Arriving to and being in Palermo is a strange, yet wonderful experience. An authentic robust city, filled to the brim with loud, rich culture. Palermo seems somehow untouched by society and the greater world, and I’ve been told quite a few times that Palermo is the closest thing, in terms of living, to Africa.
For me, as an African who has never been to the motherland, it’s very interesting to witness a community, which is likened to Africa, but it is even more interesting as the African community is prominent and proud. A walk through Ballaro will show you just how much, but there is a lingering question that remains whens coming across this community “Where are the women?”
The streets are dominated with males, and it makes me wonder, as someone who is in Palermo to work on the IRETI project, which explores the sex trafficking of the Nigerian Benin women with H.R.Y.O, where are the women of the African community? They’re rarely seen, and I then begin to wonder about the things I have learnt so far during my time here in this project.
Joining our mentor Alessandra to meetings quite often at Casa Mediterranea delle Donna, where we were able to meet with other women who worked with organisations revolving around Domestic Abuse, Women’s Rights, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking and creating safe spaces for women, I was able to learn of a law that has been implemented in Palermo, one that has banned women, during peak tourist times, to be within certain areas wearing revealing clothes. This was to defer those women who are either prostituting or have been sex trafficked from working in a space that the tourists, or the locals would see, causing them to hide, or worse, to be trafficked elsewhere.
It’s absurd to think that behind Palermo’s initial encapsulating charm, that below the surface lays a world that is rife with violence, drug abuse, sex trafficking and a government that would rather hide than protect. A world that not only makes you think about the safety of the migrant women, but one that makes you think of Palermo’s systems in whole.
The little I’ve seen, and the little I’ve learnt in my stay here has been both worrying and comforting- on one hand I see a community that seems tight knit, freedom, a village mentality and spaces that have been created to help migrants, integrate cultures, protect women and keep the community spirit of Palermo alive; and on the other, I’ve seen first hand the poverty, the lack of opportunities, the lack of societal structure and the divide in class and culture.
Still, without a doubt, I can say that I have fallen in love with this city and the way of life here, but more must be done.