The gender frame of the kidnapping of Aisha Romano, the Italian NGO worker

On May 9, 2020, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted that after eighteen months in the hands of a group affiliated to Al- Shabaab, the NGO worker Silvia Romano had been released.

the tweet of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

The news has been covered by each and every newspaper, both national and local, and the online debate rampaged when Aisha eventually landed in Italy on May 10. Most of the online debate is concentrating on:

1. Silvia’s conversion to Islam and the new name she chose for herself, Aisha;
2. The fact she seems neither sad nor afraid;
3. The cost of the ransom to set her free;
4. Her alleged pregnancy.

An image of Aisha Romano on the day of her return to Italy.

The online debate about Aisha Romano is very intense. On one hand, people blame the use of public money for the release of a not- so-credible-kidnapped-woman; on the other, people defend Aisha and her right to convert to Islam.

From a gender-frame perspective, the fake news about her pregnancy is quite interesting. It is not unusual for international kidnappings involving women to be associated with this kind of fake news. In my opinion, this is an extension of the gender frame “you deserve the violence you received because you didn’t submit to the patriarchal framework”. And given your morality, maybe you even enjoyed the abuse.

the moving image of the hug between Aisha and her mom

Moreover, the supposed pregnancy is not contextualized as the result of terrible violence, but as the successful compliancy of a woman’s destiny: procreation. Consequently, in the general storytelling, the kidnapping, semantically speaking becomes an amusing break during which women enjoy the sexual harassment from her abuser.

In addition, the gender frame of a joyful abuse, include also the objectification and sexualization of the foreign male.

By the end, the general focus of a part of online debate is not about the kidnapping of an NGO worker: it is a judgment for a woman who faced violence because she didn’t stay at home. A woman who was asking for it and maybe she liked it as well.

It’s not the only gender-frame I have found, of course. From an intersectional perspective, the conversion to Islam has been delegitimized as Stockholm syndrome. Many Italians, such as the Northern League journalist and representative Alessandro Morelli, posted an old photo of Aisha with a party dress, compared to her latest, in which she wears the hijab, with the caption “Is she free now?”.

Yes, she is.



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Isabella Borrelli

[she/they] Digital media strategist for Latte Creative (IT). I am feminist, LGBTQI+ activist, tattoed, provincial and a non binary woman. The worst.