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FARE INSIEME CHARITY – Ep. 1 – "Casa Delle Donne" in Bologna, a refuge to overcome violence and start again

«There is always a way out, another chance»



One of the first Italian anti-violence centres, which in January moved to a new location in via Masia, was created in Bologna in 1990. Over 16 thousand women have found a friendly ear, support and refuge in the association since it first opened. For FARE INSIEME Charity, Lucrezia Lanzani interviewed Valeria D’Onofrio, member, operator and personnel manager at Casa delle Donne in Bologna.

FARE INSIEME CHARITY is the spin-off of the FARE INSIEME project dedicated to the presentation of some onlus and non-profit associations with roots in the area around Bologna, Ferrara and Modena and that carry out extraordinarily important and crucial work for the entire community. Here are some of their stories.

by Lucrezia Lanzani*

“Femicide: a term that identifies the killing of women as women.” This type of extreme violence is usually the climax of a story of violence carried out through various misogynistic behaviour (abuse, sexual abuse, physical or psychological violence).
Bologna, 1985: three cases of rape of under-age girls pushed some organizations to discuss gender-based violence. Five years later, one of the first anti-violence centres was set up in Via Capramozza: a group of women for women, with the purposes of providing answers to those in need. Talking about violence is the only way to prevent it. In 1990, the institutions welcomed the “Casa delle Donne per non subire violenza” project, though the doubts about whether the phenomenon actually existed persisted: violence seemed inconceivable in a territory with such a high rate of employment and education.

“Yet 350 women asked for our help that year, and that number has been growing ever since. Each development sees an increase in the number of requests. First there was one shelter, then two, then three, up to the current 68 beds,” explains Valeria D’Onofrio, member, operator and personnel manager at Casa delle Donne. A figure that never stops, just like the problem tackled. An ever-evolving reality, fruit of a constant study of the phenomenon on a global level, which brought about multiple collaborations to meet women’s requests. Unlike what is often portrayed by the media, the quest for justice and the filing of charges are not the primary objective but only one of the many tools available to women who wish to emerge from a situation of violence, and it is possible to reach out to a centre even without pressing charges. The main objective is to break the cycle of violence and enable women to regain control over their lives.  

“Casa delle Donne is this too: educate the world to what happens every day. For years we have been organizing awareness-raising campaigns for everyone from infants to adults, because we need to “de-construct” what violence actually stems from to prevent it from happening again,” stresses D’Onofrio. On 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the association organizes a festival to fill a gap. Fear does very little, everything lies in culture and education. Hard work that lasts over time, but which is still not enough. It is useless to turn violence into a show, Casa delle Donne exists to remind women that there is a way out, a new chance. It has been working in the same way for 34 years: it tackles the problem, finds solutions and invents opportunity. The commitment is constant. The help available is as extensive as the requests: from flats and homes to initiatives to support work and parenthood, social reintegration, legal aid and operators have been providing 24-7 assistance over the phone for almost 15 years. “We are contacted by victims of violence, prostitution and trafficking, by their families, people of all ages and nationalities. In 2023 alone, we dealt with almost 1,000 requests between those already under-way and new ones,” says D’Onofrio. Over 16,000 women have found refuge with this association since it opened: a small army of people who understood that theirs was not only a private story and chose to tell their story and ask for help. The most striking thing when faced with this number is the hope on the faces of the volunteers, who look to their “success stories” with determination, always aiming for top results and managing to keep a smile on their faces.

This also enabled the start of the Atlante dei Femminicidi, a research project to map and respond to a phenomenon of which the world is finally gaining awareness after years of silence. It is thanks to associations such as Casa delle Donne, that studies the phenomenon of violence in different existing realities starting from the city of Bologna, where it found a new location in Via Massenzio Masia. “A new barrier-free facility thus accessible to everyone, which has been needed ever since we began to study the phenomenon of gender-based violence linked with disability. In addition to this, for the past two years we have been actively collaborating on a project involving other victims of violence: the orphans, i.e. children who have lost both parents due to violence and families that need support,” illustrates Valeria D’Onofrio.

Casa delle Donne is an organization so big that it has no intention to stop. It exists thanks to the founders, who probably did not expect all this. It exists thanks to the 50 members, operators and volunteers who attend a training course to be able to provide the support required. It exists thanks to collaborations such as that with D.i.Re, Donne in Rete contro la violenza. It exists for and thanks to the hundreds of women who, every year, find the courage to embark on a journey to come out of violence. It exists thanks to all those supporters who, also thanks to crowd-funding initiatives such as that launched to support moving expenses (to which you can still contribute), enable Casa delle Donne to continue operating on the territory and help develop its project, a project that must have not end, at least until even only one woman needs help. A project that must continue to find solutions and remind us that this is everyone’s problem and we must keep talking about it.

*Lucrezia Lanzani is a student at the Steam Emilia High School. She is sixteen years old and has always been interested in social issues. She has been volunteering for three years in different organisations in her community.

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