Women at the border: The silent scream of modern wounded amazons

The externalisation of asylum policies, in their attempt to control migration flows - and actually keep away unwanted immigration – has generated a spiral of violence whose victims are those millions of people forced to abandon their homeland, due to conflicts or natural causes, that everyday seek shelter and safety elsewhere.

The increased vulnerability of women at the border represents a major side-effect of these widespread externalisation policies.

Most of the time, in fact, fleeing means experiencing terrible conditions of life for women, even worse – if possible – than the daily difficult situations they had to face in their countries of origin, such as discrimination and denial of fundamental rights. This is because reaching and crossing the border of the alleged “safe” countries becomes a real path of suffering, characterised by violence and fear.

During the journey towards the “promise land” they are pushed into the hell: sea crossing in small crowded inflatable boats risking shipwreck at any time, assaults along the routes, tortures in detention centres, violence at the hands of security forces and border guards, insecurity and fear in reception centres where women have to share tents, toilets and showers with no privacy at all. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly aggravated the dramatic situation.

In this continuous struggle to survive, to reach peace and freedom, women become modern Amazons facing the power of injustice, the violation of human rights, the bestiality of the “enemies”.

These modern Amazons are seriously wounded and deeply hurt in their body, in their mind and in their soul.

“…I asked what the work would be and she said connection work [sex work]. Then I started crying, a friend of mine and I refused to do it. They started to beat us saying we must do it. That’s the scar on my face. They beat us and said we must do it.”

This is the story of a Nigerian woman on her journey to Libya, just one of hundreds of witnesses that give a clear testimony of the dangerous situation that women are exposed to when they are forced to leave their homeland.

There are gender- specific forms of violence and insecurity occurring when women try to cross the borders or when they reach the reception centres. Sometimes the level of insecurity even increases if they are alone or with their children, because they are considered dissolute and their children objects of exploitation. Sometimes even the men who accompany women, and who should be protective and caring companions in misfortune, somehow become accomplices of the perpetrators of abuses, because of the exacerbation of existing forms of physical and psychological domestic violence.

But, generally, a widespread centuries-old misogynic attitude that considers women inferior and just reproductive machines or sexual objects with no rights, leads to terrible abuses. During conflicts, for example, rape is constantly used as a weapon of war, as a form of subjugation and annihilation, and it is frequently perpetrated in detention centres.

Rape is the violation of the delicate intimacy of a female human, it is an attack against a secret and unique world made of emotions, not only physical sensations. It is an abuse against the intimate sphere of emotions and feelings that causes long-term physical and mental disorders. In a few words, through a “simple” mechanical brutal act the perpetrator exercises his power by dehumanising the victim-object and seriously altering her future vital balance.

Moreover, many women have to face an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape, sexual infections and even stigmatisation in societies where women abused are considered guilty.

Forced contacts with smugglers and traffickers, whose number has increased after the closing of the borders in many countries, expose women to “transactional sex”, the exchange of a sex act to assure and facilitate the crossing of the borders towards what they imagine to be a safer place to live.

Unfortunately, despite the awareness of the negative consequences women are expected to undergo during the journey towards “safety”, until today not too much has been done to support women facing violence and gender-related abuses.

Guides (265kb pdf) have been created to train border guards on fundamental rights issues and to support survivors of gender-based violence; recently UNICEF, OIM and UNHCR have adapted the guide to support migrant women survived to violence for operators in the field of human rights, taking into account the increased vulnerability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But much more should be done to prevent violence against women and guarantee protection and professional aid to victims of human rights violations. This is now a big challenge for the EU facing the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean area.

In the meantime, modern Amazons continue their determined struggle with strength and dignity, despite the atrocities they face every day, in the name of freedom.

Short biography

Daniela Caracostas is a professional translator enrolled in the Register of the Chamber of Commerce in Rome and a certified teacher of Italian for Foreigners (Ditals II, Siena University); she also works as a tutor of Latin and Ancient Greek for young and adult students. In 2012 she attended the course “Teaching Human Rights” organized by SIOI (Società Italiana per l’Organizzazione Internazionale) in agreement with the Office for the Support to the United Nations in Assisi, the City of Peace. In 2018 she attended the post lauream continuous training Course for Legal Interpreters / Translators (University of Bologna), co-funded by the EU Erasmus+Programme, and is now finishing the Master’s degree studies in “Language Society and Communication” (University of Bologna) being particularly interested in Intercultural Mediation and Humanitarian Communication. Daniela is a member of REII (Rete di Eccellenza dell’Italiano Istituzionale), established at the Directorate General for Translation of the EU, and part of the REII Working Group on Linguistic Gender Parity. She is a volunteer translator for Translators4Children and Translators without Borders