‘Women on the Border’ Talk with Helena Maleno

The Casa San Ignacio in Madrid was the venue for the ‘Women on the Border’ talk, given by human rights activist Helena Maleno of the collective Caminando Fronteras. Thanks to the organization of SJM together with Pueblos Unidos and the University Institute of Migration Studies (IUEM) at the University of Comillas, hundreds of people have been able to hear Helena’s testimony on the situation of women on the southern Spanish border with Morocco.

The event began with a brief introduction by Severino Lázaro SJ on the reality of the work done by the Jesuit Social Sector in the Ventilla district. Next, Iván Lendrino, director of Pueblos Unidos, presented the work carried out by Pueblos Unidos and SJM in Frontera Sur. Finally, Alberto Ares SJ presented Helena Maleno, giving an overview of her professional and personal career.

Helena Maleno began her talk with a brief introduction to the reality of women in a context of generalized violence such as the border. “I am a woman of the border, who lives on the border and who has been crossed by that border”. She stressed the importance of the community and the collective within the struggle that migrants, and in particular women, have at the border. In addition, she highlighted some border stories that have later become social success stories in the country.

Maleno pointed out that women began to be seen on the border in the year 2000, but they were not given visibility until a decade later, and even then, always as victims from a compassionate point of view and never at the center. “Women seek to construct their own story and defend what they really are: fighters, leaders, defenders of their dignity, their rights and their families. Migrant women create a strategy of resistance to all situations of violence on the border”. The activist emphasized that any human rights defense process must incorporate the re-establishment of those rights in order to be complete.

The talk continued with an explanation of her concept of necrofrontera, or “death border”. “The border is a business nowadays. Making people die, letting them live on the border, and considering them merchandise is the business system, which has two main industries: war and border control, or in other words: pain and slavery”. And many of these border immigration control practices are based on violence against women. Trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, feminicide, sexual violence against women on the migration route and as a weapon of war. “Society sees women as a danger and not as what they are: fighters. Motherhood and defense of family is another important factor, especially when terrible events such as the separation of mothers and children or the withdrawal of custody occur”.

Helena Maleno closed her speech by making a plea to defend the rights of people who migrate in an increasingly closed world with greater border control. “We don’t have the right to migrate, but we also don’t have the right not to migrate,” she says of women struggling to find a peaceful future away from home. “Outsourcing policies directly affect women. They have many fears, in particular of not being able to complete their migratory project, but they also many strengths and leadership qualities”. She concluded by alluding to the need to not allow the criminalization of human rights defenders like her and calling for hope to continue working so that all people can live with dignity.

You can watch a video of the full speech here.











This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Josie Hough.