At the end of June, the AIRE Centre took part in the ‘United for Dignity Conference’, held in Strasbourg, which addressed the specific situation of Roma young people affected by multiple discrimination. The event, organised by the Youth Department of the Council of Europe, its Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit, and the Support Team of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues, brought together over fifty participants from twenty-one Council of Europe Member States encompassing a wide variety of backgrounds - from human rights advocates, to LGBTI activists, young Romani NGO professionals and academics. The conference provided an excellent platform for the participants to share their own experiences of multiple discrimination in a safe space and to discuss strategies and tools to tackle multiple discrimination. A draft Council of Europe study on young Roma people’s experiences of multiple discrimination was presented and we welcome look forward to its publication; we are particularly keen to use this as an awareness raising tool in our own work with other organisations and within Roma communities themselves.
Our understanding of the challenges and prejudice often faced by Roma women, young men, migrants and LGBTI Roma people - often within their own communities - was certainly enhanced. Our Project Officer, Denisa Psenickova, described the event as eye opening, in particular with regard to internal discrimination experienced by LGBTI people within Roma communities; sexuality is often a taboo subject and it is common for gender roles to be firmly defined and difficult to challenge. “There is clearly a need for equality and diversity education in this area among young Roma people, so that awareness is raised and attitudes within the community can evolve”, she said. “If there is no place for homosexuality or any other difference in the community, a young Roma person is bound to have issues around self-acceptance and identity”.
It is also important to acknowledge the differences among various Romani communities, especially in relation to their observance of traditions and historically held beliefs. For young Roma migrants in the UK, for instance young women in education, we hope that the diversity and openness of the UK can offer them a real chance to overcome the multiple external discriminations they may have experienced in their countries of origin.
Future actions and proposals for different actors and at different levels were discussed at the end of the conference, looking to address specific concerns raised by young Roma participants. We look forward to future work with the Council of Europe on these issues and are grateful for the invitation to participate in this important event. We would also like to thank the organisers and facilitators for creating a very welcoming, safe space for participants to share their own - often troubling - experiences freely and to network, make links and plan future actions together, in solidarity.