European meeting on institutional discrimination

On September 8th a group 5 representatives from ATD Ireland including community activists Annmarie, Lorraine and Paul travelled to France to take part in a three-day European Citizen’s Dialogue on institutional maltreatment and discrimination.  This gathering brought together 60 delegates from Ireland, France, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Belgium and Germany.  

This a very pressing and relevant issue in Ireland as we are currently undergoing a campaign to have socio- economic status recognised as the tenth ground of discrimination in Irish equality legislation. Further, many of our recent projects have been aimed towards bringing greater societal awareness of the lived experience of socio- economic discrimination in Ireland. 

We began on Friday morning by having an initial reaction to the topic of institutional maltreatment and discrimination and a collective discussion on what this means to us.  These provoked feelings of rejection, injustice, helplessness and the idea that discrimination is often premeditated.  

We worked in small groups to have a deeper discussion on these impacts.  The Irish group worked with some representatives from Bulgaria and France.  Each participant courageously shared some personal testimonies of institutional maltreatment and discrimination experienced by them or that they have come across in their work.  This led to some significant moments of camaraderie and compassion among our small group.  It was impactful for the groups to make the realisations that there were a lot of shared experiences and they faced similar injustices but are also working towards common goals.

We discussed real life experiences of discrimination in healthcare, education, housing and while navigating often confusing social welfare systems. These examples were grouped together into six themes of which our group delved further into the topic of ‘physical and psychological violence’.  We discussed how this theme related to the examples shared. 

Once we identified some of the main causes, (such as social policies, the language used by certain professionals, and a lack of social, healthcare and psychological services and great mistrust between institutions and people living in poverty), we progressed on to looking at solutions.  As our group identified the huge mental toll of discrimination and the impacts it can have on confidence and self- esteem, we decided to discuss the positive actions we can take to help improve self- confidence. 

We discussed the value of an open space where everyone is treated with respect, can develop their skills and confidence, share and gain support from others with similar experiences.  If we all stand tall and leave no one behind we can build people up who can’t build their self.  We can help by telling them they are not alone and build up their self- worth.

Each group had the opportunity to present some of their recent work and it was inspiring and motivating to learn about the projects taking place in ATD groups across Europe.   It was also quite moving to hear of the different struggles faced by those living in poverty outside of Ireland.  In particular, Annmarie was shocked by the Bulgarian film on the impacts of urban planning and it made her reflect on her own situation in a different light.  Paul, Lorraine and Annmarie shared our recent work with the #Addthe10th campaign and hope it will motivate our European counterparts where socio- economic discrimination is still not yet recognised. The community activists also presented ATD Ireland’s new film showcasing our poverty aware practice module carried out with Trinity College social work students.

Confident and persistent in all aspects of our work is the key element I’ve taken away from the three- day forum”.

There was also time throughout the weekend to relax, have fun and make connections with new European friends.  We learned a little about each other’s backgrounds and there was even time to share some Irish history!

It was a really positive weekend for the Irish group who appreciated the chance to share their thoughts and gain greater confidence and belief in their own intelligence and wisdom on these issues. We are all enormously proud of the Irish delegates for their important contributions and especially for graciously sharing their personal testimonies throughout the weekend.  Taking motivation from the work done across Europe we will continue taking gradual steps locally and nationally in Ireland to end socio- economic discrimination.

Thanks very much to the ATD European team and the Fourth World People’s University network for organising this event!

“What an amazing weekend people from all over the world getting involved in discrimination ya it does not make us any different from the people who maybe had their college degrees and others that pulled out of school too early.  That was not our fault we are exactly the same and it’s great that we are getting our point across and please God we can change the way discrimination is been used all around the wourld.  What a great time away, a learning experience thank you A.T.D” – Ann Marie

Our struggle as activists and volunteers has its ups and downs.  But when we put our minds and energy together, we achieve well above our weight.  We need to be proud of our work. -Paul

“I think France was an amazing experience… the team worked great together even though it was sometimes difficult with the different languages but we pulled through as a team… it was important for me because I have a deep passion for change in this country and others… I don’t want my children to grow up in a world with no opportunities because of where we are from, the inner city is looked down upon but we are no different then the rich we just never had the opportunities in life they did… I’m fighting for my kid’s future an I won’t stop ..” – Lorraine.  

A big shout out to our amazing, hardworking ATD Ireland delegation! You made us all proud. You got all the points across so well and together with others from other countries and languages pulled together some very important solutions and ideas for tackling discrimination and institutional mistreatment. Well done. More work ahead”. – Dann