My big fat gypsy rights campaign

By IH 15/03 Updated: 19/03 08:53

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Buy photos » Alice Woodhouse is in the running for Amnesty International’s Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year award. (s)

A CAMPAIGNING Warwick schoolgirl is in the running for a prestigious national writing competition.

Alice Woodhouse, a pupil at King's High, has been shortlisted for Amnesty International’s Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year award.

The 16-year-old's report on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Rights was selected in the top ten for her age category from hundreds of entries nationally. Her article weaved together a history of gypsys and travellers with the modern day issue of prejudice against such communities.

Her work will now be judged by a panel of editors, authors and industry professionals including mutli-awarding Guardian journalist Ian Cobain, renowned author Anna Perera and television celebrity Danny Bartlett.

Over 3,000 young people from all four corners of the United Kingdom took part in the competition, which is being run by Amnesty International UK, the Guardian and the secondary school magazine SecEd.

Alice said: "I hope I have managed to bring to light a rather unpublicised human rights abuse, and feel privileged to have been longlisted for the award."

Kathy Hewitt, Alice’s teacher, was overjoyed.

She added: "This is great news! Alice has been a keen supporter of Amnesty International. She brings a fine critical mind to issues, along with a sensitivity which is admirable in such a young person."

Pete Henshaw, editor of SecEd, was involved in the listing process and described Alice's report as "a powerful piece with a powerful aftermath".

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Journalists play such an important role in exposing human rights abuses and it is inspiring to see so many children and young people taking an active interest in human rights.”

The top three from each category will be invited to an awards ceremony held at Amnesty International UK’s headquarters in May, where the winner will be announced.

The winner’s work will then be showcased at the organisation’s annual Media Awards in central London in front of an audience of over 400 of the nation’s top media figures on May 29.

The winner will receive a goodie bag from Amnesty International, The Guardian and SecEd.

Alice's report - Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Rights:

Human rights abuses have the stereotype of being seen to happen in some far flung corner of the world, or else occur in some kind of hidden underbelly of society. Yet they can, and do occur, almost literally in our back gardens. Flamenco dancing as we know it owes much to the Gypsy and Roma community. Django Reinhardt, was a Belgian Sinto Gypsy and one of Europe's first great jazz musicians. Gypsy culture is built upon strict codes of cleanliness learnt over centuries of life on the road. Concepts such as mokadi and mahrime provide strict guidelines, detailing, for example, on what objects can be washed in what bowls. And Gypsies have been present in Britain for at least 500 years. Yet so many still seem to think of them as an invading, uncivilised, dirty force, setting out to wreck people’s livelihoods and their cultures. Evidence would seem to suggest that the attack comes from the opposite direction. Programmes such as Big Fat Gypsy Weddings have been criticised by people such as Roma author and Teacher Dr Ian Hancock, and in the words of filmmaker Yale Strom "When entertainment of any kind feeds the public's false stereotypical image of a particular ethnic, religious or racial group it only reinforces ignorance”. This is exactly what such programmes do. More than this, one of the many victims to the cuts was the maintenance of official Traveller sites in Britain. But the main issue concerning the abuse of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights should perhaps be the common source of these abuses - a lack of knowledge and understanding from childhood about this culture. Casual racism and name calling may not seem to be such a major abuse of human rights, when far more dramatic horrors occur all over the world. But it is still abuse. And it is right in front of us, in a so called civilised society. A Children’s Society survey in 2007 found that eight out of ten Gypsy and Traveller children have suffered racial abuse and almost two thirds have been bullied or physically attacked. Terms such as “Pikey” fall frighteningly easily from the lips of otherwise amiable people. And if cultural conception of an entire culture is affected by programmes and myths which seem to focus on the worst, it does not look as though either understanding or acceptance is going to make any headway. An old Traveller woman and her husband come to our village sometimes, to sharpen blades for old clothes. Doors and windows shut in their faces, like something out of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Nazis killed about 25% of European Roma. Of slightly less than a million before the war, up to 220,000 were killed. Yet as a culture we are developing. For the first time in British history, the March 2011 census acknowledged Gypsy, Roma and Traveller as a separate ethic group. Perhaps equality is not too far away.

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