Women against Mafia. From Exile to a New Life

Anna Di Giusto

The role of women in Italian mafias is very complex and subject to continuous evolutions, but the most interesting change today is the role of women as witnesses to justice. When an Italian woman decides to cooperate with the law and against her mafia family, the first action practiced by the justice system is to separate her from the family and from the country. This exile, that is actually an inner emigration to the Central or Northern Italy, is considered necessary to ensure the safety of the woman. But there is an other anthropological and psychological explanation of the transfer: the judge knows that only the affective uprooting from everyday life can turn the woman away from the mafia life and traditions.

Exile becomes the first step to consolidate the decision of the break with the past. It’s not a coincidence that the mafia women, who in most cases are native to South, are taken to the North. Today again the difference of study and work opportunities is considerable between the two parts of the country: the female employment rate in the North is 54,8%, in the South is 30,4%. The mentality of the two areas is even more different for what concerns the rights of women: if in the North a woman is free to manage her own life, in the South the family’s control is still too often suffocating, especially within the mafia universe.

My research focuses on some cases that demonstrate how the gender difference can be reconsidered within the same country. The stories of Lea Garofalo, her daughter Denise, Rita Atria, and her sister-in-law Piera Aiello, have much in common: the Mafia family background, the importance of the mother’s role in the transmission of the crime education system, and the willpower of some women to break away from family relationships as well as the criminal honour code. By comparing these four stories, I aim to define the role played by exile and the possibility of a new life that these women, far from their origins, created for themselves, even though two of them failed. But they tried, and their example is very important today for all the women who are trying to do the same.