Kirby faces up to anti-Gypsy feeling in Wales

21 October 2008

By Jake Bowers, Travellers Times Online Editor

Kirby Jones (far left) now appearing on billboards across Wales

A young Welsh Gypsy woman has become one the faces of a new campaign to challenge intolerance in Wales. Nineteen year-old Kirby Jones is one of 5 people whose faces are being used as part of a national advertising campaign across Wales to challenge perceptions of minority groups. The campaign “Who do you see?” was launched at a conference in Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on October 15th by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

It comes off the back of new research by the Commission which has published the first ever major survey into attitudes towards discrimination, equality and living together in Wales. The survey reveals that while the people of Wales have broadly positive attitudes, areas of significant prejudice persist. Of concern to Gypsies and Travellers is the fact that: 

  •  38% would be unhappy if a close relative married or formed a long-term relationship with a Gypsy or Traveller and,

  • only 37% of people believed that a Gypsy or Traveller should be a primary school teacher

The last statistic is particularly relevant to Kirby Jones. She works as a classroom assistant in Monkton School in Pembrokeshire, where over 20% of the pupils are from a Gypsy background. The school has a special unit for encouraging Gypsy kids to attend secondary school and has won awards for its efforts to include Gypsy culture and children at the heart of its work.

While many young Gypsy women might be prepared to front a fashion billboard campaign, few have ever fronted a campaign for greater tolerance. Yet this week, Kirby’s image will be across billboards across Wales and a mobile billboard winding its way around the Welsh roads challenging people to think beyond their first impressions.

Kirby is quick to condemn prejudice. “At the end of the day, no matter which you are, if you get your qualifications you are suitable for the job.” She says “Never mind if you are a Gypsy, if you are black, it doesn’t matter who you are. So I don’t see why people label you?”

Like many in the Gypsy community she knows where the ill feeling comes from. “I think it comes from bad media, because there are no good things being said about what Gypsies have done. A Gypsy person looks the same but they have a different lifestyle, they just see us as bad people.”

But why did she take the step to becoming a poster girl in a campaign for greater understanding?

“There are no role models from a Gypsy background to stand up and say this is who we are. It’s the only form of racism that’s accepted and it’s wrong because we are just the same as everyone else. We need to have that voice.”

Having exposed discriminatory attitudes in Wales, the Commission says it is keen to start tackling them. It says that discriminatory attitudes are least likely to be held by those with the widest social networks and those who stay on in school and continue within education are significantly more accepting and inclusive towards others.

Kate Bennett, National Director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Wales, says:

“’The research paints a very interesting picture of Wales. It is one where the people of Wales are largely comfortable with people from all backgrounds. But not everyone in this picture is being treated with fairness and respect.”

“We will now be working with our partners to build on the positive attitudes we have found and to challenge the negative attitudes that blight all our lives. We believe that by working together we can achieve a Wales with respect and fairness at its heart.”

Listen to Kirby Jones

www.equalityhumanrights.com

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