Training of Romani and Traveller women to combat discrimination

Strasbourg, November 2004


On November 8, 2004, the Council of Europe (COE) hosted a two-day training session for ten members of the International Roma Women’s Network (IRWN). The meeting was jointly sponsored by the COE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe.

The purpose of the meeting was to train selected members of the IRWN in techniques for combating discrimination, with particular emphasis on the media. At the same time, the agenda was sufficiently flexible to allow participants to review the IRWN’s evolution as a network in the 18 months since its establishment (March 8, 2003). Parallel to the meeting, IRWN members also submitted the necessary documents to register the IRWN as a non-profit organization in Strasbourg.

This report is written by Iain Guest, trainer and consultant for the COE and the IRWN.

Iain Guest, March 23, 2005.
Washington DC, 2005.
Tel: 202 332 3900


In spite of several absences, the ten participants represented a broad cross-section of the IRWN’s 18 members, and ensured a rich exchange of views and experiences. The participants came from ten countries:

Nazmie Furtuna, Albania; Silvija Filipova, Bulgaria; Ramiza Mehmedi, Croatia; Janette Gronfors, Finland; Diana Sima, Germany; Sarita Jasarova, Macedonia; Letizia Mark, Romania; Nadie Demeter, Russia; Beata Olahova, Slovakia; Soraya Post, Sweden;

Also present: Nora Costache, Romania (Interpretor), Mr. Sejdo Jasarov (Macedonia), Martina Pokutiva (Trainer, COE Roma Division); Iliana Tsankova (Trainer, COE Roma Division).

Secretariat: Mrs. Maria Ochoa-Llido; Mrs. Miranda Vuolasranta; Mr. Henry Scicluna; Ms. Diana Kirilova; Ms. Audrey Gabilly.


Monday November 8:

Introduction: Soraya Post, President, IRWN; discussion
Developing a work plan for campaigns: Iain Guest, consultant; discussion
Case-study: Using the media to campaign for Roma Refugee Women: Diana Sima; discussion
IT training: Iain Guest, Consultant; discussion
Case-study: The sterilisation of Roma women in Slovakia as portrayed by the media; discussion

Tuesday, November 9:

Strategic discussion and training: Iain Guest, consultant; discussion
Presentation by Martina Pokutova: using the media to promote projects; discussion
Presentation by Iliana Tsankova: Media coverage of sterilization in Peru, Sweden, USA and India.
Closing Remarks, Soraya Post, President IRWN.


The discussion assessed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the IRWN, as they have emerged since the establishment of the network on March 8 2003. It also helped to identify future needs.


• The IRWN is the only network that bring together Roma women activists from East and West Europe. This gives it a special “niche” and role among the growing family of Roma activist organizations.

• IRWN members are united by common concerns, particularly health, which affect Roma in many different societies and cultures. This gives them common goals, which cut across differences.

• Mutual Respect: Discussions within the IRWN display considerable respect and friendship between members, regardless of their differing backgrounds.

• Lobbying power: IRWN members are so diverse that they bring different voices and strengths to any campaign. This gives the IRWN considerable weight as a lobbying organization, and increases its outreach capacity.

• Information: In less than two years the IRWN listserv has become an indispensable source of information about Roma problems, campaigns and activities throughout Europe. This underlines the importance of information and communications technology to the network.

• Providing a point of entry into the European bodies. As a founding member of the Roma Forum, the IRWN has a privileged position within the Council of Europe.

• Access to high-level meetings: Several participants agreed that Soraya Post has used her position as IRWN President to strengthen the IRWN’s credibility by attending several major meetings.


• Communications between the members of the Committee, and between the Committee and the network, remain extremely uneven and difficult.

• The responsibilities of Committee members remain unclear.

• It is hard for such a large and disparate network to launch campaigns. Yet campaigns are the best way to bring members together and firm up the network.

• Dependency on volunteerism. While voluntarism can help launch an initiative, it cannot sustain it indefinitely and certainly cannot help it to grow. The last two years have made many demands on the IRWN’s president and IT coordinator (Janette Gronfors). They have also shown that international networking requires commitment, resources, and new skills. These are hard to come by when IRWN members are busy with their own families and work.

• Dependency on outside funding. The key need is to build the capacity of the IRWN as a network, but it seems exceptionally difficult to secure funds for this. In two years the IRWN has only secured one grant, for $8,000.

Looking to the Future:

It was not the intention of this meeting to develop a strategic plan for the IRWN, but it certainly began to identify some priority issues that must be included in such a plan. There are four broad requirements.

• First and foremost, the IRWN must define its mission and a work plan.

• Second, it must consolidate its membership.

• Third, it must elect a strong committee, capable of acting as a focal point between members and representing the IRWN internationally.

• Fourth, it will have to acquire legal status and an organizational structure. This, in turn, will require consistent support from governments, members and agencies.


Participants agreed that the IRWN is first and foremost a campaigning network and that its raison d’etre is to improve the lives of Roma women throughout Europe. The IRWN’s members are activists, as opposed to academics or theoreticians. As a result, participants began by identifying some of the problems that could be the subject of campaigns in their countries. All of these problems result from discrimination against Roma, Sinti or Travellers.

These issues are all emerging at a national level, and one of the questions that emerged was how an international network like the IRWN could complement a national campaign. One pressing example came from the United Kingdom, which has seen a number of violent confrontations between the local authorities and Gypsies in recent months. The National Association for Gypsy Women has campaigned vigorously against these evictions, and taken its struggle to the international community. Catherine Beard, the Association, is also the IRWN coordinator for campaigns. Unfortunately, Ms Beard was unable to attend the Strasbourg meeting, but the UK evictions were seen as a good example of a national crisis that could be taken up by the IRWN at the international level.

As a general point, it was also understood that a campaign is often the best way of providing an international network like the IRWN with focus and cohesion.

Had there been more IRWN members present in Strasbourg, the meeting agreed it would have made sense to issue a joint communiqué or letter on a controversial issue, such as evictions. The IRWN issued precisely such a letter on March 8, 2003, concerning sterilisations in Slovakia, and received considerable publicity.

Each participant was asked to present an issue that is of great concern to Roma women in their country, and would benefit from support from the IRWN. The list that emerged was:

• The UK - evictions

• Slovakia - sterilisation and poverty

• Bulgaria - health insurance (Rumania)

• Russia – protection of Romanes language

• Macedonia - hate speech

• Germany – Roma refugees

• Rumania – the inconsistency of the EU’s Phare program

• Albania – trafficking of organs of Roma children

This discussion underscored another important side-benefit from the IRWN. Rumania has been more successful in providing health insurance for Roma than Bulgaria, and there are lessons to be learned from this for Bulgaria. Hungary’s Roma have also been highly critical of the EU Phare program, and the way that it channels large sums to non-Roma intermediaries. This suggests that Hungarian and Rumanian Roma should work together. This underscores the value of the IRWN as a forum for exchanging information.



Each participant was asked to consider their “issue” in terms of a campaign, and break this down into eight key questions.

Question 1: What is the problem?

(Example) In Bulgaria: a new 2000 law requires Roma to repay debts from health insurance in full and shortens the time of repayment; In Macedonia: the Macedonian press refers to “Rom” in general terms and often associates prostitution with the Roma, even though it is illegal to mention a person’s ethnicity; In Russia there is no Romanes language for the 300,000 Roma in Russia in schools or the media; In Slovakia Roma women continue to be vulnerable to “secondary sterilization” as a result of excessive cesareans and the lack of health care for women; etc etc

Question 2: What would be the goal of a campaign?

In Germany, improve the protection of Roma refugees in Germany and stop deportations to other countries; In Macedonia, moderate hate speech in the Macedonian press but also project a “positive” image of Roma; In Bulgaria, provide Roma with a longer time to pay their debts from health insurance; etc etc

Question 3: Who would be the Target for a campaign (whose mind would have to be changed)?

Question 4: Who would be the partners/allies in the campaign? (In the broadest sense – eg Minority Ombudsmen, national strategies, IRWN)

Question 5: What activities would be undertaken by the campaign?

Question 6: How would the local and international press be co-opted (articles, contacts etc)? Does the campaign have a list of press contacts?

Question 7: How would the campaign be organized, and by whom? What resources would be required?

Question 8: Next Steps.



The participants identified several different “tools” and assets that the IRWN and its members have at their disposal and can draw upon in campaigns:

• IRWN members – willing to invest in the network

• The IRWN committee – co-ordination, information

• Lobbying - national and international

• Networking – building alliances

• E-mail (information and communication) – contacts with other IRWN members

• E-mail and e-petitions (urgent action) – contacts with the outside world

• IRWN website – promoting the work of the IRWN and its members

• Original research – to back up campaigning issue

• Joint missions – eg to Kosovo

• Newsletter – once the organization and capacity exists



The discussion identified several different types of allies who could be targeted and co-opted in a campaign.

• Local civil society and community groups

• National governments

• The local/national press

• International NGO allies (the Roma Forum; ERRC; EUMC; ERIO; AP etc)

• International Organizations:

a) The Council of Europe (through legally-binding instruments – ie the Convention on human rights; treaty bodies - ie the Social Committee; “issues” – ie trafficking of children, women; special arrangements – ie the treaty with Russia.)

b) The United Nations. (The working group of the UN human rights Sub-Commission on minorities; the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; the UNHCR; The International Organization of Migration; the World Health Organization; UNICEF;

c) European collective security: The European Stability Pact; the OSCE (through issues – ie trafficking; through the High Commissioner for National Minorities).

d) International initiatives: the Roma Decade, and the national plans.



The IRWN hopes to develop its own website, but it must first be clear about how a website would serve the interests of the network and its members. In addition, the IRWN must be able to generate regular content and sustain the website. Nothing detracts from the credibility of a campaign/organization so much as a “dead” website.

The discussion recommended that the new IRWN website should be in English and Romanes, and contain the IRWN logo clearly on the home page.

It should be divided into the following sections: mission; about us; members; campaigns; urgent actions (emails); photo library; archive (drawn from email listserv).

Janette Gronfors would be responsible for organizing and editing content. Miroslav Olah, from Macedonia, has been suggested as a web designer.



The current composition of the IRWN committee was again reviewed. The following roles and responsibilities were proposed:

• President: Soraya (functions – fundraising, representing IRWN, spokesperson)

• Vice-President: Diana Sima (functions – International Campaign Coordinator)

• Vice-President: Miranda (functions – liaison with founding members, Council of Europe)

• Secretary: Janette (functions - information, IT, membership, database, website content)

• Media liaison: Sarita (functions - media, translation)

• International agencies: Diana Kirilova (functions – monitoring and representing the IRWN at the COE and UN; managing information database)

• National Campaign coordinator: Catherine

• Treasurer: Beata

• Website design: Mirsolav

• Technical and networking support: Advocacy Project; Roma Information Project


Iain Guest, Washington DC, March 23, 2005.