In early 2013, we at the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities started building brick by brick what later became the Mothers’ Club – a group of more than 20 Roma and non-Roma women from one of the most marginalized areas of Bucharest who come together every week to put pressure on the local authorities in order to address the needs of their community. Not any kind of women – strong and determined to challenge the status quo of one of the worst ghetto type community in Bucharest where extreme poverty, structural violence, marginalization, poor educational and medical services define the constant, unbearable situation.
The Mothers’ Club aims to stimulate active citizenship by facilitating a process in which the citizens identify the issues in their community and come up with their own solutions to these problems by themselves. Community organizing and active citizenship are the key words in this process. The project engages women in a meaningful way that empowers them to become the architects of change of the society they live in. We meet every week to map not only the challenges, but also to work together on implementing the most appropriate solutions. It is a long term project of grassroots democracy that proposes a change a paradigm. In the end, the communities know best which solutions are fit for their situation.
The Mothers’ Club has several levels of intervention:
• Community organizing – facilitation of a process in which the women from Ferentari acknowledge their rights and become active citizens in challenging the issues in their community.
• Inclusion on the labor market – Policy Center for Roma and Minorities provides information on available jobs, creates job opportunities for the women in the community via the Alternative Education Club, offers trainings that allow them to gain new skills and competences.
• Responsible parenting – following a collaboration with a psychologist, we develop parenting classes for the mothers in Ferentari, as well as other courses essential for the mother-child relation (e.g. health education).
At the beginning of 2014 we looked behind and realized the great things we achieved together in only one year: two successful campaigns in the community, countless media articles on the rising power of the women from Ferentari neighborhood in Bucharest, the Annual Human Rights Award granted by the French Embassy in Romania and over 50 women involved overall in the program. Following a mobilization campaign of the women in the community, we raised over 250 signatures to ask the local administration to finish and equip the only park area on Aleea Livezilor (one of the poorest areas in Bucharest). With the support of a local counselor invited to our weekly meetings, we convinced the local police to increase the safety of the children going and coming back from the two schools close to the ghetto type area. The parents were concerned about risks such as drug addicts and contaminated syringes the children are exposed to in the community. The local police increased the number of patrols in the community during school time.
The local authorities acknowledged the growing power of the Mothers’ Club and at the end of February 2014 the city hall of Sector 5 invited three Roma representatives of the group to take part in public consultations meant to identify the issues people face in the community. The voice of the Mothers’ Club is becoming stronger because we all believe that together we can change our community despite of worst conditions.
By far the greatest achievement – the Roma and non-Roma women in the community are now aware of their rights and know that their voice counts.