For the second year in a row, Iroko was invited to participate in the event Rosso Indelebile (Indelible red), a series of artistic events, which took place in Turin and focused on the theme of gender-based violence. For two years Rosso Indelebile has brought art to various shared spaces around the city not usually designated as artistic locations. Similarly, the theme of gender-based violence is part of our everyday lives and “cannot be enclosed in an auditorium, but must be exposed and talked about by everyone”, by society, as highlighted by Isabella Bulgheroni, a member of the organisation Artemixia, one of the organisers of the event, in collaboration with the NGO MAIS. The aim of taking art onto the streets is to encourage people to ask themselves questions, and potentially find the answers, stimulating both the individual and the collective to try and see the world from different perspectives.
Gender-based violence, specifically, is a pressing issue, with a “war being fought around the world”, as defined by Esohe Aghatise, the president of Iroko. On 29th September Iroko participated in the 2020 installment, attending an event dedicated to migration flows and trafficking – details of which are here (in Italian) – and bringing the testimony of a survivor of trafficking and prostitution, Liliam Altuntas, who has told her story through the book of which she is the protagonist, I girasoli di Liliam’ (currently only available in Italian).
“Never forget that a crisis will suffice for women’s rights to be threatened. These rights are never granted. You need to remain careful for your entire life”
With the COVID-19 crisis, this quote from French feminist Simone de Beauvoir proved itself to be once again a tough reminder of an ugly truth. In the face of this unprecedented health emergency, European countries have adopted extraordinary measures such as extensive lockdowns, restricting freedoms and human rights in the process. First victims? Women, everywhere, enduring violence; from being trapped with abusers (many European countries have seen a rise of about 30% in emergency calls reporting male violence in the home) to not being able to enjoy their rights, such as the one to access safe and legal abortion.
In Italy, Government inaction has left women and girls facing avoidable obstacles to accessing this right, putting their health and lives at risk according to Human Rights Watch. This failure to ensure women’s sexual and reproductive health care is not surprising; it only highlights many European countries’ outdated restrictions and the harm they cause to women and girls.
The Gloria Steinem Equality Fund to End Sex Trafficking, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), SPACE International and The Sisterhood is Global Institute have written this letterto express the global support for Parliamentary efforts in Germany to adopt the Equality Model. Associazione IROKO has signed the letter and we give our full support to efforts in Germany and around the world to recognise that “prostitution is not work but rather a very harmful and dehumanising system, which fuels the sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls”.
Liliam Altuntas, survivor of trafficking and prostitution, told IROKO “reading this letter has really made me happy, especially because Germany is a country that’s very close to my heart. Because when I was trafficked, I was sold and brought to Germany. Hearing that there are people who support and make way for this kind of legal change is really important to me. It would represent a real response to the suffering that we have endured, so I’m very happy to join this fight and I’m sure that we will win.”
We encourage our friends and supporters to read and sign the letter.
Click here to watch an interview with Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, conducted by ENoMW‘s Anna Zobnina, in May 2020 just after the publication of a letter signed by various German MPs calling for brothels to remain permanently closed after the coronavirus lockdown.
In 2020 IROKO partnered with Resistenza Femminista to host a series of webinars on the theme of prostitution and the abolitionist model. During the 5 webinars we had the pleasure to host various experts who gave us invaluable insights into the violence of prostitution and the particulars of the various laws that exists around the world. Among these were Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, activist and psychologist specialising in the trauma of prostitution, and Sandra Norak, a survivor activist. Ingeborg and Sandra created this video for us, which explains the failure of the system they have in Germany, where prostitution has been legal and regulated since 2002.
In 2020 IROKO, together with Resistenza Femminista, organised a series of five webinars on the Nordic Model and the violence of prostitution. We were grateful for the invaluable contribution of survivors of prostitution during these webinars, which were a great success with the participants. Among the testimonies that we heard was Rosen Hicher, a French survivor who spent more than twenty years in prostitution and who, today, fights for the abolition of prostitution, alongside the organisation Mouvement du Nid. Rosen has fought for a long time for the criminalisation of buyers and the provision of real exit programmes for women in prostitution. Since the beginning, in 2013, she has supported the campaign for the legal change, which came into force in 2016, perhaps most notably through her March for Abolition.
“If there was nobody to buy women, no woman would think about selling the abuse of her body. I remember it quite well, the moment I decided to offer the abuse of my body and to sell this. And it really like crossing a border inside myself. I know now it was the first time I dissociated because it felt like I was changing the body, like I was watching myself crossing this border. And I felt it meant something. But I would never have crossed this border if there hadn’t been buyers, because that’s nothing you do just for fun. It has nothing to do with a fulfilled female sexuality.”
This is a quote from the testimony of Marie Merklinger, a German survivor of prostitution and activist with SPACE International, which she shared as part of our series of webinars entitled ‘Prostitution is Violence: Abolish the Oldest Oppression in the World’, which was organised by IROKO and Resistenza Femminista. She tells us about how she got into prostitution, the necessity of exit programmes for those who wish to get out of prostitution, and she explains why she promotes the Nordic Model as the best legislative system to combat sexual exploitation, to guarantee support to survivors. A necessary part of the model is the criminalisation of the buyers because the purchase of sex is a criminal act and should be punished, as exploitation is.
To hear the testimony of Rosen Hicher, a French survivor activist, click here.
In early 2020 we had the pleasure of meeting Liliam Altuntas, a Brazilian woman resident in Turin who is a survivor – or, as Liliam puts it, a warrior, a fighter – of trafficking and prostitution, an activist with Resistenza Femminista, and the protagonist of the book I Girasoli di Liliam, written by the psychologist, Teresa Giulia Canòne. Sadly, for the time being, the book is only available in Italian, but here Liliam tells part of her story – which we have translated from Italian – and what it means to her to have come out the other side, as an activist for herself and for other women.
I know what it means to hide your past… a past full of mistakes.
Sometimes not even your family want to talk to you. Nobody wants to talk to someone who does drugs, who steals, who constantly tells lies, to hear about the person I was…
Today I can truly say who I am. I am a black woman, a foreigner, even though I don’t think the word ‘foreign’ makes sense, because we’re all made of the same stuff, we all have the same bodily functions. Being in prostitution has weighed heavily on me, being someone who went from one bed to another with different men, satisfying their fantasies… For a long time I was forced into it, and then I continued because I believed that I was destined to die alone, without knowing real love…
Anna Zobnina, the Strategy & Policy Coordinator for the European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW), interviews Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, a German psychologist who specialises in trauma. They talk about the trauma experienced by people in prostitution, the situation in Germany during the coronavirus crisis, and the group of German MPs who want to change the system they have with regards to prostitution – a system of legalisation and regulation – and close the doors once and for all of the ‘brothel of Europe’.
This video was originally published on ENoMW’s Facebook page on 20/05/2020 as part of their Migrant Women Reality Watch series of live Facebook broadcasts. You can watch theoriginal video here.
This is an article written by Valentina Pazé, a professor in political philosophy at the University of Turin, and translated by Ruby Till for Associazione Iroko. It was originally published on 26-05-2020 in Volere La Luna. You can find the original Italian version here.
Prostitution: a job like any other?
The sex industry is among the sectors of the economy that have been hit hardest by the recent lockdown. Shendi Veli reminded us of this in her article on 12th March in Il Manifesto, talking about the fact that so-called sex workers had been abandoned during this pandemic. She presented the classic demands made by proponents of “decriminalisation”: from the recognition of prostitution as a legitimate form of work, to the legalisation of practices linked to prostitution, its aiding and abetting (favoreggiamento), currently illegal in Italy, and even at times cited in cases against those who rent houses to women in prostitution or live with them (according to an incorrect interpretation of the Merlin Law, criticised by Silvia Niccolai in Né sesso né lavoro. Politiche sulla prostituzione, Milano 2019, pp. 70-117).
In her contribution to 27esima ora on 22nd May, Luciana Tavernini showed us the other side of the coin: “Calling prostitution work is a way to convince people that everything, even going as far as access to internal parts of the body, can and should be sold, and at best we can fight to increase the price. This is an old trick that aims to hide exploitation by disguising it as work.” And so, rather than supporting the legalisation of those who profit from the prostitution of others, we should look to the section of the Merlin Law that provides for training and work placements for women who wish to change their lives. Who wish to get out of a ‘business’ that the overwhelming majority of them have ended up in out of necessity, and in some cases even force and duress (victims of trafficking), certainly not out of choice.
In these unprecedented times of crisis due to Covid-19, we have taken the difficult decision to close our office in Turin to protect our staff and beneficiaries, but we continue to offer active support in terms of signposting and accessing relevant services and can be reached by email or over the phone.
In Nigeria we are supporting correct messaging of the crisis amongst vulnerable people. Some of the women we support have sewn face masks and prepared home made disinfectants that we are distributing to those who cannot afford to buy them. We have also purchased various food items, which we are distributing to indigent families, widows, and other vulnerable groups, and continue to fundraise to keep this service going. You can see some pictures of our distribution in the gallery.
Iroko and its beneficiaries are far from alone in this struggle, as outlined in thisMigrant Women Press article on how migrant women in particular are affected.