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In the wake of polarizing political conversations about refugees around the world, Refugees Welcome (RW), facilitates a program which enables civil society to perform as change-agents and welcome refugees into their prospective regions. RW serves as a hub on the web to connect refugees in crisis with people willing to host them. Sara Consolato, Head of Communication for Refugees Welcome Italia, the Italian sector for the international innovation explains in a Women For Action: Voices of Italy Interview, how RWI confronts social exclusion and marginalization of refugees, especially those migrating from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Voices of Italy: Sara, tell us about your background and what led you to work in the field of human rights?
Sara Consolato: I’d like to start this interview by saying that “I’ve always known who I would have become in my life”. But it didn’t work like that for me. Sometimes It takes time to get where you are headed. I studied communication with a focus on International relations and afterwards, I attended a Master in Human rights. I was expected to start a career in the development cooperation field, but life brought me elsewhere. I started working in the nonprofit sector as a social researcher, a position I enjoyed and that helped me to develop an in-depth understanding of many crucial issues. But I felt that something was missing, as I wanted to do a job that could have an impact on people’s life, especially on those who are vulnerable. And this aspiration is what led me to work in the refugees assistance sector, an issue I’ve always been interested in - co-funding the startup, Refugees Welcome Italia.
Voices of Italy: You are currently Head of Communication for Refugees Welcome Italia (RWI), part of the European Refugees Network, founded in Berlin in 2014. Could you tell us more about the project and your role?
Sara Consolato: The RWI initiative is founded on a simple but revolutionary idea: open the doors of private houses to refugees, by providing them with home-stays instead of mass accommodations where they usually feel marginalized and excluded. The organization aims at promoting a new model of reception, in order to increase the possibility for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection to faster integrate themselves into the hosting countries. The main tools of the project are the web site, where potential hosting families (in the largest meaning of the term) and the refugees looking for an accommodation can register, and the local RW's teams that take care of the matching and monitor the processes through the all stages.
The innovation brought about by the project relies on two elements: the use of the technology, which allows everyone, even people living in remote areas of Italy, to get involved and an interpersonal approach which encourages mutual understanding and exchange between Italian people and refugees. Housing refugees in private accommodations provides advantages for everyone: refugees are able to live in sound places, learn the language faster, and adjust to a new environment more easily. The hosting families, on the other hand, have the chance to know a different culture and help a person in a difficult situation. The response of the Italian people has been amazing: more than 400 families, from all over Italy, registered on our platform in 9 months and we managed to match 20 refugees in shared flats until now.
As for my role, I am a member of the executive board and the head of the communication which means that I am in charge of designing and implementing RWI communication strategies and activities. It is a pivotal role, as one of the goals of RW is to spread a more humane culture of welcoming refugees. The challenge for me is to humanize the debate on the refugees crisis, which is so often biased, and to focus on the personal stories of all the people involved in the project: refugees, families and volunteers. This position is providing me with the privilege to give voice to “another Italy”, a part of the country not properly covered by mainstream media and made of incredible and inspiring people who are open-minded and free of all prejudices, who spontaneously open the doors of their house and donate their time to people in need. Their genuine solidarity makes me feel proud of being Italian on daily basis.
Voices of Italy: You worked with various NGOs in your line of work. Can you tell us which projects inspired you the most and how so?
Sara Consolato: I can’t help mentioning my last experience in Lesvos, Greece, where I worked this summer for almost 3 weeks, carrying out a storytelling project for Refugees Welcome in Kara Tepe, a refugees camp which host around 800 people. I had the ability to speak with many asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This experience provided me with an in-depth look into what being a displaced person means. I could observe the psychological struggles of refugees - the trauma of the war zone they fled, the trauma of a dangerous journey, the trauma of being stuck in unsanitary camps filled with fist fights and sometimes abuses, the uncertainty of the future - but also to appreciate their incredible resilience. It was stunning to see the strength they gather to defend their dignity even in harsh conditions and their willingness to be treated as humans, not as mere numbers. I’d like to recall some of them: Amina, a 45 years old lady from Aleppo who lost his husband during the boat trip from Turkey, founding herself completely alone in Greece; Basil, the Iraqi teen-ager who fled the atrocity of Isis and dreams of becoming a rapper; Rami, a talented designer from Damascus, who swam for almost 8 hours after his boat sunk. All these people taught me a lesson: even though life hits you hard, what really matters is to continue to believe in the possibility of a new beginning.
Voices of Italy: Where do you think RWI is headed? In other words, what sort of outcome do you foresee for its program?
Sara Consolato: As I already mentioned, RWI’s strength lays on being a button-up project which start from the direct involvement of the civil society but is aimed at promoting an institutional and cultural change as well. Our ambition is to improve the policies of reception for refugees currently in force in Italy; policies that are mainly based on mass accommodations and on an impersonal approach which often results in a lack of a real social inclusion for the refugees. We firmly believe that domestic reception can pave the way to an easier multicultural integration and our long-term goal is to make RW hosting philosophy been recognized by the institutions among the official ways of reception.
Voices of Italy: What sort of role do you wish to play in the long term or do you feel that you are already in the best position to fulfil this sort of outcome?
Sara Consolato: I think storytelling, which is at the core of my work, is a fundamental asset to promote the cultural change RWI is getting to. In the current situation, with populist propaganda raising across Europe, and walls and fences being built at the borders, it is essential to cast a light on the personal side of this humanitarian crisis. There is a tendency, both among leading politicians and in sections of the mainstream media, to demonize refugees and to depict them as an endless tide of people who will steal jobs, become a burden on the state and ultimately threaten the our way of life. This “narrative of the invasion” cannot be won only by showing statistics and numbers. We need to show the reality of refugees: their names, their faces, their ambitions and their fears, their loves and what they fled. We have to do it with stories, humanizing otherwise faceless refugees. It is only when we strip the humanity from people - when we stop seeing them as humans being like us - that our empathetic nature is lost. I think storytelling has the power to reverse this trend. Not by chance, Everyone has its own story to tell, is RWI’s motto
Voices of Italy: What sort of obstacle have you faced throughout your career that you feel others could learn from?
Sara Consolato: I think one of the greatest obstacle I faced was finding myself, at a professional level, in a comfort zone, a state of stability in which a person feels familiar, at ease, and where steady level of performance is possible. It’s hard to question such a situation. I did for many years a job that I liked but I knew it didn’t suit me perfectly. So, at a certain point in my life, I decided to turn the table and to invest all my energies in a new pioneering project – a risk - Refugees Welcome Italia. It’s an enthusiastic challenge to start from the scratch, to literally build with your own hands something that didn’t exist before and that can positively affect other people’s life. I believe that ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow.
Voices of Italy: What words of wisdom or advice would you lend to Women For Action’s global audience?
Sara Consolato: There is not a better school in life than travelling. I was very lucky during the past years, as I had the chance to visit many countries, often as a solo traveller, an experience that helped me learn how to think critically and to form opinions of my own about many crucial issues. So my advice is: travel as much as you can, even by yourself, get rid of preconceptions, don’t be afraid of the cultural differences and never stop cultivating a curious attitude toward the people around you.
Interviewed by Chiara Cola
LONDON— Marianne Marston, prodigy of the late legendary Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and two time Cruiserweight Champion of the World Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham has underwent immense hurdles as a pro woman boxer. Years ago, she was denied a much needed boxing license by the British board for no other reason but for their lack of interest in women boxing.
The year 2016 was not only a win for Marston and other women boxers because not only did she receive a license by a separate British board, she has received offers to be licensed in several other countries.
Women For Action: What sort of contribution do you feel women are bringing to the professional sport of boxing?
Marianne Marston: Women’s boxing attracts a more diverse audience to the sport and it seems that it also attracts a young audience. In itself, that is a major contribution in the long term for the sport.
Women For Action: You have possibly battled discrimination as a woman boxer in Britain which has denied you a professional license. Do you think the mentality is changing for women boxers in the UK?
Marianne Marston: On my return from America in 2009, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) refused to license me. Their General Secretary, Robert Smith said that it was because I would go back to America to fight, due to having a twelve- fight contract with an American promoter. He made it clear, that he did not approve of women boxing. It seemed obvious that it was going to be quite a battle to get my license here. I did appeal on various occasions but to no avail, even though I had fantastic support from world champions like Joe Frazier, Steve Cunningham and Tim Witherspoon to name a few.
However, eventually I became professionally licensed by the Malta Boxing Commission (MBC) in 2011 and as of April this year, I finally received a British license from the British & Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA) which launched earlier this year.
It seems that many other organizations [ in Europe and America] believed in my pro boxing ability. Thanks to MBC, BIBA and the German Boxing Association (GBA), as well as promoters such as Dave Murphy, Mark Lyons and Lee Murtagh, women’s professional boxing has really began to establish itself once again here in the United Kingdom.
When I debuted in 2013, at York Hall in London, on a GBA sanctioned event and on my Maltese license, I was the only active licensed British female professional. Now there are twelve of us licensed by MBC or BIBA. Actually, even the BBBofC has licensed three women in the last year, although I feel that it is more of a reactionary tactic. After all, the same people that occupy the BBBofC today were there back in 2009. In my mind, the women’s side of the sport in the UK is finally starting to establish itself.
Interestingly, women’s boxing had a chance to establish itself in the 1990’s after people like Jane Couch took the BBBofC to court and won the right for female boxers to be professionally licensed. Unfortunately, it didn’t really seem to take off. Yet, in 2016, it really does look like we are finally winning the battle.
It’s not just the increased number of pro licensed female boxers, also we are gaining ground on female fans attending events. When I started boxing, the average was seventeen percent; When I beat Marianna Gulyas for the MBC International title in 2014, it was over thirty percent; and my last fight, not only were there three female bouts on the card but the attendance split was almost a fifty-fifty male and female.
I’ve also noticed a significant increase in media interest over the past year. Now all we have to do is get the broadcasters to get behind us, so the wider world can see for themselves that there’s very little difference between male and female boxing.
Women For Action: What do you think society and or women can do to bridge an acceptance for more women boxers?
Marianne Marston: For me, boxing should not be divided down the middle by gender. I believe it should be the same for other sports. We are all athletes. So why should it be so different for us women? The big name British promoters does not have one woman signed to them. Nor does do they seem to have an interest in having a female fight on their shows.
Let’s compare the up and coming fights between the two genders. These guys are fighting for three unified titles at the O2 in front of 19,000 people. They are being paid millions; the fight will be broadcast worldwide and they are receiving huge levels of media coverage, which in turn means they will receive substantial sponsorship; and finally another major difference is that they get to train full time for the fight.
Gabilsile and myself are fighting to Unify FOUR titles. This fight will probably be in front of around 3000 to 4000 people at Alexandra Palace, as with all my previous fights. I have to cover the costs of Gabisile’s purse, her team's travel and accommodation, as well as the championships sanctioning fees. The only way I get to receive any form of purse is if I have sold enough tickets to cover all the above and more. The only personal support I have at the moment is sponsorship from BoxFit UK for my training kit and Scott Mallon’s 3x Sports that provide my gloves. Plus, I have to pay for my training camp as well as work full time.
However saying that, it looked like I may be receiving some support this time. Former Hollywood Movie Producer Barbara Gold of The World Wide Organization to Aid Youth Through Sports(WWOAYS ) has offered to cover some of the costs, as this event will be raising funds for both the WWOAYS as well as the Amir Khan Foundation. Also through Claire Forsyth and Elena Capurro from Manray Media, I will receive some level of broadcast exposure thanks to the documentary “Right to Fight’ that they have been shooting for the past couple of years.
It is a vicious circle. If we don’t get the main-stream media exposure, we don’t get the opportunities and of course, if we don’t get the opportunities, we don’t the media exposure. Let’s face it. We are half the population, but women in sports as a whole only receive a small percentage of the coverage that our male counterparts do.
Women For Action: You are also a licensed manager and promoter and founded the company Women’s Boxing Classes (In London). What led you down this path?
Marianne Marston: Quite simply if I didn’t do it, women probably wouldn’t get the chances to box that they do now.
Even before I returned to the UK in 2009, I used to come back to London regularly. However, I could not receive the same level of training that I received in America. At the time, I was being trained by one of the most famous world champions of all time, Joe Frazier. Yet, all I was offered here was to join a ‘Boxercise’ class.
Luckily, I found a gym I could train at in London, although, I was primarily training myself, with some help from other boxers at the gym. Then I started offering personal training services and eventually persuaded the owner to allow me to set up women-only classes. These were so successful that within weeks, I had full classes which marked the beginning of my management and training venture. Unfortunately, the owner decided he didn’t want to keep splitting the fees with me so he took over my classes by offering the opportunity to a work-experience lad who trained for free.
A week later, I found myself at Johnny Eames’ TKO Gym in Canning Town by accident which is known for being the boxing nirvana. All the top London pros were based there such as the likes of Kevin Mitchell and Billy Joe Saunders. In a conversation with Johnny, I explained that I did not have a gym to train at. He offered me space at his gym. Shortly after that, he became my manager and allocated a coach to me.
After about a week or so, Johnny agreed to let me start offering personal training sessions as well as have my women’s classes based there in the evenings. As for the promoting and managing, well it was more or less the same reasons. I had developed some fantastic boxers that had progressed through the ranks from white collar to amateur and even had one ready to turn professional.
On the promoting side, I am seriously excited about doing more. In the future I’d like to organize the Women’s World Boxing Championships. I had proposed this to the BBBofC to sanction, but they turned it down. I am pleased to say that BIBA and various World Championship Organizations, such as the World Boxing Union and World Boxing Federation like the idea. So once my title fight is out of the way, I will start working on that again.
Women For Action: Sometimes media shows unhealthy images of women on women conflict or girls against girls. In which ways do you feel your profession is spreading more positivity for women and girls?
Marianne Marston: Boxing, like any contact sport, provides an opportunity for women to compete, if that is what they choose to do, but in other ways it is just as beneficial. As a sport, or even as an exercise, boxing provides so many benefits - -health and fitness as well as engendering discipline and confidence. Just the fact that these days they can participate is a major step forward. Yet, when we eventually get the exposure the sport deserves, it will also provide positive role models.
Women For Action: You are a protégé of the late legendary Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and two-time Cruiserweight Champion of the World Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham. Can you tell us briefly how these relationships came about?
Marianne Marston: I first met Joe by accident. I was at a coffeeshop in Philadelphia. It was particularly busy that day and the only spare seats were at my table. Two guys came over and asked if I minded if they sat at the table, I stated, “Yes”. During the conversation the young man mentioned he was a boxer. I replied that I had just started training and was going to go to Joe Hand’s Gym the next day to see if I can train there. The mature fellow asked me to do some shadow boxing. The young man then asked me if I knew who the other man was. I said, “No”. He laughed and then introduced him as Smokin’ Joe Frazier. I was so embarrassed. I hadn’t recognized him as he was my hero from an early age. Joe then handed me his card, and invited me to his gym the next day for a trial. The rest is history. Joe became my first manager; his son Marvis and Val Colbert became my first real coaches.
After two or three trips over to Philly for training, Joe called me into his office and said he wanted me to move to Philadelphia so that they could prepare me for my professional debut.
Shortly after I moved into my new apartment in Philadelphia, Joe’s gym, which was in a terrible condition had closed. I was devastated but it didn’t take long before I found the James Shuler Memorial Gym in West Philadelphia thanks to the advice of two-time Heavyweight World Champion Tim Witherspoon, who trained his son Tim Jr. there.
Initially, I was being trained by World Light Middleweight Champion Robert ‘Bam Bam’ Hines, but was really finding it difficult to understand him through a very strong accent. Therefore, gym owner Buster asked Shar’ron Baker if she could work with me.
Just after I started training with Shar’ron, Livvy Cunningham, Steve Cunningham’s wife and manager invited me to be part of Steve’s team. To say I felt honored is an understatement. The upshot was that Steve and Shar’ron would co-train me, as Steve could only really put in the time when he wasn’t in camp preparing for his own fights. These were such special times for me.
Women For Action: At an early age you were diagnosed with and beat Cancer. Plus you were diagnosed with coeliac disease some years ago. How do you think this has made you a survivor and fighter?
Marianne Marston: It was very hard going when I was first diagnosed with Cancer, I was just nineteen years of age and it took two operations over a five year period until I was finally given the clear.
Coeliacs is more recent. Initially it seemed to be triggered by food poisoning whilst I was in America about fifteen years ago. Yet when I look back, I actually wonder if I had it from an early age as I always seemed to have stomach problems after I ate bread. At that time there were very few gluten free products so I had to develop everything for my diet myself. I experimented with non-wheat flours and even made my own.
One of the biggest problems back then, especially as I was travelling a lot was eating out. No matter how much I stressed to the waiters that I cannot have anything with gluten, invariably they just didn’t get it. I was often in pain for days after having a meal out.
same level of exposure through the media as well as airtime for their dedication to their chosen sport.
On the boxing side, specifically that the Women’s World Boxing Championships become an annual event and of course that the women’s side of professional boxing grows to a level where it is fully accepted and is seen by those that compete in the amateur ranks as an opportunity to progress to pro boxing as there is in the male side.
Finally that there are more opportunities for Sportswomen to be able to remain involved at the end of their careers in the sport in other capacities, such as coaches or officials.
For instance, BIBA has an equal opportunity policy and I am proud to be part of an organization that enforces this. Jennifer Burton is the Vice Chairman, Georgia Collison is an inspector, Amy Cardona a timekeeper, Dr. Louise Eccles is the Chief Medical Officer and I have been appointed as Honorary Director of Female Boxing. I have been made aware that another female ex-boxer has applied to be trained as a referee.
Contributor Julene Allen | This interview was provided by Women For Action Times. Published in Aug / Sept Issue Volume 2. 003
The Women History Makers Project is an educational video presentation which tributes women change-makers. The project proposes to create awareness about incredible leaders who have been interviewed by Women For Action such as Actress, Writer and Producer Kamala Lopez, Former Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Commander, Colonel Cassie Barlow, the First and Only Woman NBA Scout, Bonnie-Jill Laflin, International Award-winning Pianist, Concert Soloist Graciella Kowalczyk and International Human Rights Expert & Researcher, Dr. Maria Chalari.
Why the National Women’s Equality Day Road Trip is Necessary and Needed and a History Lesson About Labor Day11:41 AM
By Julene Allen
Labor day is far more than just the last day of the year everyone wears white. It marks 134 years of its original celebration and 122 years since the actual labor movement when a nationwide conflict arose between labor unions and railroads. This movement was ignited by the Pullman Strike, a protest that began in the town of Pullman, Illinois. The most influential labor organization, the American Railway Union (ARU) and the entire railroad industry were at odds; Hundreds of thousands of workers in 27 states were at the heart of this movement.
At the time, The Pullman railroad workers were ostracized for joining forces with labor unions. Yet their labor conditions were unfair and economically crippling. These circumstances were the result of railroad tycoon by the name of George Pullman who was immersed in greed. Pullman became wealthy in the mid-1800’s by developing the sleeping car for railroads. His company paid extremely low wages to their workers. Their wages did not meet housing costs. Yet The Pullman Company employees were residents of Pullman Housing.
George Pullman's profit became a priority over his treatment of people, which brought about unfair and unjust economic conditions for those who worked for him just as well as rented from him. He built a town for 12,000 inhabitants on 500 hundred acres. It seemed as though it was a haven at first, but it became a trap for many, with cheap construction, and tiny spacing in the dwellings. The rent cost twenty-five percent more than any other housing around. No one could hold a job with the Pullman company without residing within the Pullman Housing. Rent was deducted from their paychecks, and if any housing repairs were needed, prior to moving in, the money was advanced to the employee for repairs, then deducted from their wages. One toilet was shared amongst four to five families in each flat. Employees were even spied on. If an employee went out of town, he was watched. If he joined a union, he would be fired then blacklisted and reported to every railroad in the country.
The blackball treatment of railroad workers ignited the Pullman Strike, which resulted in numerous deaths of workers by the hands of U.S. Military and U.S. Marshals at the time. Our national holiday, Labor Day was enacted by Congress just six days after the end of the strike. In 1894, it was elevated to an official federal holiday with the support of 30 states. Labor Day's significance symbolizes not only the importance of our laboring workers - the foundation of our economy - but the right to equality and freedom.
Federal holidays become important because they remind us of our past and the efforts being made to get to make our country better. This is what federal holidays such Memorial Day, Independence Day and Martin Luther King’s Birthday represent. These days symbolize those who sacrificed their lives for our nation’s freedom, the independence we’ve established as a country and the equal treatment amongst our citizens. Commemorating the hard work of our grandfathers and grandmothers should be necessary and important. It also sends a strong message about American values and the necessity of not just diversity but inclusion. The Pullman strike was a result of working people confronting unjust policies yet demanding fair ones. Their protest was marked as a reminder in our federal holiday.
August 26th, Women’s Equality Day is just as important. Though it is a national holiday, it dimly noted. Yet, on August 26, 1920, women were officially granted the right to vote in the United States after the certification of the 19th amendment. Fifty years later on August 26, 1970, feminists activists joined ranks on this day to demand more because women still were at an unequal advantage. They organized a protest with over 100,000 women - the largest equality protest in American history - which campaigned for equality in education, employment and the access to childcare. On this same day in 1971, a national bill was passed to designate August 26th a day of prominence- Women's Equality Day. Though it is under-recognized but it should come as no surprise.
It has been less than a hundred years since women gained the right to vote and just a little over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was passed which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Our history reminds us that a future that holds equality is a constant work in progress. Today, women are still making less than their male counterparts and for women of color, the gap is far greater. Also, women have lesser numbers in significant forms of leadership. In our present day, no federal holiday recognizes a woman and the efforts towards Women’s Equality Day is not enough.
Gratefully and thankfully, some of our past presidents including our current highlights Women's Equality Day every year at the White House. However, it is not resonating with Americans. The historical record tied to August 26th is in the background and seems to be getting further. Children are unaware of Women’s Equality Day and its history and parents are unable to teach them. The history behind Women’s Equality Day occupies blogs of prominent women’s organizations and websites, even our own, but the information is not getting out. This is why Women For Action plans to take the petition to Elevate August 26th, Women’s Equality Day to a Federal Holiday on the road to generate more awareness after promoting the message on the internet for two years. Upon hitting the ground last year in Chicago’s downtown area with the petition and interacting with people who swore that such a day did not exist, it is clear the work towards women’s equality is continuous, yet it has to get done.
Article Published In August/September 2016 issue of Women For Action Times