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Voices from the Inside: Lived Experiences of Women Confined in a Detention Center

Drawing on two years of fieldwork, this article focuses on the lived experiences of women detained inside Rome’s Identification and Expulsion Center, the main migration-related detention facility in Italy. We employed a thematic narrative analysis to examine the narratives of five women with different life trajectories in order to identify continuities and discontinuities within and across their stories. This analysis reveals that women’s experiences of oppression and agency—in their countries of origin, transit, and settlement—are deeply intertwined and strongly influenced by structural forces. Gender and sexuality, in relation to other hierarchies of power such as class, race, and nationality, profoundly shape such experiences, becoming crucial in the production of women as excludable and deportable subjects. Further, as the accounts of our participants lay bare, the immigration control system appears to play a key role in the (re)production of a dominant normative order. However, women are not passive spectators of the violence to which they are forcibly exposed. Rather, they struggle to cope with and resist the regimes of power that oppress their everyday lives. Through a feminist stance, this contribution seeks to enrich the body of scholarship on the lived experiences of women subject to practices of immigration and border control, particularly those confined in detention centers. Moreover, it highlights the need for a feminist project based on the creation of political and affective alliances across borders and axes of difference, particularly those related to legally produced statuses.