The Impact of Discrimination on the Traveller Community
Elizabeth O Leary
Discrimination is the ‘unfair or unjust treatment towards those of a different background, race, religion, gender or disability’.
Discrimination is a global problem which negatively impacts many marginalised people, and the Traveller Community are arguably one of the most discriminated against people in Ireland.
As a result, many from our community hide their identities to “assimilate” and “blend in” to what society considers ‘normalised standards’. Fearing what people may think or say about us. Fear of being judged often leads to turning down opportunities in either work or education because we do not want to be discriminated against or stereotyped.
A Personal Perspective
Having experienced discrimination firsthand, I understand the toll it can take on a person’s mental health and self-perception. While I didn’t encounter much discrimination during my school years, it became more prevalent once I entered the workforce.
Even though I’m proud of my Traveller heritage and don’t feel any shame about it, I was hesitant to disclose it in the workplace for fear of losing my job due to my ethnicity. Unfortunately, this fear is common among young Travellers who are starting their careers or pursuing higher education. Many face employment barriers and those who do secure jobs often witness discrimination against themselves and their community members.
It can be extremely isolating when discrimination is allowed to go unchallenged by those who witness it. The absence of support and silence from those aware of what’s happening and choosing to remain complicit can be particularly painful. If we truly desire to see meaningful change, we must speak out and hold individuals responsible for their harmful and discriminatory actions.
Discrimination, Mental Health, and High Suicide Rates
As a community, we experience discrimination and backlash based on negative stereotypes and perceptions about us as a community from people before ever meeting or engaging with us. One consequence of daily discrimination is the impact it has on mental health.
According to a study in the Irish Times, discrimination is the primary cause of suicide among Travellers. The study, conducted by S3 Solutions, which specialises in community and voluntary sector research, was commissioned by the Clondalkin Travellers Development Group, Tallaght Travellers Development Group and Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project’. The study findings showed that the rate of suicide in the Traveller community is six times higher than in the general population.
Know your Rights-Find Support
There are laws in place, such as the Equality Acts 1998-2015, but unfortunately, sometimes these laws are not adhered to. According to www.socialjustice.ie, 2019, data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that 17.7% of the population experienced some form of discrimination before their interviews. Additionally, in a 2022 RTE Workplace Equality Survey, almost 3 in 4 workers experienced discrimination.
Given the high statistics and workplace discrimination level, it is essential to recognise some of the grounds under which discrimination falls. These include:
- Civil Status
- Family Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Race (ethnic group, being a member of the Traveller community)
The Role of social media- your Words Matter
Social media apps, like TikTok, have added to the widespread issue of discrimination. While the app has provided opportunities for some individuals to make a living, it also has negative consequences. Young users are subjected to hurtful comments about their culture, identity, and appearance, which can significantly impact their self-esteem and overall mental wellbeing.
There are many ways we can try to help and cope with discrimination, for example:
- Seeking out help: This should be a number one priority. Seeking correct and professional help is essential. Reporting and speaking out against anybody who is being discriminative. Use your voice!
- Don’t dwell: Don’t dwell on other people’s opinions or comments. Stay true to yourself and empower yourself through your strengths. These opinions and comments do not define who you are as a person.
- If discrimination happens within your workplace, document everything. Grab a diary, report each incident, and bring this to your human resource management.
- Look at your employee handbook and know your rights as an employee.
We urge those experiencing or witnessing discrimination to speak up and use their voice. It is essential to speak up. If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, speak to your HR manager, a friend, a family, or somebody you feel you can trust and know that can help you.