Updated: Aug 17
Co-Founder of Migrants4Labour, Community Engagement Manager and supporter for women and girls facing violence and domestic abuse, Go Inspire UK was lucky to have the opportunity to speak to Marcela Benedetti. We learn about her life before moving to London, and her experiences and work whilst living here over the past 15 years which are all truly inspiring.
Go Inspire: How did you get involved in a big national charity specialising in domestic abuse?
Marcela Benedetti: When I moved to South West London 15 years ago, I didn’t speak English. I was a qualified lawyer in South America - but I didn’t know where or how to start looking for employment here. My first job was as a Spanish-speaking volunteer in LAWRS (Latin American Women’s Rights Service) where I made lifelong friends, improved my English and found the confidence to apply for my first paid job in the UK. Every job I have ever had has involved helping vulnerable people – my passion. I quickly specialised in supporting victims/survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). It was a big step to work for a large national domestic abuse charity - but there I was able to develop my career and learn other skills, all the time while focusing primarily on supporting vulnerable women.
Currently I am a Community Engagement Manager whose work takes all over London, while also freelancing in the VAWG sector and undertaking various voluntary roles, including as a trustee.
GI: What does a normal working day look like for you?
MB: There is no such thing as a typical working day! The common factor is that I love doing everything I do. With my portfolio career of paid jobs and voluntary roles, I spend some days at the charity’s head office in central London, some days I work from home and on others I visit different services right across London. This is also true for my voluntary roles: I like meeting other volunteers face-to-face over a coffee when I can, but generally these meetings are online.
GI: How on earth do you have time for your political life?
MB: My children (I have a son, a stepson and a stepdaughter) are all grown up now so politics takes over my evenings and weekends, as well as the odd weekday when I am not working. Most weekends I spend at least one morning canvassing with members of the Labour Party in Wimbledon. I love meeting people on the doorstep and finding out the issues they are interested in and how I can help!
I also campaign all over London and outside the capital during elections.
GI: How do you support women experiencing domestic abuse - especially in your role as Community Engagement Manager?
MB: I would say that community engagement is one of my strengths as I am good at bringing people together to support each other – it is all about helping them make useful connections. Currently I’m working on a project that helps women and children integrate in their new environment after fleeing abuse. Families who escape domestic abuse often leave their homes with nothing and have to start over in a new location. That is extremely challenging as it means new schools, a new job, new friends, new everything. Our project helps them to learn about all the opportunities in their new area and hopefully helps them to adjust to a new life free from abuse.
GI: How did you get to your position today?
MB: As a migrant woman who arrived in the UK as an adult and speaking no English, getting a foothold in the job market was not that easy. Often migrants’ qualifications – including university degrees - are not recognised here, and we have to start from scratch, as was the case with me. I heard about the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), and luckily I was able to volunteer there while doing a Masters degree at the University of London. With this under my belt I began my career in the VAWG sector, and my experience in community engagement, including as a civil society leader advising City Hall, equipped me perfectly for my current position with the national charity.
GI: Do you feel there is enough protection in place from the government and other organisations to protect women?
MB:We have come a long way from when I started working in the sector, almost 16 years ago. The Domestic Abuse Act was passed by parliament in 2021 and nowadays we see more discussion of the issues around violence against women and girls in general in the media – something that was almost completely ignored or treated as an afterthought when I first came to this country.
But of course, much more has to be done, and we also need to be ever-vigilant to guard against the precious rights that women have fought for and won over many decades being rolled back.
GI: Do you have any inspirations or experiences that drive you in your line of work?
MB:When I was a baby, a military coup seized power in Argentina and my father was arrested because of his work as a lawyer defending political activists. Although, he was released after 69 days his arrest had a major impact in our family as you can imagine We had to relocate to a small city in the countryside where I grew up. I vividly remember as a child a big street party which marked the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983. My parents never hid their experience from my siblings and me (I have three brothers and a sister) and we grew up knowing that democracy must be valued like the most precious jewel. I knew from a very early age I wanted to be involved in politics and to help people.
GI: What is your message for those who need to access support having experienced domestic abuse?
MB: If you think you are experiencing abuse in any form, please reach out. A range of organisations are there to support you.
GI: Why should people join workplace unions/unions in general if you feel that they should?
MB: Unions are an essential part of a democratic society: in the workplace, as in so may other places, we are stronger when we speak together than as a lone voice. Joining a union can lead to higher pay, better workplace benefits and increased respect from employers. Unions fight bullying and discrimination at work, promote health and safety and provide legal advice. I strongly recommend joining a union. I am a proud member of Unison, which has the highest number of women members of any union in the country.
GI: With your hectic life in work and politics, how do you find time for yourself?
MB: It’s hard – but I manage! Like many people I relax in front of TV box sets (current favourites include Strictly Come Dancing, Succession and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.) I love going for long walks with my husband in the parks in SW London where we live. I enjoy watching football and I had tears of joy in my eyes when Argentina won the World Cup last December.
When I can, I like to travel. I enjoy reading and always have a book on the go.
I try my best to have as healthy a lifestyle as possible – with a routine aimed at boosting wellbeing.