Linked with our presentation of FIZ – Women’s Information Center.
She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Solidarity is the heart of people. In the name of life, we need respect.”
Irene Rodriguez – Switzerland and Argentinia
She works for Minka alter Latina, and for Infoladen Kasama , and also for Women’s Information Center (FIZ),
Irene Rodriguez was born into a large poor family in Argentina. Her life was filled with rape, brute force, pain, and misery. With only three years of school, Irene soon became a victim of prostitution and slave trade. With unbelievable toughness she managed to survive, to actually free herself, and legalize her existence in Switzerland. She is now a source of power for those who are in the hands of prostitution and slave trade, a tireless fighter for those who are willing to get out. Irene Rodriguez fights for the basic rights of illegal migrants, a voice for those who have none.
Once upon a time there was a little girl in Missiones in Argentina. Her family was big and poor and violence was the daily bread. Not knowing anything else Irene thought that this is life as it is. She never stands up against her mother who permits the male members and friends of the family to rape the young body and soul. The child is only nine or ten when her mother finally comes to the conclusion that something is wrong about how her little girl is being treated.
Sent away, Irene accepts her destiny as a much too young housemaid in some rich family’s household, where again her body and soul are used and battered. Only three years of school are given to her. Irene manages to stay in that cruel household until she is in the midst of her teenage years. That is when Irene for the first time meets somebody who appears to her as a knight in shining armour: a young boy, son of a Swiss father, not much older than she.
Irene gets pregnant. The family of the boy try to take her baby boy away from her. They succeed and the never-to-be couple is separated. Irene gets to know her own father by coincidence. This is where she seeks understanding and help, this is where again she finds only rejection and again rape: her own father lays hands on his daughter. With her son taken to far away Switzerland and her own family betraying her, Irene starts her endless journey: one that is marked by imprisonment, escapes. rape, slave trade, prostitution and lies. For an endless time, Irene is held prisoner in a house in Argentina and forced into prostitution. She finds herself in the hands of a mafia, which has a widespread network of brutal power.
Irene survived. But how can a body, a soul, a mind cope with such unimaginable violence? It is fear: sheer fear that empowers the young woman. Not fear of the men or what they do to her, but the fear of death. Irene simply wants to live, for herself and for her son whom she hopes to find and get back one day. The will to survive drives her until today. It is what makes Irene a fighter for freedom, for human rights, which makes her aggressive towards any injustice and insensibility. It is the will to survive which she is trying to pass on to others as desperate as she was. And the will to cherish the beauty of life through all phases of destruction, drug consumption, alcohol consumption, depressions. A part of her life which Irene manages finally to work through with the help of therapy. The therapy gives her back the possibility to believe in herself. Faith. Not faith in any god or religion but faith in yourself.
But let us go back to 1976, because that is when Irene finally manages to flee from that brutal house of prostitution in Argentina, with the help of somebody she manages to trust. It is not easy to avoid the “Cafiolos,” the ring of men, who call several women their own and send them into prostitution. You never know when you meet one, never know, who knows one who knows another… Irene’s target is the “viga miserios,” a place for battered women. But selling her body is the only thing Irene ever learned, the only thing which gave her enough money to at least survive. It is a circle of violence.
She goes to jail for prostitution and is only 20 when she gets out. It is nobody’s business to judge someone who now believes she can handle any situation. Stubborn and naïve, Irene decides to set up her own business as a prostitute. She has survived until now and she thinks she can handle it.
But worse comes to worst and Irene ends up in an even more brutal prison in Corrientes in the north of Argentina for eight months of unimaginable pain. Irene survives that too and heads for Buenos Aires. She takes on any odd job she can find. Making money fast is her goal, money to be able to find her son. That is when slave traders cross her way and Irene’s journey takes a different turn. It is the typical procedure: with words of fairytale dreams and the prospect of an honorable life in her own house in Switzerland, the middlemen win Irene’s trust.
Spain is her first temporary, not self-chosen, destination. With armed force and in the company of five more desperate women, Irene ends up again in prostitution, in debt of thousands of dollars to the slave traders. Again Irene escapes. She muddles through – with prostitution throughout Europe. But now her goal is twofold: to make money fast and to show other illegal prostitutes a way out. Sometimes it sounds so simple: just hop in a taxi right now and drive to your embassy. Under any pretense. Do not have your picture taken. Let them send you back home right away. A few follow Irene’s proposal successfully. For herself it is out of the question: Irene wants her son.
Finally in 1994, her dream comes true. While in Spain Irene gets in contact with her son. He comes to rescue her, to take her with him. Mother and son celebrate their new reunion and in that sparkling unique moment, Irene realizes that her life has to change dramatically. Never ever again is she willing to give somebody power over her, her body, her soul, her mind. She turns her destiny into a source of power and develops the program “la noce de la iguana,” a program, which is designed to sensitize the feelings of people. As an illegal migrant, she helps women with practical action. When somebody calls begging for help with no papers, no passport, just fear, Irene motivates her to meet her, gives shelter, finds a way out. Miraculously it works out. Irene is able to give others the courage she lacked so often and finally found. And she is finally legal.
Her battle for peace is to be found in the way she manages to give courage and self esteem to those who suffer. Irene is fighting for respect. To have respect for yourself and others, for all and everything. Women are tired of giving birth to children for war, says a Spanish proverb. And that is what unites Irene and all those who come to her. Irene is the happiest person alive when she gets to know men who stand up against violence against women. Every woman who gained a little self confidence imeans a step to freedom and peace for her. Injustice drives Irene wild.
That is how she got involved in a program that is trying to solve the “mystery” of women in Mexico who disappear and are found dead weeks later. Everybody knows the killing is a ritual for drug dealers being taken into a certain circle. But nobody, not the law, the police, the government, is doing anything about it. Irene does. With the organization “Minka alter Latina” she is able to give those women a voice too. It all comes down to the point that it is important to talk about these incredible crimes. Irene is the voice, the voice for victims of the most unthinkable crimes committed against women throughout the whole world. Irene Rodriguez, the communicator, 49. (Read on this 1000peacewoman page).
Global Alliance Against Trafic of Women GAATW;
Global Migration and Gender Network GMGN;