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Call for solidarity with abused women, farm workers in Ragusa, Italy

[19 April 2017, Open Letter from EWL Romanian members]. In the Ragusa province, in Italy, thousands of Romanian women who work in greenhouses and fields suffer serious labour and sexual exploitation. These women are working as slaves, they are raped and blackmailed to have sex with the owners of the fields and greenhouses. They work 12 hours per day in extreme heat and with no water and are forced to live in degrading and unsanitary conditions, isolated. Their wages many times are not paid. They are beaten and threatened daily with weapons and menaces on their children and family, with losing their jobs. Some of these women got pregnant by their rapists, owners of the greenhouses and forced to either abandon their children in maternities or to make an abortion. These women face a combination of different human rights and labour rights violations.The Guardian Newspaper conducted a report in Ragusa, documenting the abuse that Romanian farm workers endure.

Italian agriculture has for many years been heavily reliant on migrant labour. After years of charges of exploitation and subsequent restrictions by the Italian government, Sicilian farmers who once filled their greenhouses with undocumented migrants and refugees arriving by boat started to rely upon migrant workers from within the EU. The number of Romanian women working in Sicily has been rising over the past decade from 36 Romanian women were working in Ragusa province in 2006 to more than 5,000 in 2017.

Farmers organise sex parties in which each employer offer the migrant women employed in the greenhouse to each other for sexual exploitation. Romanian women working in these greenhouses, when going to the doctors, they are most of the times accompanied by men, mostly Italians, who speak on their behalf and who do not leave them alone.

According to a study Letizia Palumbo and Alessandra Sciurba (2015) published in the Anti-Trafficking review, the exploitation faced by female farm workers in Ragusa are cases of both forced labour and trafficking, according to the forced labour indicators provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • ‘excessive overtime’;
  • ‘abusive working and living conditions’;
  • ‘withholding of wages’;
  • ‘intimidation and threats’;
  • ‘physical and sexual violence’;
  • ‘isolation’
  • ‘abuse of vulnerability’.

The exploitation of Romanian migrant workers also fit within the Directive 2011/36/EU on human trafficking , as the ‘abuse of a position of vulnerability’ articulated as one of the ‘means’ of trafficking. The Directive describes the position of vulnerability as ‘a situation in which the person concerned has no real or acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved’.

Although this situation has already been signalled many years ago, Italian, Romanian and European Union authorities have ignored or delayed their responses regarding the situation of slavery and abuse, including heavy sexual abuse and violence.

Through this letter, we welcome the initiative of the Ministry of Interior in Romania to send a delegation in Italy to see “how they can help these women”, but much more is needed.

We urge the Ministry of Labour in Romania, together with the National Agency for the Equality of Chances between Women and Men to take an initiative regarding this situation. We urge all competent institutions to put an end to slavery and exploitation of these women, including the President Klaus Iohannis.

We urge all the competent institutions in Italy to properly investigate the cases of abuse of Romanian women in Ragusa and we urge the Italian government to take a position about tolerating this situation of slavery of women on its territory.
We demand the European Union institutions, specifically the European Parliament, with its FEMM Committee to take seriously this issue and put it on their agenda.

We call for support from women feminist associations fighting against exploitation and violence towards women, fighting sexual violence, fighting human trafficking in Romania, in Italy, in Europe and over the world to stand in solidarity and to mobilize to end the slavery, sexual and labour abuse of these Romanian women in Ragusa, of all women enslaved there.

We call for support and solidarity from all women and feminists fighting against domination, abuse and exploitation!

EWL will be following the situation closely.

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