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Speech by President Halonen at the International Roma Women’s Conference in Helsinki on 25 March 2019

7th INTERNATIONAL ROMA WOMEN’S CONFERENCE
Roma and Traveller Women’s access to justice and rights

INCLUDING TAKING STOCK OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE THEMATIC ACTION PLAN ON THE INCLUSION OF ROMA AND TRAVELLERS (2016-2019) AND POINTING THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE POST-2019 STRATEGIC POLICY DOCUMENT ON ROMA AND TRAVELLER INCLUSION

Hanaholmen 25-27 March 2019

Opening speech by President Tarja Halonen / Check against delivery

Dear audience,

  • I am happy to be here today, at the 7th International Roma Women’s Conference! It is great to see old friends, but I am also happy about the fact that you have succeeded to organize this conference.
  • Throughout the years, Roma women have been active in advocating for dignity and empowerment. My best wishes for tireless, continued work, which is, many times, not easy!
  • Finland has its own history. We were 700 years under the Swedish kings and queens, and thereafter, an autonomous Grand Duchy, as part of Russia. Building blocks for the Finnish democracy have been created before and during our independence. Developments in minority rights link to our history.
  • Weak economic and social status of Roma people, as well discrimination, harassment and hate crimes are still a major problem in many EU countries. Many times, Roma and Traveller women face intersectional forms of discrimination. To change the situation, ambitious actions are needed at the local, national and European level. So to reiterate, human rights also belong to Roma people – and Roma women.
  • Countries have obligations under international law to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights. But there is also a need for European level measures, due to various reasons:
      • There are weaknesses in national actions towards social inclusion, as well as problems of oversight at the local level, for example when it comes to the police and education sector.
      • In Europe, there is a chance to learn and share experiences – regionally.
      • Also, mobility over boarders has increased, many times due to unemployment, and subsistence related problems.
  • European organizations – EU, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – have established several programs and projects to enhance and support inclusion of Roma and Travellers. These projects are welcome. Throughout the years, Roma’s possibilities to participate in the planning and implementation of those projects has enhanced. But I am sad about certain steps backwards.
  • When it comes to individual projects, they are not enough, to eliminate structural discrimination. For better access to justice and rights, stronger cooperation between Roma representatives and governments is needed. Roma’s voice needs to be heard in the Committee of Ministers (Council of Europe) and other decision-making bodies.
  • I have been engaged to support and cooperate with the European Roma and Travellers Forum. The withdrawal of funds and offices earlier was regrettable, and the Council of Europe’s present-day dialogue needs notable improvements.
  • Projects towards empowering Roma women’s status are one of the bright spots in the inclusion related work of the Council of Europe. Internal cooperation between organizations has enhanced. (Finnish Roma representatives had an important role in bringing together IRWN – Phenjalipe network).
  • Finland has had its own path in enhancing Roma’s equal participation in the society. Finland’s National Advisory Board on Romani Affairs has had its present name since 1989. Issues concerning work-related discrimination, improving employment, education, and cultural affairs have been tackled, but this important work has to continue – in order to fully prevent and eliminate discrimination.
  • I have been part of this system years ago. Lack of information has sometimes – or actually, quite often – been a reason behind the negative behavior by the administration (/governance).
  • Finally, I would wish to say that be visible, be proud of your culture. There is no reason to hide it! Furthermore, remember to vote!

Thank you.