Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Local and Global Perspectives
Strategies and Analyses from the ICCL Working Conference on Women’s Rights as Human Rights (Dublin, March 1997)
Edited by Niamh Reilly
Political Discrimination and Persecution
By Catherine Joyce
Before I start I would like to thank the organisers of the conference for inviting us to put Traveller women’s rights on the agenda of human rights. Our inclusion in this conference is especially important given that today is UN Day Against Racism, this week is EU Week of Action Against Racism, and 1997 is EU Year Against Racism. Very rarely are the specific needs of Traveller women and Gypsy women taken into account in women’s debates (although this is partly due to our own lack of organisation and resources).
I would also like to acknowledge that we as women have a lot in common with women from other minorities—black women, disabled women, gay women, women in prison and women from Northern Ireland. But for today I want to focus on Traveller women.
Traveller women are faced with a triple burden; first because we are women, second because we are Travellers, and third because we are Traveller women. Naming this third dimension is proving very difficult. The issues of racism and discrimination, and social, political and economic exclusion affect all Travellers—but they affect Traveller women in particular ways.
We have the responsibility of the home, family, and children. Therefore if there is no water and no toilets it impacts on Traveller women and Traveller men differently.
The women are also the ones most in contact with settled people including teachers, social workers and so on. Therefore we are often the ones who face racism directly and who must broker on behalf of our families and community.
Traveller women are the most vocal and often act as spokespeople for the Traveller community. If they say anything that seems to go against the community or that touches on a sensitive issue they can be blamed by other Travellers, both women and men.
Traveller women are blamed and held responsible by Travellers if something goes wrong with the family or if a child is involved in an accident.
There are restrictions on young Traveller girls. They have less freedom and less access to social life than young Traveller men – Ironically it is often older Traveller women who are forced to implement these restrictions in order to control female sexuality.
Young Traveller women have less opportunities for education, employment and social life than Traveller men.
There is a problem of violence against Traveller women by Traveller men
It is usually Traveller men who decide where we stay and when we move
Discrimination affects all Travellers, but even pubs and hotels that do serve Traveller men won’t serve Traveller women
On a daily basis, Traveller women face being followed around shops and supermarkets and the women are the ones told in laundries: "Sorry we can’t take your clothes".
The lack of accommodation affects most Travellers, but it affects Traveller women in a particular way. We are the ones with the responsibility of the children—making sure they attend school and do their homework and that they are clean. The women have to make sure there is water, heat for the trailer, and food on the table.
If you are a woman and pregnant, and you live on an unofficial site, there are no basic facilities which makes arranging and attending appointments with doctors and hospitals more difficult.
If Travellers are evicted children may miss school or hospital appointments and the settled people blame the mothers.
In relation to health, the life expectancy of Travellers is fifty-five years. Traveller men have twice the risk of dying in a given year compared to settled males and for Traveller women the risk is threefold. The infant mortality rate is three times the national average per 1,000 live births – this has physical and mental consequences for Traveller women. Non-Travellers have been saying these problems are our own fault because we won’t live like settled people.
To improve our situation the following actions are needed:
Traveller women need to be informed of their rights as an individual and as a Traveller – otherwise how can you seek your rights or redress for abuses of your rights? Traveller women need to be included in the Traveller debate and also in the human rights debate – they need to include the gender dimension in both.
We need to network with other Traveller/Gypsy women – particularly around our human rights as women.
Non-Traveller women need to address the rights of Traveller women and our specific needs must be addressed in women’s debates whether or not we are present.
Travellers are not a homogenous group. Diversity among Traveller women needs to be acknowledged, there are different needs and issues for younger and older Traveller women, for example, or for Travellers with disabilities and able-bodied Travellers.
Travellers need to be counted separately in statistics. How can we make our demands for services if we don’t know the extent of the problem?
All Traveller-specific policies need to target the needs of Traveller women.
The EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) should ensure that the non-discrimination clause is included in the revised treaty. (Since the presentation was made this goal has been attained although the question of implementation remains.)
Universal human rights must be implemented; the Government needs to bring in laws to protect Travellers’ and Traveller women’s rights.
In particular the Government should ratify the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969).
Catherine Joyce is a community worker with Pavee Point and an active member of the National Traveller Women’s Forum.
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