Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Telefono Rosa, hotline for women in Italy

On March 22, 2007 I visited the office of Telefono Rosa (TR), a national hotline for women in Italy, with offices or partners in Rome, Turino, Merona, and Montova.

I met with Luisa Rizzitelli, a volunteer who also runs a communications business. Ms. Rizzitelli has been selected as a European fellow and will be traveling to the US later in the year. I hope she comes to Atlanta, as I would like to reciprocate.

Telephono Rosa's mission to help women in trouble, be it economic, violence, etc. They have a call center with 4 phones, and the services are completely free. In addition to the hotline volunteers, they have 12volunteer lawyers, 12 psychologists, and 2 bankers who advise about personal finance and help women open bank accounts.

The executive director of TR is Ms. Gabriella Moscatelli, who was the first women to become a bank manager in Italy. That occurred some years ago, but Italy still has the glass ceiling that allows women to see the top positions, but prevents them from achieving it. Except Ms. Rizzitelli called it the crystal ceiling. Even the bad things in life sound good when spoken by Italians.

The gender situation in Italy is not very good. Only 15% of the parliment are women and 6 of the ministers in the administration are women. However, 4 of the 6 do not have a portfolio. That is, they have no funding for their responsibilities and have to rely of the prime minister for funding. In the business sector, many women are managers, but none are CEOs, CFOs, and other decision makers.

In contrast, they hold Spain as the best example of gender equity, where there is equal pay for equal work.

Ms. Rizzitelli was very proud that TR operates "like a business." I asked what that meant and she explained that the hotline is available 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Made me think that if this a great achievement, which is it, then they must been able to provide less services in the past.

TR makes a deliberate effort to serve the international population of Italy. They have offices in the embassies of Argentina, Equador, Ethiopia, and Peru and thus are able to help women from those countries. However, they are having difficulty reaching out to the Muslim community.

They have opened the International Home of Human Rights, in Rome, the only such kind in Italy. It is a shelter for women fleeing violence based on religious or cultural issues. Examples include women who have had acid thrown on their faces or fleeing female genital mutilation. They provide medical and health services, including therapy.

In additon to International Home of Human Rights, there are also domestic violence shelters in Italy. They are very interested in learning about laws to stop batterer and batterer intervention programs to stop abusers from abusing again. They found that 30% of batterers batter again.

Each year, TR receives 7000 calls and see 1000 women in person in the office.

As we spoke, a reporter from La Corriere della Sera newspaper arrived to work with Ms. Moscatelli on a domestic violence public awareness article. As in many parts of the world, violence against female family members are considered private concerns and not a legal or human rights issue.

They were very proud of the facts that the wife of the president of the Czech Republic visited their organization and that they were able to recruit 4 Olympic athletes to tape a public service announcement to say that domestic violence is unacceptable.

It's sad to see that violence against women, in their own homes by the people who are supposed to love and support them, is such a global problem. I know that for a fact, in my head and my heart, but it is still very sad to encounter it again.

On the other hand, it was very uplifting to see what TR has done to serve and support the women in Italy. The meeting ended much too soon, and I left feeling very inspired and thinking at RWN we must do more.

Economic Outline of Italy

On March 22, our first meeting of the day was at the Banca d'Italia. Roberto Torrini, (European MMF fellow) gave a presentation about the Italian economy. Usually, a powerpoint presentation on economics seems like it would make my eyes glaze over, but it was actually very interesting. Most of the statistics were taken from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, so I will mention only the highlights.

1. Until 2006, Italy did not have statistics on immigrants, because until 10 years ago, Italy didn't really have immigrants. After WWII, the Italians had their baby boom and Italians were still emigrating away from the country. Now that generation is retiring from the work force and the fertility rate has dropped below replacement levels. So they need immigrants now to work. Most of the immigrants are from Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, and South America. Of the Eastern Europeans, Mr. Torrini mentioned that Albanians and Romanians working in construction and manufacturing, and Ukrainian and Polish women working as domestic help.

2. Only 50.6% of women aged 15 to 65 are employed. They don't know why the rate is so low, but did mention that discrimination and cultural values may have something to do with it.

3. The Italian government have invested heavily in the elderly and not the youth. Pensions for retired people account for 15% of the gross domestic product (GDP). In Italy, people can retire after working for only 17 years! So people retire in their 50s. (In the States, I'll be lucky if I can retire when I'm 70.) There's no big disincentive to work because there's not a big government funded safety net. Young people (aged 15 to 24) live longer and longer at home because they can't find jobs, can't afford to live on their own, and so live at home and rely on their parents' pensions.

4. Like most of Western Europe, the gap bettwen GDP per capita and productivity is widening and the Italian economy is in decline.

5. Only 15% of Italians have a college education, compared to almost 40% in the US, 50+% in Japan, and 50+% in Canada. 6. 25% of Italians are entrepreneurs, compared to 7% in the US. That's because Italy has regulations in place that restrict chain stores from setting up in Italy. And entrepreneurs use their savings, pensions, or their parents' pensions for start-up capital.

Meeting at the Italian Parliament

On March 21, 2007, we went to the Italian Parliament to get a tour and to meet Mr. Umberto Ranieri, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies (similar to the US House of Representatives).

He discussed Italy's foreign policy priorities, which were to strengthen the European Union, and expand it to include the Balkans and Turkey, to create stability, and the Middle East. He said that last year, in the war between Lebanon and Hezbollah, Italy sent more than 2000 soldiers to support Israel. Supporting Israel was a priority and he thinks it's a mistake for Israel to ignore the new unified government of Palestine.

He also said that the war in Iraq is a big mistake. Stabilizing Afghanistan was the way to fight terror, not to open another theater of war. And military might is not the only way to deal with Afghanistan. We need to create a functioning economy in Afghanistan so it will stabilize and people will have less incentive to turn to force and the Taliban.

I asked about the rest of the world. I mentioned that China is investing heavily in Africa, and gaining influence in Africa. Africa is geographically closer to Italy than it is to China, what's Italy's stand on all this? He said that they are increasing international cultural cooperation with South America, Africa, and Asia, but that Italy's focus in on the European Union and the Middle East.

Regarding Turkey, he said it was important to encourage Turkey's inclusion in the European Union. It will be a 10 to 15 year process, but very important. He said "If we shut the door, it will be full of risk regarding Islamic extremists. Must keept the door open and the relationship open." I'm paraphrasing here, and was glad to hear the relationship-building language and pro-Turkey language.

He had to leave to vote to authorize a budget to continue funding their troops in Afghanistan. When he returned he asked us what we thought about the Italian journalist hostage exchange.

We were very quiet. This was a very unexpected question. Walking into the meeting, none of us quite knew who he was and what the meeting was going to be about (we talked about this among ourselves afterwards). And so to be asked about, literally, a life or death question was a surprise.

Fortunately, one of the other American fellows has military experience and serves as a judge advocate general (JAG, attorney), so he stepped up to answer. He said that the US would not have made the exchange such a blatant quid pro quo, but get the hostage first, then wait a few days, and then release the Taliban prisoners. Didn't seem like much of a difference to me, but then, I'm not a diplomat or military person. Maybe the protocols are different in those situations.

After this meeting, we took a tour of the Italian Parliament. Lovely, lots of wood paneling, marble, red velvet drapes. There was a hall with portraits of the Italian equivalent of speaker of the house. Not surprisingly, the vast majority were men, but there were one or two women. One of our hosts, former European MMF fellows, said something about women comprising a growing percentage of the parliament. I mentioned that women still comprise 50% of the population, so there was some ways to go. Just as there is the US.

At some point, the conversation turned to returning antiquities. Throughout the years, colonizers and conquers have taken artifacts and monuments from one country to another. One of our guides mentioned that recently Italy did a "very stupid thing" returning an obelisk to Ethiopia. I raised an eyebrow, and Hussein asked for clarification. Italy colonized Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor, and took an obelisk. Last year or so, the Ethiopian government asked for it back and so Italy spent 4 million Euros ($5.3 million US) to send it back.

The Italian fellow thought it was a very foolish use of money that could have been better used for food aid. However, Hussein and I said, if Italy took it from Ethiopia, and Ethiopia asks for it back, then Italy should give it back. They shouldn't have taken it in the first place!

The rest of the visit went smoothly and we caused no international incident.

Roman Schedule

This was my schedule in Rome. I traveled with Cal Cunningham, lawyer from North Carolina; Chad Evans, VP of the Council on Competitiveness; Ellen Kackmann, associate with Wachovia Bank; Hussein Samatar, executive director of the African Development Center. We were also joined by Corinna Horst, Deputy Director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund, sponsor of the fellowship.

March 19, 2007
Afternoon -- fly from Copenhagen to Rome
6:30pm -- program overview with city coordinator
8pm to ? -- Welcome dinner hosted by The Council for the United States and Italy. Six Italian MMF fellows attended. It was very interesting to hear about their experiences traveling around the US on their fellowship. More on that later.

March 20, 2007
9:30 - 11:15am -- Art as an Economic Asset, held at the Scuderie del Quirinal museum.
12 - 2pm -- individual appointment with the Emigrant Somali Women's Association. This was not set up for me, but for Hussein Samatar, another MMF fellow. He is a refugee from Somalia and he was very happy for the opportunity to meet other Somalis. Somalia is a former colony of Italy and so there is a significant Somali population in Italy. I sat in for about 15 minutes and met the ladies. Their English was limited and I didn't speak Italian or Somali. Executive Director, Ms. Zeinab Ahmed Barahow, did speak very good English.

The Emigrant Somali Women's Association was established in 2003 and there are 18 members, all volunteers. Four of the women have opened their own businesses, such as selling Somali clothing, operating a call center, and interpretation. I was so happy to hear about refugee and immigrant women as leaders and entrepreneurs!

They estimate that there are 3,000 Somalis in Italy, but they have started leaving for other parts of Italy because of lack of jobs. Many women work as house cleaners to earn a living. They were a great example of a mutual assistance association trying to help one another the best they can. One thing they try to do is raise funds so people who pass away can be sent back to Somalia for burial or to celebrate holidays. That's something all ethnic groups the world over do.

Ms. Barahow is the second from the right.

2:30pm -- meet in lobby to take bus to next appointment
3:30 to 5:15pm -- The media and press in Italy, held at La Repubblica newspaper. It was very timely because the day before, a reporter for La Repubblica was released by the Taliban in Afghanistan and everyone in Italy was very happy to have him safely back home. In exchange for his release, 5 Taliban prisoners were released. There is still debate whether that was the proper thing to do. Sadly, the Italian journalist's driver and interpreter, both Afghanis, were killed.
These are the American fellows, with Ms. Raffaella Menichini, third from left. Ms. Menichini is the foreign desk journalist for La Repubblica and an European MMF fellow. On our tour of the newspaper, we stopped by an editors' meeting. No women were editors.

8:30pm to 12am -- home dinners with European MMF alumni. The dinners are held in people's homes and they're very informal. Only 2 or 3 American MMF fellows attend each, to avoid overwhelming the host. There were at least 2 other Italian MMF fellows at the dinner.

One fellow (who was a woman. We need a better, gender neutral term other than fellow!) did not have good things to say about the American health care system. She started in Washington DC, then went to Raleigh, North Carolina. While there she went hiking with her host family (apparently European fellows sometimes have host families. We American fellows did not.) in the woods. Then she went on to Dallas, Texas. While there, she found a tick buried in her skin. Her only option for getting health care to remove the bloodsucker was to go to the emergency room. But she didn't want to go and "sit there with all the immigrants." So after a few more days, she went on to San Francisco, California. Finally, her host family called a doctor friend who came over after hours to remove the tick. She was incredulous that it was so difficult to get health care! Join the club.

March 21, 2007
9:30 to 11:15am -- Italian Institutions and their relationships with the European Union, held at the Italian Parliament. This will be discussed in another post.
Lunch -- at our leisure. I think I took a nap.
4:15pm -- meet in hotel lobby to take the train to the Community of Sant'Egidio.
5 to 6pm -- Italy's policy toward the poor and the immigrants. To be a longer post.
7 to 8:30pm -- dinner with Claudio Betti, of the Community of Sant'Egidio.
8:3o to 9pm -- Catholic mass with the Community of Sant'Egidio. It was held in Italian, with translation head sets. Mr. Betti provided the simultaneous translation into English. The mass is said every night by lay volunteers.

March 22, 2007
10 to 11:30am -- an Economic Outline of Italy, held at the Banca d'Italia, the equivalent of the Federal Reserve. The European Union is essentially an economic and trade body and so we had a power point presentation about how it worked. Fortunately, I had already read "The United States of Europe" by T. R. Reid. Very easy to read, made European economic policy interesting. I had to leave this meeting early to make it to my individual meeting with:
12 to 1pm -- Telefono Rosa, a national hotline to help women in distress. To be a separate post

2 to 3pm -- bus trip to farm

3 to 5pm -- visit Azienda Agricola Castel di Guido, a farm managed by the city of Rome. They raise longhorn cattle, dairy cows, olive grove, and make their own cheese, bread, wine and spirits. We had the opportunity to sample the organic food products and rode a tractor pulled wagon through the country side. We even had to Roman cowboys ride along side.
These are maremmana cattle, protected by the European Union and in danger of extinction. They're born reddish and turn grey as they age.

You will have to imagine for yourself the rest of the hilly vista, with the top of St. Peter's Basilica of the Vatican off in the distance in one direction, and the sea in the other direction. I was busy trying to stay on the wagon. There were no guardrails and nothing really to hold onto.

Between the farm and Rome lay a forest where our guide said 2000 immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe, were living in shanties. The authorities had gone into the forest to tear down the shanties, but found no people. No one knew where they had gone or how they knew the authorities were coming. Even in this idyllic setting, the global economic reality was present.

6pm to ? -- Goodbye dinner with fellows, Ms. Horst, and Ms. Liberati, the city coordinator.

Next up: Belgrade, Serbia!

The Value of Cultural Brokers

In Rome, the opening dinner was hosted by the Council for the United States and Italy, and featured a talk by Dennis Redmont, the Head of Communications, Media, and Develoment. Mr. Redmond is an American who has lived and worked in Italy for a long time.

That was very significant. As an American, he knows that we, the Americans, get most of our information about Italians from TV and movies and the stereotypes of Italian-Americans. I may be oversimplifying, but the point is that he is bicultural, shares our cultural background and perspective, and was best able to explain Italy to us in terms that we Americans would understand.

Sometimes, in our meetings, the Italian presenter would talk in depth about European history that I had learned once but forgotten a long time ago. They assumed we knew more about them than we did.

They would say "As you know, in year..... this thing happened and then ......." and I would think "Actually, I don't know anything about that thing in that year. We didn't learn that in world history. And I'm an international relations major! But in the US, if it didn't impact America, generally we didn't learn it." I needed a bicultural broker.

That resonated with me because that's what we do at Refugee Women's Network. We are very deliberate in working with refugee and immigrant women to become the bridge between new arrivals and the larger American society. For example, when new Somali refugees and immigrants need to figure out something about American culture and society, they will ask other Somalis for advice because they share a cultural affinity. That's why ethnic self-help groups and ethnic enclaves are crucial in helping new Americans become integrated.

Just pronouncing names and places in an American accent was helpful. Our Italian city coordinator was Flavia Liberati, an Italian born and raised. She would say "We're going to the Scuderie del Quirinale museum."

What I heard was "We're going to the scuderiedelquirinalemuseum." It was one long unintelligible word to me because she said it in Italian. Mr. Redmont would say "We're going to the Skooderry del Kwerinall museum." He said it in American and then I understood.

By the way, the Scuderie del Quirinale used to be the stables for the pope's horses. It had a huge staircase with shallow steps so the horses could walk up to the next floor. It now is an art museum. We had a presentation about art as an economic asset for the city. Then we had a guided tour of their Albrecht Durer exhibit. He was a German printmaker, painter, and sculpter who studied in Italy over the years.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Pictures first, explanations later

I am back from the Marshall Memorial Fund fellowship. It will take a while to organize my thoughts regarding the meetings I had on immigration, European Union enlargement, the role of the US in the world, and other things. In the meantime, here are pictures. Most are recreational pictures, as I didn't think it appropriate to take pictures during meetings.

The orientation meeting for the American Marshall Memorial Fund fellows of Spring 2007. It was the first time we all met each other. In this group are 4 lawyers, 2 executive directors of refugee and immigrant mutual assistance associations, several VPs and other senior management of corporations, institutions, and think tanks, several elected officials (past, present, and future), one philanthropist, and one professor. A smart, lively, and intelligent group, for sure, but also personable, friendly, and very, very funny. That sense of humor was essential, especially for those who lost luggage or got scammed by taxi drivers.

After DC, the first stop was Paris, France.
The American MMF fellows on the steps of the French National Assembly. I love this picture, as it shows us in our business suits, but also relaxed and enjoying the sun while we could. A better group of traveling companions could not be found.

BryAnn, Kwanzaa, Carrie, and Ellen with Dominique Alba in the middle. This is the Pavillion de l'Arsenal, a center for urban planning in Paris. The huge picture in the background shows the new Louis Vuitton building, designed by Frank Gehry.

After Paris, we broke into three groups of 5 or 6 going to Copenhagen, Denmark, or Hamburg or Lubeck, Germany.

I went onto Copenhagen, Denmark.
Michael at the desk of the Prime Minister of Denmark. How understated is that? Note the computer at standing level behind him.

Chad behind the desk of the Prime Minister of Denmark.

The Danish police paving over the youth home that was destroyed amid rioting in early 2007. There are mounds of flowers against the short brick building. We had just spent the previous afternoon with the tough as nails Danish riot police (where they served us chocolate cake as afternoon refreshments), so we knew to behave ourselves around them.

The Copenhagen crew at the home of Morten Bangsgaard, European MMF fellow and Secretary General of the Conservative Party of Denmark
Standing -- Michael, Cal, Chad
Sitting on the ends -- BryAnn and Natasha
Middle: Bette and Morten

After Denmark was Rome, Italy with a different group of 5 or 6. The other groups went to Lisbon, Portugal or Athens, Greece.

BryAnn with the Somali Women's Association of Italy.

Ellen, Chad, and Cal stop for a quick photo-op in front of the Pantheon, in Rome, either to or from a meeting.

In Rome, we visited a "biological" (does that mean organic?) farm that was originally established to support a local leper colony. I photographed this cow and calf from the back of a tractor. Fortunately it moved faster than the cattle could run.

I can't remember what these cattle are called, but they've been around since the time the Roman gods and goddess walked the earth. Or something like that.

An art installation in Rome. It is a travelling art piece called Trash People. Imagine an ancient Roman plaza with a fountain, surrounded by thousands of these life-sized figures covered with trash.

From our southern countries, we reshuffled to go to Bucharest, Romania, Warsaw/Krakow, Poland, or Belgrade, Serbia. I went to Belgrade.

The Belgrade crew: Michael, Natasha, BryAnn, Hussein, and Jeff, with the ounders of Civic Initiatives, a nonprofit organization in Belgrade, Serbia that encourages people to become active in developing a democratic society in Serbia.

Posters showing human rights, offices of Civic Initiatives, Belgrade.

The western gate of the city of Belgrade, Serbia.

Here you can see the tan waters of the Sava river meet the blue waters of the Danube river in Belgrade, Serbia.

At the end we all reconvened in Brussels, Belgium to learn more about the European Union. We also visited NATO. There are no pictures as they required that we hand over everything with a memory stick, so out came the cellphones, digital cameras, and Blackberrys.

Group photo of all the American Marshall Memorial Fund fellows of Spring 2007, with some of the past European Marshall Memorial Fund fellows, and the staff of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund, sponsor of the fellowship.

And to end this post, a wonderful poster called the European Year of Equality for All, seen at the European Women's Lobby office, in Brussels, Belgium.