Access to education for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Women and Girls

The introduction of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 was meant to signal change. Article 10 instructed that States must ensure that women have equal rights with men in education, including equal access to schools, vocational training, curricula and educational resources. However, for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) women these changes seem to be slow in coming to fruition. GRT women and girls still experience discrimination in all areas of their lives, especially in their access to education, and subsequently their participation in the work force.


Current statistics released by the DfE for 2017/2018 and TM’s own research betrays the bleak state of affairs in regards to their achievement and participation at various key stages. This begins at early years with only 39% of Traveller girls and 40% of Gypsy and Roma girls meeting the expected standard of development. At GCSE only 21.4% of Irish Traveller girls achieved a pass (9-4) in Maths & English and 14.7% of Gypsy/Roma girls, the percentage achieving strong passes (9-5) halved for both.

From Forthcoming TM research, preliminary findings indicate that a high proportion of girls leave school early due to bullying from students and teachers, this included being targeted for their ethnicity. Whilst the majority of girls interviewed had their parents support in their pursuit of education, many felt that their responsibilities at home negatively affected their school work.

As a result of negative school experiences and other factors, many GRT girls either drop out of school before the legal leaving age, or fail to achieve the required grades/qualifications. This negatively impacts upon their employment prospects and on their life chances.

Gypsy & Traveller Women in the workforce

The statistics on the employment prospects of Gypsy and Traveller women in the UK do not make for good reading. They are the most likely to work in low skilled jobs (71%) and are highly likely to work part time (54%) according to the 2011 census. There are high rates of unemployment (31%) and economic inactivity (60%). This means that at the time of the census only 9% of Gypsy and Traveller women who disclosed their ethnicity were in employment, with the highest proportion of self-employment at 18%.

These statistics reveal the precarious nature of employment for GRT women as working part time, in low skilled jobs means that the risk of in-work poverty is much higher. Additionally, GRT women who are self-employed do not have the same levels of protection and security. Additionally, GRT women are most likely to highlight that looking after the family and home was a factor in being economically inactive (27%). Gypsies and Travellers also have the highest numbers of unpaid care providers, which more often than not, falls to Women and girls. This can further the risks of poverty, and the inequalities faced by GRT Women.


However, it has to be taken into account that the figures for both education and workforce participation are skewered with inaccuracies, as not all GRT will disclose their ethnicity for fear of discrimination. Additionally, there is no ethnic monitoring category for Roma, while Gypsies and Travellers are grouped together as opposed to being disaggregated, which further clouds the picture in relation to workforce participation.

Whilst CEDAW has been at the heart of advancement of the rights of Women and girls across the world, it is clear that there is still much work to be done in order to tackle the discrimination faced by GRT women and girls in the United Kingdom; taking into account the intersectionality of Race, ethnicity and gender. Access and participation in education has to be at the heart of this and as it stands, article 10 is not being fulfilled when it comes to the rights of GRT girls.


Chelsea McDonagh is the Education Policy & Campaigns officer with the Traveller Movement. Chelsea is an Irish Traveller from London, with a First Class degree in Physical and Sport Education from St Mary’s University Twickenham. She is currently studying for a Master’s in Education at King’s College London. Chelsea has considerable experience working with disengaged young people, through the mediums of sport and education. She is currently working on the publication of research which explores Gypsy and Traveller experiences of Higher Education. Areas of interest include education, GRT in Higher Education, NEET/Alternative Education Provision and LGBT Travellers.

About the Traveller Movement 

The Traveller Movement is a leading national charity promoting the inclusion of and community engagement with Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. The Traveller Movement’s mission is to develop a platform and voice for Travellers, working in solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities to achieve equality through self-determination and proactive participation in influencing and shaping policy. The Traveller Movement provides direct support and advocacy across a range of issues, including education, hate crime, discrimination and provides access to justice through early legal remedy. The Traveller Movement is also a leading charity in research and policy advocacy and works in partnership with community, voluntary and statutory organisations to bring about lasting social change for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Find out more about the Traveller Movement here.