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"I'm a gypsy and I've been in prison - I never thought I would find a job"

Some of the women taking part in the programme.
Some of the women taking part in the programme. / Álvaro Cabrera
  • A group of 40 women serving prison sentences take part in the 'Trece Rosas' (Thirteen Roses) programme

"I've learned how to look for jobs and use the internet. When I was up for parole I was afraid that as a gypsy I wasn't going to get a job." These were the words of Juana, the fictitious name of a woman who is one of 40 offenders serving prison sentences and participating in the social and market labour integration programme ' Trece Rosas'. It was set up by the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer (IAM), which manages the Malaga-based Arrabal AID association. The latter receives a grant of 10,000 euros from the IAM which has helped them to work with around 400 women with an average age of 40 since 2007.

'Trece Rosas' is a programme designed for women with family responsabilites who are serving prison sentences or on probation and have limited financial resources.

"Women become potential victims of the biggest evils of inequality after they have served a sentence, given the way society works and the stereotypes that exist within it, in addition to the inequalities that they already face as women," explained Rosa del Mar Rodríguez, the provincial coordinator for IAM.

Loli, 45, is a member of the programme who has been on probation since last year, after serving a decade behind bars before being given a 'tercer grado' (semi-liberty) sentence for two years.

"After 10 years in prison I was scared to cross the road," she acknowledged. Today, by contrast, she is a self-assured woman who has new friends and a boyfriend. "To tell you the truth, I feel good now," she added.

To get to this stage however she has needed the support of the Arrabal association, which, through the initiative, offered her the opportunity to train, look for jobs and take part in workshops and courses designed to improve her people skills.

"They have changed my life, because they have supported me and given me stability, and as a result, I have found friends," Loli stated.

She has found a job as a cleaner at Arrabal's headquarters and will work in a laundrette for four months in the summer. "I also obtained some experience working in a supermarket after taking a customer-service course," she said.

Fatima, 35, who spent four months in prison and is now serving a 'tercer grado' sentence, was initially hesitant, just like many fellow offenders, to participate in the programme set up by the Arrabal association, where she now works as a cleaner. "It has been fantastic for me, because I have always been very well treated here," she explained.

According to Pepi Reyes, the person in charge of social welfare at Arrabal and who manages the 'Trece Rosas' programme, women make up 10 per cent of the prison population.

"The Alhaurín de la Torre prison only has one unit for women and sometimes, depending on the year, 125 women can be in that same unit at one time. As a result, there has always been a group of them who have been given few or no resources. This is the reason why Arrabal was founded 25 years ago, to work with the female prison population," she explained.