“Trama di Terre” (the name means “Weave of Lands”) was founded in Imola (province of Bologna, region of Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy) in the winter of 1997 by a group of Italian and foreign women. From the beginning, the guiding idea of the association has been to find a point of sharing between women coming from all over the world. The sharing point was neither gender only (because women are not all the same and not not everyone is ready to experience emancipation) nor just being migrants (because the meeting must take place even with the natives and because migrating initially breaks the person’s identity and makes them weaker).
In the struggle for access to material and symbolic resources, migrant women often face a dual vulnerability: on the one hand, the lack of citizenship means fewer rights and the constant risk of falling into irregularity; on the other hand, migrant women, as well as the natives, but sometimes in more extreme forms, are victims of roles that are assigned to them by the patriarchal mentality of their families and communities of origin: the good wife, the good mother, the good daughter – with all the violence that ensues when a woman decides to rebel.
Trama di Terre stands in this space of rebellion and struggle for autonomy, in the resistance to imposed identities. Identities which are imposed by racism, still deeply rooted in Italian society, and also by anyone who, in the name of tradition, religion or culture, tries to relegate women into roles that limit the full exercise of their rights and freedoms, conquered at such a high price in many parts of the world.
The Women’s Intercultural Centre was inaugurated in 2001. Located in the heart of the city, it is a living and open place where to practice relations of exchange between native and migrant women. It is a permanent laboratory aiming to help foreign women bring out and fully exploit the knowledge they possess, through collective paths of empowerment, autonomy and speak-out.
The first step in the speak-out path are the Italian language courses for foreign women only. The principle made clear during the courses is that freedom comes first and foremost from being able to name things, one’s own body, one’s own emotions, the relationship with sons and daughters who feel, and in fact are, Italian, the feelings of nostalgia and loneliness, the pain of not feeling “neither here nor there”, in a society that still finds it difficult to welcome the foreigner.
Over the years the Women’s Intercultural Centre has become a valuable insight into the dynamics of immigration, especially of women, in the city and throughout the region, and is seen as a valuable reference point for Italian and foreign women living in the city, but also for anyone wishing to tackle racial and gender discrimination.
The first shelter service for migrant women in difficulty, with or without children, was inaugurated in summer 2001. Over the next 12 years we accepted 424 women and children: out of these, 120 were women alone, 113 women with their children, and 191 minors. Women, young women and children of 24 different nationalities with a great variety of issues have been crossing our apartments. Women who were forced into social isolation, often illiterate, abandoned by their husbands after family reunion or ended up in the street after an eviction. Domestic workers who find themselves suddenly homeless, sometimes seriously ill and then thrown out of work. Victims of trafficking or severe forms of labor exploitation, persons seeking international protection, women just out of a CIE, with an expulsion order and no roof to sleep under (CIE stands for “Centro di identificazione ed espulsione”, Identification and Expulsion Centre: governmental facilities for the provisional detention of foreign persons subjected to expulsion or refoulement measures which cannot be enacted immediately. These centres were established by Article 12 of Law 40/1998, promoted by the Italian MPs Turco and Napolitano – the latter is currently the President of the Republic).
The stories that have been crossing Trama di Terre in these 13 years are many and gave our political thought an enormous added value that comes from living side by side with these women and their stories. Our daily effort is to assist women on empowerment paths by increasing their sense of self-determination – putting persons who had been subjugated and silenced in a position to be recognized as legitimate subjects able to define themselves, to gain a growing understanding and awareness of their conditions and their rights, to find again the strength and the ability to redeem themselves.
In 2007, for the tenth anniversary of the birth of the association, we organized a conference entitled “Il multiculturalismo fa male alle donne?” (Is multiculturalism bad for women?) during which we challenged the limits of multiculturalism in relation to women’s self-determination.
Our critique of multiculturalism started from the idea that cultures are not static and unchanging but deeply conditioned by their underlying relations of power. The conflict between genders plays a key role in this regard, often resulting in the subjugation of women and in their constriction into roles taken as “natural”, which prevent them from self-determination and the full enjoyment of their rights.
For years we have been asking ourselves: What is that keeps us from taking a firm collective stand o these issues? Maybe we do not feel ready? Maybe we think it does not concern us? Or are we afraid of being judged as neo-colonialist? We got out stronger from this impasse by taking the responsibility to clearly address the relationship between patriarchy and religious fundamentalisms, between racism and sexism, affirming that individual rights, and in particular women’s rights, must be the starting point for a dialogue with minority communities.
In 2009 the association promoted “Violenza di genere: una piaga globale” (Gender Violence: a global scourge), a training course open to both women and men, in which the issue of gender violence has been addressed in an intercultural perspective. The course examined the common patriarchal origins of this violence, recognizing the roots of misogyny or homophobia present under different forms in different societies and cultural traditions, to promote a new culture of nonviolence in gender relations, especially in loving relationships, couples and families. Among the speakers also some men who raised some questions about a different sexuality. The course was repeated in Bologna, Rimini and Reggio Emilia (always Emilia-Romagna region, northern Italy).
In the same period, we held another training course entitled “Le storie nel corpo” (The stories within the body), examining the body as a mediator of relationships and emotions in different cultures. Among the issues dealt with: female genital mutilations and other interventions on the body in different cultures.
The research “Per forza, non per amore. I matrimoni forzati in Emilia-Romagna” (By force, not love. Forced marriages in Emilia-Romagna) was conducted on behalf of Trama di Terre by Daniela Danna, a researcher at the University of Milan, and financed by the Emilia-Romagna Region and the Italian Ministry of Youth. This study, which was completed in 2009, was aimed at highlighting a phenomenon almost totally unknown in Italy: that of forced marriages.
In Emilia-Romagna the indigenous practice of combining marriage of daughters and sons is an abandoned tradition, but some immigrant communities, from particular regions or social strata, still support the legitimacy of parental choice. Choice increasingly challenged by new generations who want the right to choose with whom, how and when to fall in love. The distance between parents’ proposals and children’s wishes will inevitably turn into a fracture that may have dangerous implications for those who rebel, including isolation, threatened or actual damages to physical safety, and even death. Although the imposition of a marriage involves males and females alike, girls are subject to greater control and harassment. Faced with a growing number of requests for help by young women opposing a marriage obligation, institutions and public services are often unable to tackle this kind of problems. In fact, the victims turned out to be untraceable in eight out of the 33 cases which were detected and addressed during the research.
The outcomes of this study were presented during an international conference on forced marriage by the same title of “Per forza, non per amore” (Imola, May 2011). This event was followed by a two-day seminar entitled “Quanto influiscono religione e tradizione nella piena attuazione dei diritti delle donne?” (How deeply do religion and tradition affect the full exercise//enjoyment of women’s rights?), which saw the participation of representatives of native and migrant NGOs such as the Southall Black Sisters (SBS) from London, UK, and the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM – Moroccan Democratic Women’s Association), who shared their long-standing expertise on preventing and fighting early and forced marriages in their countries.
In the following years (2012-’13) Trama di Terre continued its work on this issue with the project “Contrasto ai matrimoni forzati nella provincia di Bologna: agire sul locale con una prospettiva internazionale” (Countering forced marriage in Bologna Province: Acting locally with an international perspective), carried out in co-operation with ActionAid Italy and with the financial support of the Vodafone Foundation. This project involved the establishment of a secret safe house for young women escaping forced marriage, training courses for social workers, awareness-raising public events, and lobbying actions on government authorities urging them to take concrete measures in order to tackle this phenomenon, at both local, regional and national level.
The project concluded with a final conference entitled “Onore e destino” (Honour and Destiny) (Office of Emilia-Romagna Region, Bologna, February 28th, 2014). During the conference, which saw the participation of international guests from Great Britain, France and Germany, Trama di Terre presented its own Linee-guida per la prevenzione e il contrasto dei matrimoni forzati (Guidelines to prevent and counter forced marriage), aiming to synthesize all the lessons we have been learning through these years of research and fieldwork.
In these occasions, once again Trama di Terre stressed that, to properly tackle these issues, it is necessary that they are not regarded as a “cultural” problem but as a matter of protection of individual human rights, and above all women’s right to choice and self-determination.
The research “Gender and migration: understanding the effects of multiple discrimination” was completed in 2010. It was carried out by Elena Laurenzi and Patrizia Randini in conjunction with the “Donne Nissà” Association and financed by the Province of Bolzano (region of Trentino – Alto Adige / Südtirol, northern Italy).
This study was aimed at investigating how multiple discrimination affects migrant women both in the public sphere (work, education and training, access to goods and services, protection of health) and in the sphere of the relationships with their families and their communities of origin. The intersection of these different types of discrimination entail for foreign women a condition of suffering and oppression, undermining their health, self-esteem, quality of life, prospects for the future, freedom of choice and self-determination, and the effective enjoyment of their human rights.
In January 2012, the only women’s shelter in Imola was forced to close down, and Trama di Terre started a series of mobilization actions to expose this gap, urging the local authorities to take the political responsibility to oppose men’s violence against women. In December 2012, this successful mobilization brought to the opening of a new shelter, profiting from the expertise the association has been gaining through years of professional training, cultural promotion and assistance to (mostly foreign) women surviving violence. Trama di Terre’s Shelter supports women in their path towards a life free from violence, and can accommodate women/girls and children whose security or lives are under threat into its secret safe houses.
Since January 2013, thanks to its long-standing expertise, in particular with migrant women, Trama di Terre’s Shelter became part of “Donne in Rete contro la Violenza” (D.i.RE. – Women Against Violence Network) and, since September 2013, of the Coordinamento Regionale dei Centri Antiviolenza (Regional [Emilia-Romagna] Direction of Women’s Shelters).
Our mixed Italian and foreign staff is made of workers with a specific training in tackling men’s violence maschile from an intercultural perspective, and of lawyers who are also specialized in the family law of migrant women’s countries of origin. We work in close co-operation with social and health services, courts of justice, law enforcement officials and other institutions for the protection of women surviving violence and their children.
From the opening of our new shelter in December 2012, to February 2014, we welcomed 67 women (32 were of foreign origin); out of these 67, 15 women (together with 14 children) were accommodated in our safe house, and 59 had at least one interview with our staff. Besides these 67, 8 more women turned to our Centre by telephone, asking for advice and information, without any direct contact with our staff.
On March 8th, 2014, our Women’s Intercultural Centre re-opened “La Cucina Abitata” (The Living Kitchen, where “living” means “animated, full of life”), an open space where local people can enjoy moments of socialization, exchange, conviviality – lunch breaks with dishes from all over the world, dinners and other fundraising events, intercultural cooking workshops, permanent training for women who wish to take up a career in catering.
Moreover, La Cucina Abitata is a space where the women who turn to our shelter can follow professional training courses, in order to re-build their own professional and financial autonomy.
Since June 5th, 2006, the association has been recorded in the register of NGOs and institutions engaged in the fight against discrimination held by the Ufficio nazionale anti-discriminazione razziale (UNAR – National Bureau against Racial Discrimination). It is also an informative focal point of the Emilia-Romagna Anti-Discrimination Network, as well as an active member of the Regional Network of Intercultural Centers.