Migrant Women Press spoke with individuals and organisations working with migrant women in Italy to learn how COVID-19 is affecting their lives and activities, and most importantly, what they are doing to overcome these difficulties.

Migrant women organisations in Italy: amid struggles and strengths

Casa di Ramia is a women intercultural centre in Verona, 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 organisations use as a base for their activities. Mainly, it’s a place where women can listen to and support each other.

Before the pandemic, Casa di Ramia, which opened its premises in 2005, offered a daily programme of activities for women, youth and children with Italian and English lessons, narrative groups, traditional dance classes, choir, after school support, sewing classes and more.

During the quarantine, some groups managed to continue a few of their activities at a distance using the Internet. 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 organisations, the quarantine represents the uncertainty of funding, lack of sustainability of projects and few possibilities to give support to 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’, explained 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 organisations, like Caritas, to provide food packs for women that are in financial difficulties. She also mentioned that some of the women groups of Casa di Ramia are creating ways to keep supporting each other and continue some of their activities online.

Arpilleras: Latin America women resistance inspiring women in Italy during the quarantine

During the 1970s and 1980s under the totalitarian military regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, women were making Arpilleras – vibrantly coloured embroidery and patchwork pictures – and used these creations as a way to share their pain about their husbands, fathers, family members and friends who were killed, tortured and disappeared.

Arpilleras embroidery served to document and denounce the oppressions during a regime that did not allow freedom of expression. It helped to register women capacity to be resilient in overcoming suffering, loss and desperation. This became a movement, inspiring women groups in Latin America and later inspiring women in other places. Arpilleras is also used today as a tool 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. Vitka is a lawyer with a specialisation in social studies. She works at a public office service giving advice, and juridical and administrative support to migrants. She is also one of the women who develop projects at Casa di Ramia. She started the Arpilleras group, and through embroidery, women are creating narratives.

When the quarantine started in Italy, she thought that it would be a shame to stop this activity, as things were going well, so she keeps doing the workshop using WhatsApp. The inspiration to keep the Arpilleras workshop online came when she saw her daughter, who is at 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 that were online that day danced’.

She concludes, ‘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. As a result of the pandemic, the situation has become worse. Associazione Stella is an organisation based at Casa di Ramia offering employability support for migrant women, helping to build CVs, help to job search and assist with training opportunities. They also organise employability training assisting migrant women in understanding how the job market in Italy works, informing and preparing them to face it better. Before the pandemic, their services started to become affected due to lack of funding and these might not continue after the lockdown.

Vedrana Skocic, coordinator of Associazione Stella, explained that lockdown represented the complete closure of activities as women who attended the project lack of things such as data for their phones, so it’s impossible to plan any online action. Before the pandemic migrant women were desperate for jobs and encountered a lot of difficulties. Now their situation is tough: ‘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 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, mainly migrant communities in Verona. Cristina Cominacini, the coordinator of Le Fate, explained that the quarantine created a significant impact on their services as most of their activities rely on physical contact. They have closed their offices, and the staff are now 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 organise 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 being in contact as much as they can, writing and calling them to understand their needs. Moreover, there are some educators from this organisation helping children to commit to their home studies, as the Italian schools are delivering 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

Irokois an organisation helping 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 to whom they give 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’, explained Ruby Till, who is responsible from communication at Iroko.

Sandra Faith Erhabor is a writer and intercultural mediator working to help migrant women to access the local services and helping victims of sexual exploitation. She also develops different projects with women at Casa di Ramia and Nigerian communities. Like many Nigerian women, Sandra arrived in Italy with a false promise of work and almost ended up in prostitution. She managed to exit from this route and now helps women in this 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’, explained 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 their own masks. We are doing many things online’.

Read the original article at: https://migrantwomenpress.com/resilience-during-the-pandemic/