New Film on Traveller Women

‘The Changemakers’  is a documentary by the National Traveller Women’s Forum that looks at some of the changes  Traveller women have succeeded in bringing about – for themselves, for their own community and for the wider population.  It was shown in Leinster House house this week in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Missie Collins and Nancy Collins in the audience for the screening of The Changemakers

The half-hour film focuses on Traveller women activists of today and looks back at the achievements of Nan Joyce – a Traveller woman who ran for  general election in1982 and who was an inspiration to many in her community.

Brigid Carmody in a scene from The Changemakers

Four Women Activists

In the film we travel to Cork city where  Brigid Carmody works to bring about better living conditions for her community in Spring Lane in the city.  Tullamore, Co. Offaly is where Biddy Kavanagh and her colleagues  lobbied to abolish Traveller only classes in schools in Offaly and where they continue to work to support Travellers in education.

Eileen Flynn in a scene from The Changemakers

Eileen Flynn from Ballyfermot speaks passionately about her motivations and about the challenges in facing down sexism  within the Traveller community.

Also in Dublin is Missie Collins who speaks of the hard won achievement of getting the Government to produce a National Traveller Health Strategy and the disappointment of having the Strategy sit for 10 years on a shelf gathering dust.  “I’d like it to be better for my grandchildren and great grandchildren.  I don’t think they should have to suffer this,” said Missie.

Missie Collins in The Changemakers

Rosaleen McDonagh also talks about her journey to give a voice to Traveller women and the road she took from activist to artist.

Triple Discrimination 

Traveller women are often at the coalface of discrimination as it is often women who interact with health services, the education system, social services and others.   It is Traveller women are left to struggle to look after their families as best they can in often dire circumstances – substandard accommodation, no running water, no electricity, evictions, uncertainty and stress.

Screening of The Changemakers, Leinster House

Traveller women experience discrimination not only as Travellers and as women – but also as Traveller women.   It is often difficult in a small community to face down the sexism that exists within the Traveller community.

Fantastic Achievements

Yet, Traveller women have been at the forefront of the Traveller movement in the last 30 years.

Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women’s Forum

It is thanks largely to the work of Traveller women that we have seen the Traveller community gain State recognition for Traveller ethnicity.  We seen Traveller set up and develop 30 Traveller Healthcare Projects around the country. We have seen the Traveller experience of discrimination and racism acknowledged.  We have seen Travellers gain a seat at the table with policy and decision makers.

Challenges of Today

Turning policy that values Traveller identity into practices that are respectful and inclusive is the challenge that now faces Traveller women, the Traveller community and Irish society as a whole.  “Traveller women are happy to take on this role,” said Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women’s Forum, “And we need to create the conditions so we can meet these challenges.”

‘The Changemakers – 30 Years of Traveller Activists’ was filmed and directed by Alice McDowell and was supported by the Department of Justice & Equality.  The film is available from the National Traveller Women’s Forum at ntwf@iol.ie

Biddy Kavanagh in The Changemakers