Background of the project

About ten years ago the Roma movement and the Mother Center movement joined forces to create Roma Mother Centers amongst others in Bulgaria and Serbia. It was a win-win collaboration in which we addressed weaknesses in our movements, by constructing something positive together. The Roma activists saw the Mother Centers as a possibility to activate Roma women and dissolve the male dominance in their movement. The Mother Centers saw it as a way to address prejudice in its own circles and make its network more inclusive.
Especially given the limited resources, the project was very successful and nine Centers in four countries were established. We created training materials in several languages, analysed our actions and documented the lessons learned. In this proposal, we suggest an approach to look back at this pilot, built on its successes, learn from the failures and formulate procedures to move forward.
The Mother Centers are amazing places of both empowerment of individuals and of participation and, at community level, of civic engagement of marginalised groups. Over the years numerous examples of women have been documented who broke out of isolations, developed new competences in the Mother Center, expanded their horizon and became active in the local politics. (The benefits are summarised in the brochure “Mütterzentren und Gesellschaft” which is in annex) Still, as a movement the Mother Centers are not sustainable.
After 15 years of projects on organisational development, movement building and self reflection, we come to the paradox conclusion that the strength of the movement is also in its weaknesses. They are local, small scaled and low threshold, because they are run by the same kind of grassroots women that frequent them. That access to and involvement of marginalised groups, has a flip side of not having good access to funds and involvement of powerful partners.
Intermediary persons are crucial here. The movement leaders are grassroots women who over time have professionalised. Or they are professionals, who have learned to be sensitive to the issues at stake in this movement. As a result each Mother Center, also in Germany, has one or a few persons who have played such a pivoting role in connecting worlds. They could do this because of their education, because of a husband with a regular income or because of contacts to church, municipality or another entity that could provide free rooms.
But these people are hard to keep in the movement. The reasons are poverty, low margins and non-existing clients for income generating activities. The strongest women tend to be the first to be lured away from the Mother Center by job opportunity. In the Roma communities where Mother Centers were started, this development is even more the case. Moreover, when the European borders opened, the core women in the Bulgarian Mother Centers went to work in the West to provide for their families.
The Roma Mother Centers that were founded all operated in communities with a much greater level of poverty and discrimination than most of the other Mother Centers in Europe. Much more energy was needed in the start-up phase to get space and recognition from the authorities. For many of the Roma Mother Centers maintaining and cultivating traditions played an important part in the activities of the center (Roma language classes, Roma dance classes, oral history). On the other hand it was striking to see during the previous common activities, that many issues concerning motherhood and the raising of children are international and can create a bonding between very different countries and cultures. That common base of interests is an inspiration to proceed together.
Looking back at all the good these Mother Centers provided for the Roma mothers, now it is time to revitalise these centers and renew the cooperation between the mainly western based Mother Center movement and Roma in the East. We want to pick up the thread of our cooperation and reweave the net between us. It is kind of networking that builds ties across borders and realises integration across Europe from the bottom up. We call this process “grassbolization”. We go ahead and link women, support them in creating their space and their chances, improve their situation and through that get a voice in their society.