What the Italian government is doing for women (Spoiler: NOTHING)

Donne con abito rosso e paraocchi

In June 2018, after months of negotiations and compromises, Italy started a new political journey with a two-party coalition composed by the Five Star Movement — a populist group created in 2009 by the comedian Beppe Grillo and now proudly represented by Luigi di Maio — and the League, a far-right party led by Matteo Salvini. Although these are by far the most controversial and relevant personalities, officially the Prime Minister is Giuseppe Conte.

The elections were marked by a long and draining period of campaigning during which the parties profusely engaged in advertising dozens of thrilling proposal for change: a universal basic income that would “erase poverty” — according to Di Maio — early retirement options, the definitive end of immigration with related repatriations etc. But what has the government proposed, and then done, for women? Nothing.

Let’s start from the beginning. In Matteo Salvini’s official election manifesto, women are addressed only as possible victims of abuses or as mothers in a family. No reference at all is made to the role of women as independent workers and citizens. No reference to issues like gender pay gap, inequalities in the workplace or period poverty. Also, the family is clearly described as the “natural society based on the union of a man and a woman”, thus completely excluding the possibility of civil unions or LGBT adoptions. But that’s — partly — another story.

On the other hand, as the elections approached Di Maio’s Five Star Movement published a series of 24 programs divided by topic. In the one dedicated to the issue of Labour there is a paragraph named “Women in the workforce” in which the Movement, consistently with its populistic tendency, promised to raise the maternity allowance from 80% to 100% of the salary and to grant a benefit of 150 euros for three years to women who decide to go back to work after giving birth. Also, the Movement promised to lower the VAT from 22% to 4% on products related to children and elderly people.

On the “Health” section of the program the Movement declares to be committed to assure women the right to abort safely and to guarantee access to “medically assisted procreation” for everyone. Furthermore, the program stated that the Movement would provide better facilities for children — such as onsite childcare in workplaces or incentives for babysitting — and both maternity and paternity allowances.

Up to now, 8 months after the elections, none of this has neither been done nor discussed in a legislative environment.

During the campaigning period, when candidates organized meetings, assemblies and visited the most important cities of the country, the word “women” seemed to be completely gone. No reference, no points made about the topic. Simply no one was talking about it, preferring instead to point out the risks of immigrations and the failures of precedent administrations.

March 4th came and the voting boots got filled with people. The results were clear: the Five Star Movement is the first party with 32.7% of votes while the League reaches 17.4%. The coalition was set up. Di Maio and Salvini settled as respectively Minister of Labor and of the Interior, both being also Vice Prime Minister. Giuseppe Conte is appointed PM. The new government is ready, its colors are green and yellow but it incredibly lacks pink.

Conte’s government has 18 Ministers. Among them, only five are women, and only two of them are “with portfolio” — meaning that they have full autonomy on spending decisions.

This runs counter the general trend in Europe: Macron’s government teamin France is composed of eight women out of 17 Ministers; Spanish socialist Pedro Sanchez formed a government with 11 women and seven men; Germany has seven women in the government, among which the Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Italy does not have any Ministry for Women and Equalities. Furthermore, it’s the only country among the many I checked to have a man (Vincenzo Spadafora) in charge of the Equal Opportunities Department (really?!).

Under these circumstances it’s easy to imagine that the current Government’s desire and commitment to strongly address the issue of gender equality is close to zero. Facts support the hypothesis.

When the coalition between the Five Star Movement and the League was made official the two parties jointly published a “Contract” in which they stated the goals they aim to reach. The text has 57 pages, but the word “women” only appears four times. The paragraph named “Family and natality” states that “we need to allow women to reconcile family and professional life, through adequate services and incomes”. It’s a short paragraph that tells us everything and nothing: many idealistic ideas, no real or tangible ways to implement them.

Since its first day of activity on 1st June, 2018, Conte’s government has presented 10 Decree laws and during its first 100 days it discussed 17 legislative decrees and 11 draft laws. None of this is related to the conditions of women or to equality issues.

On October 31st, 2018 the Minister for Economic Affairs Giovanni Tria officially submitted the Budget Law for 2019. The document counts 430 pages, but the word “women” is never mentioned.

Actually, it seems that the few times the Government talked to women, it was doing something against them.

A first instance is represented by what happened in Verona: last October the Town Council led by Federico Sboarina approved an anti-abortion motion which made it compulsory for the city to support pro-life movements and finance awareness-raising initiatives about the available alternatives to abortion, such as the so called “Secret Cradle” program which let women free to give birth anonymously and then put the baby up for adoption to a “proper family”. The motion immediately raised tides of protests by several women’s associations who claimed that it does not respect Law n.194 (that legalized abortion in Italy 40 years ago, in 1978).

People protesting in Verona, Italy

A second controversial initiative is the Pillon Decree, that when I’m writing is still a draft law. The Decree takes its name from Simone Pillon, a right-wing senator and lawyer, who also practices as family mediator. This latter information immediately becomes relevant when we read that the Pillon Decree wants to make it mandatory for divorcing couples with underage children to try “Alternative Dispute Resolution” methods — such as (no wonder!) family mediators — at their own expenses. The official reason behind this is to “focus on families” and avoid divorces, but the risk is that the practice will become so long and expensive that only very wealthy people will be able and willing to afford it.

Simone Pillon and Matteo Salvini

Furthermore, the Decree also imposes new conditions for children of divorcing couples by introducing the formula of “perfect shared parenting”: the kids must spend at least 12 days a month with each parent. It’s not clear how that will be possible in situations where, for example, the two parents decide to live in different cities.

On November 10, 2018 thousand of people filled the squares of the most important Italian cities to protest against this legislative proposal. Vice PM Luigi Di Maio stated that “in its present form the Decree won’t be accepted. We have to modify it.”

People protesting against the Pillon Decree in Milan, Italy

The “Global Gender Gap Report 2017” published by the World Economic Forum puts Italy in the 82nd place out of 144 in a ranking that measures gender equality. Mexico, Russia and Vietnam occupy better positions.

The situation needs to change. We need to change it.



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