From 10th to 16th May two educational trips to Italy and Malta took place under the Russian-Italian project “Strengthening of the role of women-immigrants and women of ethnic minorities to overcome discrimination”. In this article I will tell you about Milan and the positive experiences the 12 participants of the project made in the field of overcoming discrimination because of signs of sex and ethnicity in different spheres of life.
On the 10th of May we gathered at the office of the Centre and, having finished all organizational aspects, went on Aeroexpress to Sheremetyevo-2, did not manage it without adventures as one participant was late, but in the end everything ended well. Then a long four-hour flight to the airport “Malpensa” in Milan followed. Because of the time difference we landed at 22.10. We met a Russian-speaking man who brought the whole group to the hotel “Ariston”.
It was Sunday and by the time we arrived at the hotel, as the ordinary Italian does not want to eat any more and as it was a work day the next morning, practically all institutions where you can have a snack were already closed and we, slightly frustrated about this, went to sleep to finally hear and see about all that we went there for on the morning of the next day.
On the morning of May, 11th, before meeting with our Italian partner Francesco de Paulo, we were expected by the breakfast in the small and rather cozy café of our hotel. To say that our group caused furor, does not tell anything. Everyone without exception got interested glances from the residents and the staff of the hotel. When we left on the Street we knew why. Despite the fact the Milan is recognized as the world capital of fashion, in the streets you will never see men and women dressed in clothes that are sold in the shops on the central streets of the city. They mainly dress in dark colors, stick to sportive or business style. The local women practically do not wear skirts and dresses; they prefer a soft female style to unisex or frankly man’s version, they don’t have make-up and don’t curl their hair. We were dressed in light colors, looked tidily and well-groomed. Getting used to these impressions of our group, we went to the first meeting place, which was “Formaper”, to stay there the whole day. The introductory words of Carlos Talamas, who is the head of the department for international relations of “Formaper”, marked the opening of our educational trip. Further during the day, interrupted by a tasty lunch and coffee break with pasta, meat, tiramisu and other dishes which names were not saved in my memory, we listened to the trainer Rita Bonnuk who told us about the progress and the management of the Points for Women’s Support. These points are rather popular in Italy, Spain and some other countries. During our stay in Milan we saw different forms of such organizations, but about that a little later. The evening of our first day of work deserves special attention. And namely the place where we spent it. It was the restaurant “Salsamenteria Verdiana”. The interior furniture of this establishment at first provoked unpleasant astonishment as the restaurant looked rather simple and somehow in a Soviet style. But when the dishes of traditional cuisine were served, wine which was specially produced for this restaurant, and live music in form of a piano began to, we were all freezing in expectation of a miracle, and it happened. On the improvised scene (the space between the tables) came a guy and a girl who are students of the famous “La Scala” and began to sing arias from Verdi’s operas. It was magnificent and at the end of the evening our palms, especially mine, were hurting from the unceasing applause. But, although we wanted to listen more and more, we had a hard working day on the following day. Therefore, walking through nightly Milan, we returned to the hotel. Milan is really hospitable. During our stay, just as during my time in the Netherlands, I haven’t seen any street patrol of the police except during a demonstration near the mayor’s office which passed in connection with elections. And the police did not stand in a cordon, as it is done in our country, but were standing in one corner of the square while the people expressed his will on the remaining part; the quantity of policemen was by far less then those they should protect, what again diverges from our reality. Moreover, when we started to photograph the sights, a part of the policemen got into the frame. Instead of the reaction of a Russian militiaman who at the best would turn away, the local policemen began to smile, to pose and to shout “Bella, signora!” and something else we did not understand because we do not know the Italian language, but there was no doubt that it was something good. It has to be mentioned that not only the policemen who are a special sight in Italy but the men as a whole are very beautiful, impressive and gallant.
But let’s return to our second day in Milan. For the biggest part of participants this was the most interesting and productive day, as it did not only give us positive practice, but also a huge amount of bright emotions, laughter and fun. In the morning we were taken to Buccinasco which is practically already merged with Milan, but officially still a separate municipality. There we visited a Time Bank, a variety of public organisations which so far have not spread to Russia. The deputy mayor of the town and later the mayor came to a meeting with us, and also the organization-coordination director of all Time Banks in the province of Milan who spoke some welcoming words. Then volunteers from this organisation told us in detail about the bank, the aims and the sense of its existence. After that they began to answer with pleasure to our many questions. As a result we found out that Time Banks are always public organisations but with a different degree of freedom depending on the sources of financing for their activities. Those banks, which exist on the contributions of participants of the Bank, donations from private donors, fonds etc., are mostly independent, but have problems connected with hiring premises, payment of public services, telephone, internet, etc. Those who have support from municipalities by grants, don’t have these problems, but are obliged to give up parts of their freedom, to regularly report about their work; and those which were given premise for constant use by the authorities are even less free than the previous ones and so on. So what is the mission of such Banks? All of us know the point of it since our childhood, in any case we all also did, are doing and will do in our life what the volunteers are doing in the bank, but similar organization of leisure and personal time is rather unusual for our mentality. Imagine the situation that you are in your flat and you can’t twist a lamp which has burned out. What would you do? Exactly, you will call a neighbor or a friend for whom this is no difficulty. Thus, by termination of the work you will express your thanks and at the best invite him for a cup of tea so to say as a payment for his service. Similar situations will repeat while your neighbor won’t bother to twist your lamp with the regularity of a worker-repairman and he will not start to refuse you under different excuses. The result of such relations is obvious: one day you will start to be angry with each other and stop to communicate. Abroad there are two alternatives to solve that kind of problems: first, you hire a specialist for money; second, you enter into a Time Bank. A Time Bank as a rule includes more than 100 participants (the quantity depends on the territory it covers) who are ready to do small services absolutely for free. This is the principle of a cooperative society, just that here TIME is the unit that counts and not money, flats, construction materials, cottages, etc. 1 hour time of a professor equals 1 hour time of a cleaning woman. There are internal lists of services of the Bank where as a rule the people inscribe themselves for some points of services they can render. There is only one precise condition: the services may not be regularly. That is, if to me guests will arrive unexpectedly and I don’t have the time to mow the lawn in front of the house or to prepare a meal, I can address myself to the Bank and ask for someone to do that for me. The person comes, helps me free of charge, counts the time he spend for helping me, fills the check book of the bank, I sign it, then he brings that check to the Bank’s office (once a month) where everything is entered into the time counting program. And he can address to me or any other participant for help on that amount of hours he himself spend for helping others. But I cannot constantly ask someone to mow my lawn if I cannot or do not want to or do not have the time to do that; in that case I have to employ a gardener. There is also a limit of credit time; it is not identical in different Banks, in this one it is about 20 hours. That is, if I took 20 hours time of others, and I myself constantly refuse to help people, than they won’t help me any more until I have given 15 hours of these 20 to help someone. There is one more delicate moment. It is not strongly welcomed rendering professional services. On the one hand, if I am a doctor and participants of the Time Bank of my neighborhood address me for consultations, one day I will be left without clients as all of them receive my advice for free within the framework of the Bank; on the other hand, I will have problems with the tax inspection because I render services but don’t pay taxes. Therefore professional services are rendered rather rarely; it is mainly made us of:
1. Care of children: games, homework, organization of holidays;
2. Services for students: writing texts, resumes;
3. Care for elderly people, accompaniment;
4. Help with moving;
5. Bringing to work if it is on the way;
6. Care of animals (washing, haircut), walks;
7. House cleaning;
8. Embroidery, sewing, knitting;
10. Purchase of biological food at manufacturers etc.
I stop for details concerning the last point. The point is that all over the world people long ago started to pay special attention on their nutrition and the quality of their food. In Europe so-called biological shops exist where they sell ecological clean food which is cultivated under absolute natural conditions and processed without chemical. Such a production is by far more expensive than any other. Therefore, the participants of the Time Bank unite and go by car to the manufacturers of these products, where they buy them cheaper because of the absence of intermediaries and wholesale purchase. So they keep not only their health and that of their relatives, but save also the family budget which is always pleasant and necessary in times of crisis. The participants of the Time Banks also arrange joint leisure, beginning from trips to the theatre and excursions to picnics in the woods, as in a fashion of friendship also exchange with participants of Time Banks from other countries for a couple of weeks with the possibility no only to have a rest in another country but also to communicate with people with similar interests.
After this pleasant meeting gifts that were handmade from volunteers from the Bank were presented to us and coffee with different kinds of tasty batches was offered; it has to be mentioned that they bake very tasty in Italy and the batches were just inimitable. In every organization we visited nice food was provided for the guests from Russia. The next organization our way led to was the Time Bank of the area of Baggio (today it is a part of Milan, before it was an independent municipality). This organization possesses higher independence from the authorities than before because only recently it received premises from the regional administration of Baggio and that within the framework of a grant. They showed and told us many interesting things, fed us with a magnificent traditional dinner consisting of salad, lasagna, tiramisu and wine. We had to go further, but in the building where the Time Bank settles are also other organizations; and when we heard lively Italian music coming somewhere from the neighboring premises we decided to have a look. Remember, in our country were once the discos “To whom for…” popular, but by the time those services ceased to enjoy popularity within the population. You cannot tell that about the Italians. Before our eyes appeared a fantastic picture. About 50 couples from the category “To whom for…” were inflammatory dancing to traditional national music. At the beginning of the article I wrote about the impression our group made on the local people; there I forgot to specify that it was exclusively the male part of Italy. What there began! Our lovely female participants of the project were invited to dance during the intermission. Many of our ladies were rather successful; judging by how they danced they have been dancing whole their life, so that they won even more hot Italian “boyfriends”. After 20 minutes we and Francesca were afraid that the Italian women would start a riot against the Russian, as they had unceremoniously rushed into their party and taken them their men. Thank God, a two-minute break set in the music and we could pick up all our ladies from the hall. I must say that some of the men were “picked up” together with our ladies, they went to accompany the beautiful Russian women to the bus, tried to communicate which was extremely difficult for the complete lack of knowledge of each other’s language on both sides. In a wonderful mood we left for the administration of the area of Baggio which is located in a building of the XV century where formerly a Christian monastery was. After a meeting with a representative from the administration we went to the city park where we waited for an aperitif in the company of volunteers in the territory of the Time Bank. There were shown to us the earth which the administration of the region especially assigned to the Time Bank and volunteers cultivated flowers and vegetables (there is no guard, barbed wire or alarm as no normal person would come to mind to infringe on somebody’s property, work and time). At the end of our meeting everyone was longing to sing a song, on our request the Italians sang their national anthem to us and we performed “Oh blooming viburnum”; on this pleasant music our already pretty tired group sat in the bus and moved towards the hotel. But on the whole way we were singing everything we knew in chorus; and when we arrived in the centre of Milan, which had already begun being home, everyone went for a walk, to take photos, buy presents and souvenirs for the relatives. However, we were doing that every evening, some with big success, others with less.
The third and fourth day of the trip were rather similar to each other despite the fact that we visited different organizations, governmental and public; the essence of their activities differed only slightly. The basic principle of these organizations apart from two is to redirect women to that service where someone can help them. But about all one after the other.
In the morning of the third day we went to the organizations “Job café” and “Rose window”. These organizations are municipal. They were initially established as “hotline” with the help of which the demands and needs of women. Based on this a database of all organizations in Milan and the surroundings which can help women with their questions was compiled. The women can call and tell about their problems, this is already a success for the workers of the organization, as it means that the woman has understood that she has got a problem and that it has to be solved. Many of them just call for the moral support. If the worker of the organization knows who can solve a concrete problem of a woman he redirects her to this person. These organizations also conduct seminars for the authorities so that they understand what the people need. For example the authorities actively promote sports in the youth environment and build many stadiums for that. But employees of the “Job café” on their seminars suggested thinking about that fact that the games which predominate in the stadiums are usually soccer, volleyball etc. and that mostly boys play these games; therefore, it turns out that the State is building stadiums for young people, forgetting the needs of girls while thinking that it supports the needs of the whole youth. There is a mass of such examples. “Rose window” was opened after realizing that the basic and very important problem for women is employment, particularly for those women who after having born a child were obliged to give up their work. There is another system of employment than we have. They have contracts for work. Long-term contracts are contracts for a period of six months or more; employers try not to sign such contracts, so it is very difficult to get them. The most common version is for a period over one month, so if you can’t cope with the work or the employer doesn’t like you the contract won’t be extended. That is not the main problem, but that the unemployment benefit and child care get only those women who had a long-term contract before she became pregnant. It is not less difficult to go to work with a small child in the arms. In Russia there are similar problems today, but the approaches to solve them are different in each country and society. “Rose window” helps women to write a proper resume, intensify the search for work and make it more effective. The Italian State not only attracts its own resources but also resources from public organizations to address these and many other problems. Both these organizations try to influence the revision of legislation touching domestic violence, stalking and harassment. There is not one single law today in Italy; each region has its regional acts and articles. There are independent articles in the civil and the penal code of Italy. Recently they managed to change the legislation for the better. Previously, domestic violence was considered as an act against morality, now as an act against human rights so that the prison sentence for this increased by two times. There remains gender equality, the law makes no difference by sex although women of course rarely expose their family to domestic violence or persecute their former husband, but if that is the case women will be equally judged as men. On our question about the governmental hierarchy relating gender questions we were told that, unfortunately, there is no Ministry but a Department for Gender Equality under the President of the Province and a from the President authorized person with whom we met then. So we could put all the questions we were interested in to the representative of the authority which really pleased us.
Walking a little through the sunny streets of the city brought us closer to the buildings of the province of Milan, had some time in the historical palace belonging to two very well-known names where, after an unforgettable tour through this museum within the walls of power, we met with the Chief Advisor on Questions on Gender Policy and the President of the Committee for Equal Opportunities of the Province of Milan, Mrs. Arianna Censi. The meeting was not long; therefore not all questions we put were answered. But we got to know that women make today about 17% in the national Parliament of Italy and on the municipal, provincial and regional level up to 20%. Since 1985 the Ministry for Equal Opportunities was developed, a little later the Department which was represented by Mrs. Censi. The basic strategy of the Ministry and the Department is to make women’s life better and give them the possibility to combine family and work, which would also have a positive effect on the economy as a whole. The Province spends about 250.000 Euros on gender issues each year, not yet counted the budget of the Department, some more 100.000 Euros on these questions lists the European Union. But, naturally, it always can and it has to be spent more on that problem than the authorities today are prepared to do. However, the situation improved with the help of active work of NGOs working in this field; they also work with illegal migrants as these don’t go into governmental structure because of fear of deportation, and they experience no less but even more problems than the women of Italian nationality. It should be noted that during our stay the different organizations emphasized that the problem of migration is a new one for Italy as it is only about 15 years old which complicates the work of many services and organizations. Previously the concept of migration for Italy was basically a domestic one. When this term was used in the last century, the discourse was about migration between the North and the South of the country, about the differences between these regions, differences in language, culture and mainly traditions. Now migration for Italy is the same as for the rest of the world and it is not easy. But our time is up, as I mentioned earlier there was the election campaign in Milan at that moment, and the authorities did not find much time for us.
After that meeting we went to the state social institution where expectant mothers who do not want their child can get help. Here we nearly had a quarrel, and only thanks to the fact that the mind prevailed our emotions this did not happen, as our positions concerning this category of women who get help diverge. It is good, that in Italy those women is helped, but personally it makes me sick. This service is actually rendered by telephone and psychological support, works during the maternity with the staff, explains the staff of clinics how they correctly behave with the women who decided to abandon their children. The notion of humanity is not the same in different cultures, and as I already mentioned the opinions diverged within our collective, but personally I cannot understand why you must help these women, it seems easier to teach them methods of contraception and not to feel sorry for them after they gave birth and abandoned their children; I in this case feel sorry for the children, not for those who don’t establish themselves as mother (not to talk about rape victims or fatally ill women, but about those who just do not want their children). The only thing that pleases in this situation is that the percentage of children, who is likely to be adopted, by far exceeds the percentage of abandoned children.
According to the program of our visit we would have a city tour which did not attend because of a rescheduling of meeting which was originally scheduled for the 15th of May. In fact, we really wanted to go to Venice and the president of the interethnic cooperative “Proficua” Lucy Rojas kindly agreed to meet us on the 13th of May. This cooperative is interesting because of its long history. It differs from the Time Bank in the fact that it provided work for migrants for many years. The employees of the cooperative search for tenders and grants, win them and so migrants from this cooperative sweep the streets of Milan and engage in agricultural work for many years now. And they earn more by preparing festive ethnic meals for parties, anniversaries, etc. on order.
The next day began with the visit of an association which is occupied with informational, juridical and rehabilitation support of women. This association is one of the most developed and oldest gender organizations within the district, which has a library with books from the 19th century dedicated to women issues and the struggle for women’s rights. The day continued with a meeting with the head of Social Service for immigrants in the municipality of Milan, Carmen Marchetti. This organization, just as the cooperative “Proficua”, really helps people and not only redirects them to another organization, as all those we had seen the days before after the Time Bank. Migrants get help with the execution of documents, psychological and other help, not only on the telephone but by real people. The day ended with a visit to another redirecting organization which differs from the rest in the fact that it teaches so-called “cultural mediators” who work with migrants who do not know the Italian language explaining them and the host community the norms and frameworks in this country and settling many interethnic and intercultural problems, which was rather interesting.
The training program ended and the next day Venice awaited us. But I will not write about this, each of us got many impressions of this beautiful tourist where thank God the local people speak English, in difference to Milan, so that we split up by interests and everyone spend their day as they liked. Italy is a beautiful country, but I think to understand it you have to visit not only one or two cities but many more, not to forget the small towns where the real life of the Italian people is boiling and not to forget the cultural difference between the North and the South.