25 November: NO MORE GIRLS AND WOMEN ON THE MOVE VICTIMS OF GENDER BASED VIOLENCE
Spain's southern border is one of the most unequal borders on the planet.
The fence is just one of the icons that threatens to dehumanise those who try to cross it and break down the barrier of unrecognised rights.
It smells of the sea that kills and threatens to forget the many violences from which people flee, the ones they suffer on the way, the ones they live with on arrival.
In Melilla we know that there is something even worse than being a person on the move at the southern border: being a girl or woman on the move at the southern border.
Violences they must flee from
The girls and women we live with in Melilla sometimes carry the burden of stories of violence in their place of origin: sexual harassment, humiliation in public, lack of credibility, unjust guilt... Also marriages agreed by their families over which they have absolutely no power of decision.
Being free and breaking with this violence has a price: breaking with the community.
It has a name: losing one's roots.
Layla, the fictitious name from which we approach, to protect her identity, the story of a young girl trapped in Melilla. She was sexually touched by her teacher when she was a child.
She was 12 years old then and she loved to study and go to school. But there she was subjected to situations that deeply violated her and nobody came to her aid in a clear example of the normalisation of sexist abuse.
“A teacher of mine would often make inappropriate sexual comments towards me. I was the top student in the class, and I always helped my classmates. One day this teacher forced me to take off my jacket in front of the entire class, he dressed me in a djellaba and took this opportunity to touch my breasts and body. I remember I was shaking. My classmates asked me what was wrong with me, and I couldn't answer. In front of everyone, the teacher said that I was prettier in the djellaba, that he didn't understand why I was wearing trousers. My mother was very upset. She wanted to talk to the school, but my father did not allow this and said it was my fault for dressing provocatively.
My father blamed me for everything and his solution to my problem was to marry a 45-year-old man, I was only 13.”
Layla just wanted to have friends, sing rap, be free. But this continues to be a problem for many women, who carry the burden and the guilt of having longed for freedom.
“I thought that I was the cause of the problem, that everything was my fault. Now I realise that they are the problem.“
Amira is also the fictitious name that allows us, without putting her at risk, to meet one of Layla's best friends in Melilla.
She too suffered violence, in this case in the family environment. They didn't believe her either:
“I was on my way to my grandfather's house, he lived some distance away. I was crossing a field and my cousin was following me. I was only 6 years old, my cousin who was 18 approached me with a knife in his hand.
He held the knife to my neck and threatened me, "If you talk, I'll kill you."
I was screaming loudly, he threw me to the ground and tried to remove my shirt.
I kept screaming. He heard voices nearby and ran away. He left me lying on the ground, crying.
I returned home crying and did not explain to anyone what had happened.
The next day I told my father who did not believe me. My mother didn't want to believe me either.
From that day on, my cousin avoided me, and I spent a year refusing to leave the house alone, in fear, and I was unable to talk to any men. Sometimes I feel like this day still affects me.”
Violence on the way - Violence on arrival - Violence to live with
Violence against migrant women is not limited to their country of origin; it is also a part of their migratory journey anywhere in the world: girls and women are subdued, raped, put under the orders of "protective" men who consider them their property, or as victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation networks that, under the promise of offering them a "safe passage", trap new slaves sine die.
But worst of all is that there are even more violences. And that they are legalised:
There is a silent violence we rarely talk about, the institutional one, of which the women on the move "trapped" in Melilla are also invisible victims:
The legal obstacles make it very difficult for them to register, and this deprives them of the right to health care or education.
With or without prior academic training, the difficulty in obtaining work permits forces them to work without contracts, without protection and without any security in terms of being able to pay contributions to Social Security, to report abuse or to be covered for accidents at work.
Not to mention their wages, more than often as cleaning women in private homes, which are below what non-migrant cleaning staff get paid.
It is difficult to figure out how they can support themselves, and sometimes their children, with the huge amount of hours that they work for their tiny wages.
But it is even more difficult to understand the perverse nature of an Immigration Law that denies them a residence and work permit, thus forcing them to "live off nothing" for at least three years from the time they register (if this day ever comes, in Melilla it is certainly unlikely), before they can start their application for residency through “social ties” (arraigo in Spanish).
Or that the macabre system in which the law is framed does not hesitate to threaten migrant women with withdrawing the guardianship of their children if they "become visible" and show themselves vulnerable to it.
It is incomprehensible because it is violent and because it is unfair.
Because it subdues and corners.
Because we want us free, rather than brave. Because we want us healthy and alive, we continue to fight.
Without truce or time.
As strong and united women.
Victims of the system but survivors against its cruelties.
Capable of transforming it and making it more livable, for the enjoyment of all women.