On World Children’s Day in the climate of COVID-19 we must highlight the urgent challenge to protect the rights of Roma girls across Europe. COVID-19 has marked a grim time in which Roma girls have experienced a significant loss in their closest networks, insufficient resources to continue their schooling at home, the abandonment from institutions that has ignited distrust from their families, and the need to contribute to their family survival. Responses to the pandemic have been based on palliative efforts defined by majority populations, further silencing Roma girls and forcing them into a situation with only one path forward—leaving them to early motherhood and marriages, to experience poor physical and mental wellbeing, and to live in marginalized contexts only to repeat the cycle.
We must see this situation as a violation of their human rights, and today we must remember that Roma girls have the right to be a girl, to dream of their future, and to access the necessary resources and opportunities to do so. Roma girls physical and mental well-being will be achieved only when they have the power and resources to make decisions about their selves and be influential in economic, social and political spheres—both within and outside their community. By supporting Roma girls during these times and creating spaces for them that are defined by them, only then can we begin to disrupt the ripple effect that the pandemic will have on their lives. In short, we must ensure that Roma girls matter.
Research and community partnerships in Spain, Bulgaria and Romania are implementing the RoMomatteR project, which seeks to promote in Roma girls’ feelings of mattering. Mattering is the feeling that people care about us, accept us and that we are important to others. This is fundamental to our wellbeing and capacity to flourish. RoMoMatteR has the objective to encourage that Roma girls and their decisions are respected, and their actions are recognized by others. They are valuable to those who care for them. They are important because others trust them. They are accepted and loved as they are.
Today on World Children’s Day we should remember that Roma girls matter, and we have the civic responsibility to ensure their voices are echoed and heard across Europe.
Daniela E. Miranda is a PHD candidate at the University of Sevilla and researcher at CESPYD in Spain. She is also a member of the Roma Health Network.