Post by Juliana da Penha. In this blog post, Juliana sets out some ways in which migrant women organisations in Italy are coping with quarantine. This is a shortened and edited version of a longer piece by Migrant Women Press, which can be access here: https://migrantwomenpress.com/resilience-during-the-pandemic/ Migrant Women Press is a journalism organisation with gender, race and migration perspectives.
Migrant women organizations in Italy: amid struggles and strengths
Casa di Ramia, which opened in 2005, is a women’s intercultural centre in Verona, Italy, well known as a safe space where women from different origins meet to create, learn and develop a variety of projects. It’s also a place that many local women organizations use as a base for their activities. Mainly, it’s somewhere women can listen to and support each other.
Before the pandemic, Casa di Ramia offered a daily program of activities for women, young people and children including Italian and English lessons, narrative groups, traditional dance classes, choir, after school support, sewing classes and more.
During the quarantine, some groups have managed to continue a few of their activities online. But the impact of the closure of this space is enormous. Many women are now isolated, facing financial hardship and in danger of being victims of domestic violence.
For migrant women’s organizations like Casa di Ramia, the quarantine has been challenging, both in funding terms, and for their ability to support women in need. “The impact of this closure is terrible because these meeting spaces are essential for mutual support. This isolation situation is tough. We try to resist, but we can’t do a lot”, explains Elena Migliavacca, Coordinator of the space.
Aware of the vulnerable situation of many of the women who attended the activities at Casa di Ramia, Elena is contacting charity organizations, like Caritas, to provide food packs for those who are in financial difficulties. Some of the groups of Casa di Ramia are also creating ways to keep supporting each other and continue some of their activities online. In this work, they have drawn inspiration from earlier struggles elsewhere.
Arpilleras: Latin America women resistance inspiring women in Italy during the quarantine
During the 1970s and 1980s, for example, under the totalitarian military regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, women made Arpilleras - vibrantly coloured embroidery and patchwork pictures - as a way of representing and sharing pain about their husbands, fathers, family members and friends who were killed, tortured, and disappeared.
Through embroidery they documented and denounced the regime that prevented freedom of expression. Arpilleras has been used ever since, in a number of countries, including in Italy, to denounce gender-based violence and other forms of oppression.
Motivated by women from her home country, Peru, Vitka Olivera de la Cruz started an Arpilleras workshop in Casa di Ramia. This is one of the activities that has kept going throughout the quarantine, through WhatsApp.
Vitka is a lawyer with a specialization in social studies. Her job involves offering advice, juridical and administrative support to migrants. The inspiration to keep the Arpilleras workshop online, came when she saw her daughter, who is at the secondary school attending her school lessons online. "I remember that I come from South America and there we invented everything. So, I said to the group: If you are happy, we can keep the lessons via WhatsApp. After that, we started to share videos, photos, and we even danced. I put some music and the 5 of the women who were online that day danced…I was inspired by what happened in my country. We have many issues, but we keep going".
Challenges to support migrant women during the pandemic
A significant number of migrant women in Italy are informal workers, and the unemployment in this group is high. After the pandemic, their situation has only worsened. Associazione Stella is an organization based at Casa di Ramia offering employability support for migrant women, helping to build CVs, job search and training opportunities. They also organize employability training to assist migrant women understand how the job market in Italy works, informing and preparing them to face it better. Before the pandemic, their services started to be affected due to lack of funding and might not continue after the lockdown.
Vedrana Skocic, coordinator of Associazione Stella explained that it’s impossible to plan any online action. Before the pandemic migrant women were desperate for a job. Now their situation is worse. “They feel isolated at home. Many are single mothers with their children, without income and the small informal jobs, they used to do. They don’t know what to do. The media bombard them with information, but they are still confused because many of them don’t speak Italian,” explained Vedrana.
A network of solidarity helping migrant women in financial hardship during the pandemic
Le Fate Onlus develops projects with women and families in Verona. As Cristina Cominacini, the coordinator of Le Fate, explains, the quarantine created a significant impact on their services because most of their activities rely on physical contact. They closed their offices, and staff are working from home. “Besides not knowing when, how much and how we will get paid for the work we are doing, it’s complicated to organize online activities because not all the women have a PC or a good internet connection. It’s not the same thing, for the relationship and for the things you can do.”
Le Fate is supporting women who attended their activities to remain in contact as much as they can, by writing to and calling them regularly. Some of the members are helping children with their home studies as the Italian schools deliver online lessons. Le Fate is also helping women who are facing financial hardship. "We can refuel at the Food Bank every month, so we distribute the groceries to those in need. This month we also received a fund of 1500 euros from the Mag (a mutual society) with which we were born, and we collaborate a lot. They thought that many of the people we follow have lost their jobs or they don't have protection because they're working illegally. So, we could make a small economic contribution for both women and families", explained Cristina.
“They are feeling lonely”. Supporting victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Italy during Covid-19 pandemic
Associazione Iroko Onlus assists victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Turin. The lockdown created a significant impact in their work, and now it’s difficult for them to keep in touch with all women they support.
“We have received complaints of domestic violence, but in addition to addressing them to the police, there is not much we can do. We have also received complaints from other organisations asking us for assistance for the women who they follow. They are also in difficulty. It is much more difficult to network. There are stories of increased domestic violence, but we are no longer able to follow the cases as before”. Ruby Till, responsible for communication at Iroko.
Sandra Faith Erhabor helps migrant women access local services, particularly those who have been victims of sexual exploitation. She also develops different projects with women at Casa di Ramia and with local Nigerian communities. Sandra arrived in Italy with a false promise of work and almost ended in prostitution. She now helps women in the same situation.
"I call them to ask how they are, how they are feeling. The women are feeling lonely and tell me all their problems. The majority of them didn't have food at home. So, I send all the information to my coordination, and they will send it to Caritas to provide food to them at home. Now they are receiving food at home. Some of them have health issues, and the coordinator contacts the health services to provide them with the health support", explains Sandra.
Besides this work, Sandra also led a women's group in partnership with Margaret Enabulele, a fashion designer. They are assisting them through sewing and art and crafts lessons. Before the quarantine, they were meeting every week, and now they are meeting online "We are doing art and crafts at home, via WhatsApp, so they don't feel alone. We teach them how to do they own masks. We are doing many things online".
In all of these examples, women continue to support one another, while also creating important community ties. Although the challenges are great, so too is the steadfastness of those involved. In documenting these endeavours, we see not only women’s resilience, but an enduring commitment to social justice and community.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
De Penha, J (2020). Resilience during the pandemic. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/05/resilience-during [date]