‘Politics in the UK is nowhere representative as it should be…’ but ‘not just politics, all these institutions, they do no represent the diversity they should represent yet.’ As a result, ‘For women, for ethnic minorities, it’s complicated, so it takes a lot of work; you have to fight together sometimes, to open politics and access to power’ says Ivana Bartoletti, who has been voted as the Migrant Woman of The Year in 2015 for her successes in encouraging women fight for their rights.
Ivana, who works as the Information Governance Lead at NHS Protect as well being the chair of the Fabian Women’s Network (FWN), moved from Italy to London in 2008. ‘My reason why I always like London is a little bit weird,’ says Ivana, ‘I’ve always thought that this is the place that invented democratic capitalism, and I always thought if capitalism is to become more human, humane, it has to be here, the place where it started’. Motivated by her mother who was a strong feminist, Ivana grew up as a ‘political animal’. When she was 19, she had already successfully become the leader of Italy’s largest student union. Afterwards, she worked with the Democrats of the Left and the Romano Prodi government in Italy as the policy adviser to the Human Rights Minister. After working in politics for such a long time, Ivana realized that ‘If we are gonna change the way we are in the world, and to have more respect towards each other, I always thought this country (the UK) is at the forefront for change’. Ivana explains that politics in Italy doesn't change that much, ‘people stay in politics for decades’. But in Britain, ‘things change very quickly’. ‘The country’s dynamic is fast and is upbeat. That's why I thought this is the place to be if you want to make a difference but also to contribute intellectual thinking because this is the place can absorb that kind of contribution’.
With an academic background in human rights and law, Ivana got a job in ‘NHS Protect’ and worked as the information governance lead. In 2012, she received the Best Personal Achievement in the public sector award for contributing to implement new legislation on protecting medical professionals from abuse and disturbing behaviours.
As a migrant from Italy, she says the main problem she faced at the beginning was how to survive in London. Although she says she was earning £2000 a month, which was quite high compared to the ‘London living wage’, she could hardly save any. The rent of her little flat was £1000 a month and the childcare for her three-year-old son cost her £800 a month. ‘I was having an unreasonably good salary yet I was struggling like crazy. How do other migrant women live?’ It seemed impossible for those who only earn the minimum wage to pay for childcare. So she wanted to discover why it is so expensive and change it. Ivana ran a massive campaign together with lots of organizations to raise the issue. The campaign message was that ‘Childcare is part of national infrastructure as much as highways and it is important’. With their efforts, the issue about Childcare became top priority for both the Conservative and the Labour party. After that, she moved jobs and got back into politics.
With the belief that the future of individuals should not be decided by the background they come from, Ivana chose the Labour Party as soon as she came London. In 2014, Ivana became a Labour MEP candidate and contributed to Labour’s best results since 1974. Although Ivana regards Britain as a place that is more likely to absorb changes in political issues than many other countries, she feels that politics in the UK, like other countries, also fail to be as diverse as it should be. ‘If you look at parliament now, if you look at how many people do not come from the white middle class, there is not many’. ‘Politics, I don't feel will ever be good enough if (it) doesn't have people from every background’. So for woman and ethnic minorities, Ivana emphasises the importance of going into politics and public life to make their voice heard.
Ivana believes migrant woman can contribute to the construction of a better political system. ‘For example, for me, when I came to Britain, Britain has given a lot to me and I want to give it back. So for me, politics is a way to give back what Britain has given me’. ‘But party politics is not the only way [to participate in politics]’, says Ivana, ‘In many ways migrant woman do that, they organise a lot of things, they get involved in their communities, they get involved wherever they live…I would like to see more migrant woman as counselors, as members of the parliament, and also on public boards’.
In 2011, Ivana became the chair of Fabian women, which aims to encourage woman from every background to go into politics and public life. Together with her group, Ivana tries to provide support to women who want to progress in their professional and public life, campaign for issues that affect women, and help women get together to support each other. Ivana says that migrant women, who come from incredibly various backgrounds, always have skills and experiences. So the only thing that they need to get into the public life in Britain is confidence and to translate their experience into a British context; which is what Ivana and her colleagues want to support women to do.
Ivana’s efforts to encourage women with diverse backgrounds to participate in politics and public life won her the Migrant Woman of The Year Award. ‘It was really good to receive the award’, she says, and ‘it is very important to recognize the contribution that migrants, in general, make to Britain, to the world really’. Ivana strongly believes migrants and local residents together contribute a better society. 'In particular, migrant women play a very important role because they create bonds in communities. And sometimes their contribution goes unnoticed’. ‘In Britain, there is a kind of anti-immigration spirit at the moment. So it is very important to say the majority of migrants come to Britain to work, not to claim benefit but come to work and they come to help society’.