As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Vice-Prime Minister of the Government of North Macedonia,
Minister of Labour and Social Policy for North Macedonia,
Ambassador of Finland to the Council of Europe, dear Sini (online),
Ambassador, Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje (video message),
United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative for the Republic of North Macedonia,
Member of the Greek delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, dear Georgios,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to open the 9th International Roma and Traveller Women’s Conference.
First of all, let me thank the Government of North Macedonia for its long-standing commitment to Roma women’s rights and its organisation of this important event. This conference continues the journey we started eight years ago – in 2015.
My gratitude also goes to the Finnish authorities for their strong and continued support for Roma and Traveller activities in general, and for the organisation of International Roma and Traveller Women’s Conferences in particular.
Since 2007, these Conferences have provided a unique platform for Roma and Traveller women to discuss and share their knowledge and experiences on the challenges affecting them – from the lack of identity documents and statelessness to gender-based violence, discrimination, and sexism. But most importantly, to reflect on the causes of current problems and propose possible solutions, as well as making recommendations to decision-makers, and developing bilateral or multilateral co-operation.
Promoting gender equality is among the Council of Europe’s main priorities. For this, women and girls are key agents of development and change.
Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is vital to building fair, inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful societies. Gender equality is also one of the key requirements for a functioning democracy.
I also believe that we as men have a crucial role to play, as highlighted in our Gender Equality Strategy.
The mainstreaming of Roma and Traveller gender equality issues is included within that Strategy for Gender Equality. We want to promote the empowerment of Roma and Traveller women in all spheres, address reproductive rights, domestic violence and early marriages, as well as human trafficking within Roma and Traveller communities.
All our 46 European leaders agreed in Reykjavík in May that gender equality and the full, equal, and effective participation of women in public and private decision-making processes are essential to the rule of law, democracy, and sustainable development. At the same time they adopted the Reykjavík Principles for Democracy, that emphasise the full, equal, and meaningful participation in political and public life for all, in particular for women and girls, who should live lives free from hate speech and hate crime, as well as discrimination based on any ground.
Today’s conference contributes towards these goals and moves us further along the path towards equality for all women, free from discrimination. Of course, overcoming the challenges that Roma and Traveller women face in almost every sphere of their lives needs to be tackled from different angles.
Further steps forward will require the implementation of our gender equality standards, by focusing in particular on the multiple discrimination faced by Roma and Traveller women. I believe we will also need to develop new standards, and that is why we are now drafting a new Committee of Ministers Recommendation on Equality for Roma and Traveller Women and Girls. I am sure that the discussions you will have here in Skopje over the next days, will provide very important input and help us prepare the ground for future co-operation as well as concrete projects.
I know it is not an easy task to address the multiple challenges that Roma women and girls face every day, but I believe that together with all of you – we can meet these challenges, as we will only succeed if we work closely together with civil society.
It is inspiring to know that this event is attended by so many of you who have fought for equality and non-discrimination, and contributed to monitoring the progress of Roma and Traveller inclusion in our member states.
Yes we work well together, but we can do so much more.
Building equality and sustainable change must be driven by women and men alike.
I am also grateful to all experts and participants, physically present or online, who have given their time and expertise to be here today.
I can only wish you a very good and successful conference.
Thank you for your attention.