stopped there and must not. Now more than ever we must collaborate closely with communities and develop community-based action-research efforts in order to shed light on their realities, link efforts between allies, utilize effective communication strategies for advocacy, ensure that recovery plans reach the most vulnerable groups, and monitor local governments. We must ensure that Roma voices are heard. 

In a similar effort, the Romomatter coordinating team developed a rapid community assessment to illustrate the big picture of the realities of each context. The abandonment and neglect of Roma communities have been palpable across contexts. Alicante was faced with collapsed social services, Córdoba families depended on food and economic aid to survive, in Bucharest families were confined in overcrowded houses with no access to running water, and Straldzha had 40% of the families with either one or more household members lose their income. 

Roma communities in all four fieldwork groups are confronted with the challenges that remain–changes in social relationships due to isolation, the digital gap, discrimination from media, and health regulations that overlook the extremity of existing circumstances. 

Romomatter fieldwork is becoming more resilient during these trying times, adapting approaches and timeframes. 

Evidence shows that Roma women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups during a crisis. Therefore, the Romomatter fieldwork has had to become resilient and adapt the initial plan during these new times, being sensitive to the differences between the different contexts. This means that Romomatter partners must make thoughtful and strategic decisions in terms of adjusting timeframes, methodological approaches, communication plans, and in some cases go back to the drawing board. 

Our initial plans entailed in-person activities with the girls, meetings with key stakeholders, meetings with Roma women role models, and other people that could impact the lives of girls. In order to explore this, the RoMoMatteR Quality Assurance Advisory Committee (QAAC) developed a survey based on the Empowerment Evaluation model of the project to explore how we will reach our goals in the face of new challenges. As a response, Romomatter has developed a team to accompany the fieldwork groups in their adaptation and staying true to the RoMoMatteR goals and essence. 

The Romomatter Adaptation Team will continue to work with fieldwork groups to advance the project mission: to transform the lives of girls. 

The Adaptation Team is made up of Dena Popova (TSA) and Petya Zeynelova (TSA) as leaders of the evaluation process, Belén Soto (US)- who will serve as the link between the Adaptation Team and QAAC- and myself Daniela Miranda (US), as manager of the adaptation process. Our goal as an adaptation team will be to accompany the fieldwork groups to preserve the Romomatter mission: transforming girls’ lives, facilitating reflection, critical dialogue processes according to the family and girls’ pace. 

Logistically we will help monitor these changes, engage in the meaningful exchange between fieldwork groups, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. We will do this through periodical meetings, rapid responses to fieldwork group representatives, a collaborative checklist available to all partners, fluid communication between US and TSA teams. We must not forget that Romomatter is about adapting to the communities we engage with, their voices, and the current times, therefore, it is our civic responsibility to be thoughtful in our decisions. 

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