The 7th International Roma and Traveller Women’s Conference

We were happy and honoured to be invited to do a presentation on our campaign #OperationReportHate at the 7th International Roma and Traveller Women’s Conference. It was a three day conference organised under the Finnish Presidency of the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe and took place on 25-27 March 2019 at the Hanaholmen Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre in Espoo, Finland. This year’s theme was ‘Roma and Traveller women’s access to justice and rights’, a very important subject for Traveller Movement’s work.

There were Roma women from all over Europe attending and it was interesting and heart-breaking to hear their stories and the injustices and discrimination they face in their countries. I find the Roma and Travellers around Europe to have some similarities to Irish Travellers. The conference was very interesting; however I found that a lot of the key objectives, policies and outcomes they are aiming for have already been implemented in the UK. Also, not many others seem to use social media as much as we do, and I think our presentation about #OperationReportHate gave them a lot of good ideas!

The Traveller Movement was the only organisation invited to represent the UK, and there was an Irish organisation Pavee Point invited to represent Ireland. It was lovely to meet Tessa Collins, Senior Community Development Worker from Pavee Point. I attended the same workshop as Tessa, it was about Pogroms and evictions motivated by anti-Gypsyism and anti-Nomadism and their effects on Roma and Traveller women and communities. Tessa gave a very good and powerful presentation on housing, evictions and racially motivated hate crime in Ireland. We look forward to working with Tessa and the Pavee Point in the future on many different areas.

My colleague Jenni attended workshop 3 which was about preventing and combatting violence against Roma and Traveller women and domestic violence, and protecting their reproductive rights. The women in the group told heart-breaking stories about forced sterilisation of Roma women in Eastern Europe and about a program that helps Roma women who have suffered domestic abuse.  Our CEO Yvonne attended workshop 1 which was about Forced removal of Roma and Traveller children from their parents; she talked about our research into GRT children in care. It seems that the situation in other countries is much worse than what it is in the UK. 

I was disappointed to hear that some of the attendees from other countries really had no idea about Travellers and I heard it said several times that “Irish Travellers all come in big groups of caravans and travel around the UK”. That seemed to be about as much as they knew about our ethnicity. In fact, only a very small percentage of Travellers are nomads and in camps/sites, and it is thought that up to 80% actually live in bricks and mortar. Even if we live in houses, we still deal with the same injustices and discrimination, something I find myself repeatedly saying nowadays.  I also heard someone say how Irish Travellers have only recently been recognised as an ethnic minority by law in the UK when in fact Irish Travellers got their Ethnic status in the year 2000.

Overall this was a lovely trip and I got to meet some lovely people. I really enjoyed speaking to the Finnish Roma women and thought they all looked amazing in their traditional dresses! The view from our hotel was beautiful and I had some lovely walks around the area and by the sea, which I really enjoyed. I took about thousand pictures and selfies for my Instagram and Facebook! My colleague Jenni and I also enjoyed the luxuries of the sauna and swimming pool, and we got a very nice welcome and lovely meals each day. The salty butter and bread was so nice I could not stop eating it. This trip was an amazing experience for me and I hope there will be some future projects with the Council of Europe’s Roma and Travellers team that I will be able to take part in.

Christina Kerrigan

Community Development and Partnerships Officer

The Traveller Movement