Women’s Empowerment in Scampia, a suburban area of Naples

Couple of days ago I had the great honor to meet Emma Ferulano, member of Chi Rom E Chi No, an Italian association established in 2002 by twenty Italian and Roma women of Scampia, a slum area of Naples. She has been a local activist for fifteen years and together with Diego Armando Maradona (DAM) social center, has initially organized several cultural and social activities to promote children’s education, participatory citizenship and socio-economic empowerment of the poorest ones. In particular, the Association has offered a catering service of Balkan and Italian food to favor a sustainable multidimensional integration between Italian and Roma cultures by selling their products outside of Scampia.

Initially, the Association was located in an informal sheet iron building inside the Roma settlement and after five years, the local council decided to reallocate the heart quarter of the Association in a new free space closed to the Auditorium of Scampia. Afterwards, since the catering service was gaining a discrete success, in 2013 some members of the Association founded the social enterprise Kumpania that is managed by ten Italian and Roma women and won several international and national prizes for its social sustainability goals (i.e. Social Innovation Award by UN Agency). Emma is actually the president of Kumpania that is now involved in the CHIKU’ project, an Italian-Balkan restaurant in the heart of Scampia that promotes cultural integration through active participation, authentic relationships, self-confidence, respect, complicity, dialogue, engagement amongst Italian and Roma women while they cook together because “a group means to be stronger together in order to realize changes while enjoying common passions” (CHIKU’ website).

 

The strength of CHIKU’ is the central role of women in Italian and Roma communities of Scampia. “Roma wives” – Emma says – “do everything for the household, such as cooking, taking care of their and other’s children, while husbands are usually in jail or enjoying their time with other women, when not engaged in illegal activities”. Men are not educated to be responsible of their families and they often live together with their wives and parents. Roma communities, in fact, follows patriarchal and patrilocal roles according to which married women are expected to move to the parent’s house of the husband or to get married with a family member. According to Emma, Italians in Scampia have similar living conditions of Roma people in terms of division of roles within the household and economic opportunities. Italian wives are the pillars of the household while their husbands spend most of their time outside of the home. Although these similarities, the prejudice against Roma neighbors is still very common and the Italian women employed in CHIKU’ have never invited their relatives at the restaurant yet. In both communities, thus, wives are usually involved in several activities to compensate the absence of their husbands and have not time left for themselves.

CHIKU’ gives new values to women’s abilities and their time spent in cooking Balkan meals not only for their communities or households but also for the clients of the restaurant. By involving Roma women in restoration activities together with the Italians, they finally discover the meaning of their time for doing and being what they want to be and to do in life, increasing self-confidence and enlarging the quality of their network beyond family bonds. However, this integration and empowerment process has not been simple and without obstacles. “Some women, in fact, decided to leave the project due to the pressure of husbands or relatives that could not accept their full employment for eight hours a day outside of the home instead of taking care of children and cooking” – Emma says – “It is not only about male jealousy or patriarchal issues but also because women are essential at home doing things that men are not able or do not want to accomplish”.

Time seems to be the bone of contention between partners in deciding the gender division of roles within the household. It is all about power between partners and support from networks. In order to face these two cultural obstacles, the Association has also organized workshops to promote and sensitize people on the importance of sexual prevention in order to reduce pregnancies of young women and transmissions of sicknesses. With less children, the engagement of women in the household’s duties may be reduced as much as the time for themselves increases.

Still lots of efforts are needed to be done in this land in order to see that finally things are changing at macro level. Nevertheless, we can say that ensuring a place where ten women can actually cook together, meet friends and foreigners, and learn new perspectives from others, is already a great socio-economic achievement done by Emma and her company of women. Thank you very much for your valuable work!

Any other information on CHIKU’ are available at the official website: http://chiku.it/kumpania/

For Italian speakers, I would strongly suggest to look at this short video done by Parsifal Reparato and published on La Republica TV: http://video.repubblica.it/le-inchieste/tra-gourmet-e-integrazione-a-scampia-il-primo-ristorante-rom/213341/212515, and to read the following article by Ilaria Urbani published by La Repubblica on March, 7th 2017 http://napoli.repubblica.it/cronaca/2017/03/09/news/scampia_raid_vandalici_al_ristorante_dei_rom-160119435/