Meeting Hayat El Youssoufi
On Tuesday afternoon the mosaic group met in the Dickinson Center in the city center to speak with a woman named Hayat, who was the former president of the Consiglio dei Stranieri for the Province of Bologna. When Hayat first came into the room, I addressed her in Arabic by saying, “Marhaba!” which means hello. She seemed genuinely surprised that I addressed her in Arabic. When she came in she was first wearing a scarf around her neck, a crotched [CSCU1] hat and long sleeves. She seemed really happy to be there with us. However when she sat down next to me on the couch, she seemed nervous. We immediately jumped into the interview and she started to describe the council that she used to run.
Hayat is now a 30-year-old Italian citizen. When she was 14 years old, she and her family migrated from Marrakesh, Morocco to Imola, Italy. She graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in Economics and when she was 21 years old, and she was elected as the President of the Foreign Resident’s Council. During that time, the council consisted of 30 members, 4 women and 26 men. The Consglio dei Stranieri was a council that the Bolognese provincial government created in 2007to give apolitical voice the migrants living within the district and to give their opinion/advice to the regional authorities on migrant issues. When the council was created in 2007, 9,200 people out of 43,000 possible voters who lived in the province of Bologna voted. The voting percentage was 21% and within that 21% number of voters, they were split up by 17% of women voters and 25.2% percent of men voters. On the ballot, there were 275 possible candidates (for more information, please see below for the link to their website).
The council only had the power to advise the Bologna government on what they should do. An example Hayat gave was the topic of Hijab. When France was in the process of implementing laws that the Hijab was banned, Italy too was discussing the issue. She said that due to the Italian people’s perceptions and opinion on what the Hijab is, the council wanted to discuss and bring to light the true meaning and significance about the covering. She said the Hijab was not a form of oppression and degradation. Contrary to popular Italian thought, it was a sign of freedom and confidence. The council decided to advise the Bolognese government that the Hijab should be allowed, however due to security measures, the Council advised that the naqab (the full facing covering) should not be permitted. Other topics that the council discussed were issues on violence against women, discriminatory laws against foreigners, security, and refugee problems. In 2014, the council ended due to the Bolognese provincial government changing its structure.
During the rest of the interview, Hayat provided commentary about the difficulties she faced as a young woman serving as President of the council. Due to her being 21 years old, some of the other members did not treat her like the intellectual woman she was, but instead as a little girl. She stated that she needed to prove herself as a leader and eventually the initially difficult members within the council respected and followed her lead. In addition, she talked a little bit about her family. She spoke very lovingly about how her father truly was the one to push her to do her very best and to run for presidency of the council. In regards to her mother, she mentioned that her mother always encouraged her to not marry young like she did, but instead pursue her education, and have her independence and liberty before she started to think about marriage. Hayat’s mannerism and facial expressions were very loving and happy when she was talking about her parents.
It was a great pleasure to interview this amazing woman. She has done great things not only for her own community, but also for Bologna. There were times within the interview that we would make eye contact and there was this warm and special connection between the two of us. During these times she would give me such a big welcoming smile that would touch the corner of her eyes. I’m really looking forward to working with her next week with the Clothesline project that focuses on gender violence.
Here is the weblink to the city council!
-Nadia N B Hajjar