The Women’s March 2019 — and its tarnished background

On Saturday 19th of January thousands of women gathered all around the globe to march against gender inequalities and violences.

Feminists took over the main streets of approximately 89 cities across the five continents, celebrating the third anniversary of the Women’s March. The rallies started in 2017, when U.S. women gathered to protest against their new President Donald Trump.

Women protesting in London

oToday, the movement is facing serious internal conflicts as its leaders are accused of discrimination and unsatisfactry behaviors regarding the inclusion of the LGBT+ community and ethnic minorities. Particularly, gun control activist and co-president Tamika Mallory was accused of anti-semitism for having endorsed the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, infamous for his anti-semitic speeches and author of the book “The Secret Relationship Between Black and Jews”, which Harvard’s professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. defined as “the bible of the new anti-semitism” in a New York Times article dated 1992. Mrs. Mallory claimed to condemn every form of hate, but nonetheless she didn’t pull her support from Farrakhan’s ideas.

Table Magazine published a thorough reportage about the troubled power relationships at the highest levels of the Women’s March Organization. According to it, anti-semitic behaviors had been constant since the very first meetings of the association, back in 2016, when Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez — another future leader of the movement — “allegedly first asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.”

Jewish activist Vanessa Wruble reported that she has been excluded from the organizational team of the Women’s March because of her jewish religious background, and went on founding her own movement called “March On”. This led to the organization of two simultaneous marches in New York City on January 19th: one run by the “Women’s March Alliance” — led by Mrs. Mallory, Mrs. Perez and others — and another one arranged by “The Women’s march NYC”, which formally didn’t have the permission to demonstrate.

But the movement didn’t stop in the U.S.A. Women got together to make their voices heard across the globe.

In London, the streets were flooded with demonstrators of all ages, ethnicities and genders that walked from Oxford Circus to Trafalgar Square, passing through Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street. The theme of the event was “Bread and Roses”, an homage to the feminist activist Rose Schneiderman who protested after the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, stating: “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” This quote was then taken up during the revolutionary strike that took place in 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”

Women protesting in London
Women’s March on London

At the end of the march several speakers took the stage and delivered speeches to the public. Among them was were Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Labour MP Dawn Butler and many activists with different backgrounds.

Women protesting in London with Europeans flags
Women’s March on London

A small town fought back racism, and won

Lodi is one of the smallest provinces in Northern Italy, with about 45.000 inhabitants. You can easily reach it with a 40 minutes car ride from Milan or with one of the many trains that every hour leave the Central railway station. It’s nice and cozy, one of those place you seldom read about in newspapers. Until a few months ago.

On October 4th, 2017 Lodi’s mayor Sara Casanova — affiliated with Matteo Salvini’s far-right party “League” — signed a resolution that substantially changed the rules in the local school system, making it much more complicated for (regular) immigrant’s children to access preferential prices for the canteen and school bus services starting from the academic year 2018/2019.

Up to that moment, in order to enable children to eat in the school canteen and to benefit from the school bus at lower prices, families had to present the ISEE certification, a special document that attests the economical status of households based on many factors such as income, real estates, dependent children etc. This estimator is common in Italy and it’s used in many different contexts, being considered sufficiently neutral and reliable.

The new resolution in Lodi made it compulsory for parents born outside Europe to provide further documents that certifies their economical situation in the country of origin. The problem is that often these papers are hard to get in countries such as Egypt or Morocco, where the bureaucracy works differently than in Italy (or Europe). Families had to get in touch autonomously with the different offices, sometimes also traveling directly to their hometown at their own expenses only to come back empty handed. Furthermore, Lodi’s district offices employed very strict criteria when processing the applications, ending up rejecting most of them with unclear explanations. Only four countries where excluded from these duties: Afghanistan, Libya, Siria and Yemen. The newspaper “Il Fatto Quotidiano”explains that this selection was based on a “list of countries at risk” set out by a London based society that analyzes economic and trade relationship among countries and which has nothing to do with schools or education, therefore many people wondered how the administration could possibly have decided to adopt this list for the issue at stake.

Donne musulmane a Lodi

At the opening of the new academic year children whose parents couldn’t manage to provide the needed documents (more than 200 kids, almost all the ones with extra-EU parents) had to pay the highest amount for the canteen — passing from 2,10€ to 5€ per meal — and the school bus, which increased from 90€ to 210€ every three months. Many families couldn’t afford these rates. Their children were denied access to the school canteen and were not provided the snack usually supplied to students by mid-morning. Exceptionally, two schools allowed these children to eat their own food in a room separated from the main hall, but all the others students had to go home, eat and come back for the afternoon classes. Children didn’t understand why they were taken away from their friends and peers, and apparently nobody was ready to explain them what racism really means. Many also claimed that kids had nothing to do with politics and therefore shouldn’t suffer for this kind of decisions.

Soon, the situation created a neat distinction: Italian children could use the school bus and eat at the canteen as they always did, while suddenly immigrants — although born and raised in Italy — lost this right. The new regulation has been interpreted as a clear attempt to distance immigrants’ children from schools and the whole education system of the province, privileging instead Italian ones. The magazine Wired referred to this as a form of apartheid.

The issue was highly covered by the media and mentioned by the main national newspapers and news broadcasters.

The oppositions didn’t stay quiet. A few days after the beginning of the school year the local association “Uguali Doveri” (Same duties) started a fundraising campaign to help families cover the extra costs they faced. By October 14th 2018 the group raised had 60.000€, enough to make sure every children could have lunch at school for at least two months.

At the same time ASGI and NAGA, two important associations focused on migrants, appealed to the Court of Milan claiming that the new regulation is discriminatory.

On December 13th— roughly two month after mayor Casanova approved the new rules — the Court sentenced the municipality of Lodi and ordered for the new regulation to be abandoned, going back to a situation where families who wished to take advantage of reduced tarifs had to provide the ISEE regardless of their origins.

All that glitters is not gold: the Minister of the Interior and Vice PM Matteo Salvini said that his party, the League, will go on fighting for Casanova’s decisions to be implemented, stating that he «can’t see any problem with them». We’ll see. Up to now, racism has been defeated once again.

A previous version of the article misreported the size of Lodi’s population. I regret the mistake.

Italy’s fight against Human Rights will come back to bite

On November 29th, 2018, something changed in Italy. The Parliament officially approved the Security and Immigration Decree which, among many directives, erases humanitarian protection from the country’s body of law and downsizes the SPRAR system, that linked together the many centers for protection and integration of immigrants dotted around the peninsula.

According to the far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini those forms of protection were “pointless”, since they covered people who are not eligible for the status of refugee, and only represented extra costs for the State.

The decree will have severe practical consequences on migrants and asylum seekers and Salvini made it his priority to implement all the changes in a very short time: within 48 hours the Ministry of the Interior had already given to the main refugees help centers strict expulsion orders for all those men, women and children who are waiting for their protection requests to be welcomed or — more likely — rejected. Losing their only accommodation, these people are probably going to end up sleeping on the street since the Italian system of forced repatriation still has a long way to go before becoming as efficient as Mr. Salvini would like it to be.

First things first, it’s useful to clarify what we mean by “humanitarian protection”.

Humanitarian protection is one of the three forms of protection a migrant can receive from a foreign State, together with the status of refugee and the subsidiary protection.

The refugee status was introduced in 1951 with the Refugee Convention of Genève and it’s still regulated by Treaty hence signed. A refugee, according to the Convention, is someone who is “unable or unwilling to return to his/her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. The 147 countries that ratified the Refugee Convention are obliged to protect refugees that are on their territory providing them with free access to courts, administrative assistance, travel documents, working permits and to help them integrate in the host country.

Not all the asylum seekers are granted the refugee status. The subsidiary protection is therefore a second kind of protection regulated by the European Union. It was established in 2004 and revised in 2011. According to EU Directive 2011/95 a “person eligible for subsidiary protection” is “a third- country national or a stateless person who does not qualify as a refugee but in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if returned to his or her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm”, where “serious harm” is described as the risk of: death penalty or execution; torture or degrading treatment; serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life in situations of international or internal arm conflict.

The refugee status and the subsidiary protection are regulated by international treaties with binding force which have been ratified by Italy. Therefore, in this moment, the national yellow-green government can’t do anything to change them without incurring in serious consequences.

On the other hand, the humanitarian protection consists of a special residence permit granted by national governments to foreign people who do not meet the standard requirements for the residence permit or for the refugee status/subsidiary protection, but nonetheless have serious humanitarian reasons for wanting to leave their country. In Italy, this kind of protection exists since 1998 (LD 286/98, Article 5 par. 6) and has been widely used during the last years in response to the increase in migratory flows.

In 2017 Italy received 130.000 asylum applications: 52% of them were rejected, 25% obtained the humanitarian protection (that amounts to 35.000 people!) a mere 8,4% received the refugee status and another 8,4% the subsidiary protection.

With the new Security and Immigration Decree, the Italian government will stop granting residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Furthermore, the permits issued in 2017–2018 won’t be valid anymore, meaning that all the people that obtained this kind of protection during the last two years will now receive an order of expulsion, thus becoming illegal immigrants with no rights whatsoever.

Another controversial measure adopted with the Security Decree is the downsizing of the reception centers.

Up to now, both the refugees and the asylum seekers who applied for international protection could use the services provided by the hotspotsinitial rception centers and SPRAR centers.

The first ones (hotspots and initial reception centers like the CARA) are the places migrants are gathered in when they first get to Italy and where they wait to be identified and — theoretically — helped with the application procedures. Salvini’s Decree extended the maximum period of detention in these places from 90 to 180 days, plus 30 possible extra days at the initial hotspots.

After having been identified and having submitted the application, the migrants are moved to a center managed by the SPRAR system. These are located in more than 1800 municipalities and provide basic services, accommodation and activities aimed at integrating the migrants in their new country. In 2016, 46,5% of the migrants hosted in the SPRAR centers were asylum seekers, and 28% benefited from humanitarian protection.

Rapporto SPRAR 2016
Source: SPRAR report 2016

Today, these two categories of people won’t be able to access the center anymore since the humanitarian protection has been cancelled and the asylum seekers won’t be considered as eligible for the services, now open only to those who have already received the refugee status/subsidiary protection or to unaccompanied minors.

During the last weeks hundreds of migrants were expelled from CARA and SPRAR centers because they didn’t meet the new requirements.

Theoretically, these people should be sent back to their country of origin. Practically, this is much more complex and they end up squatting in abandoned buildings or sleeping on pavements.

The repatriation system is slowed down by enormous costs and the lack of effective bilateral agreements with the home countries.

When a person is expelled from a country, he/she can decide to leave in three possible ways: voluntary return, repatriation by private resources or with a forced repatriation managed by the country of expulsion. Although Europe should encourage the first option, most of the irregular migrants are asked to leave the country in a few days through private ways.

Internazionale reports that a coercive repatriation could amount to 8.000 euros per person and the operations employ two police officers for each migrant. Furthermore, these procedures often violate the fundamental human rights. The Security Decree allocated 3,5 millions euros to improve the Return Found.

So, what now? The points of the Decree regarding immigration will only create more illegal immigrants with no rights to work, travel or rent a house. These people will not magically disappear, they’ll face their faith in one way or another. Maybe dealing drugs, maybe stealing, maybe just trying to find a way to feed their children.

It will all come back to bite the whole country.

Fact checking: ma davvero i rifiuti dell’Aquarius sono infettivi?

Martedì 20 novembre la procura di Catania ha aperto — di nuovo — un’inchiesta a carico dell’associazione internazionale Medici Senza Frontiere, accusata di smaltimento illecito di rifiuti: secondo il procuratore Carmelo Zuccaro i collaboratori della nave Aquarius, di proprietà di MSF e SOS Mediterranee, avrebbero smaltito in modo non consono alle procedure 24 tonnellate di rifiuti pericolosi negli ultimi due anni e mezzo, risparmiando così 460.000 euro (fonte: Repubblica). La procura ha per ora proceduto a sequestrare la nave e i 460.000 euro dai conti di MSF.

Le 24 persone indagate avrebbero avuto consapevolezza delle infrazioni e della pericolosità dei rifiuti, in particolare indumenti indossati dai migranti e materiale sanitario utilizzato per il primo soccorso. L’accusa sostiene i materiali siano altamente infettivi, e un loro eventuale scorretto smaltimento potrebbe tradursi nella diffusione di malattie quali AIDS, meningite, tubercolosi e sifilide.

Ma è davvero così semplice contrarre patologie tanto complesse? No.

Rifiuti nave Aquarius
Alcuni rifiuti dell’Aquarius (fonte: Rep TV)

Margherita Errico, presidente dell’associazione NPS Italian Onlus (Network Persone Sieropositive) ha rilasciato un comunicato stampa in cui afferma: “E’ evidente che l’HIV non si trasmette tramite i vestiti” e si dichiara “indignata” a causa del “sensazionalismo speso sulla pelle delle persone con HIV, perché scrivere che l’HIV si può trasmettere anche attraverso gli indumenti è qualcosa di inaudito, nonché di scientificamente errato, che ci fa sprofondare nel baratro dell’ignoranza e della discriminazione”.

Come tutti sappiamo fin corsi di educazione sessuale alle scuole medie, il virus dell’HIV si trova nei liquidi corporali (sangue, fluidi corporei, latte materno) e non è in grado né di sopravvivere né di riprodursi al di fuori del corpo umano: la possibilità di trasmissione a distanza ambientale è molto remota.

Per quanto riguarda la meningite, la Società Italiana Malattie Infettive e Tropicali dichiara che “il contagio è interumano, per via aerea ed avviene tra persone che hanno soggiornato a stretto contatto con soggetti portatori, specie in ambienti affollati. Il periodo di contagiosità si prolunga sino a che il meningococco non sia più presente nelle secrezioni nasofaringee” precisando che “il meningococco non è in grado di sopravvivere a lungo nell’ambiente, né in alimenti, bevande o su oggetti”.

Altra malattia chiamata in causa è la tubercolosi, che colpisce generalmente l’apparato respiratorio. Uno studio della Regione Piemontespiega che “il contagio avviene respirando la stessa aria del malato” e che “la trasmissione del contagio attraverso vestiti, suppellettili, pavimenti o pareti è molto difficile”. Il Bacillo di Koch, responsabile della malattia, resiste infatti solo poche ore all’esposizione ai raggi ultravioletti o al calore.

Infine, la sifilide. Il Portale dell’epidemiologia per la sanità pubblica afferma: “la sifilide si trasmette di persona in persona direttamente attraverso le ferite e le ulcere che si formano nelle zone genitali, rettali e sulla bocca a seguito di contatto sessuale. Al contrario, non si trasmette in modo indiretto attraverso il contatto con oggetti, stoviglie o indumenti utilizzati da un soggetto infettato”.

Resta fuori da ogni dubbio il fatto che i rifiuti potenzialmente pericolosi vanno trattati in maniera consona, rispettando con estrema cura il protocollo. Nonostante questo, la disinformazione volta al sensazionalismo che abbiamo trovato nei titoli di tanti giornali durante le ultime ore è altrettanto pericolosa e rafforza lo stigma che vede i migranti o i malati come “untori”.Laura Loguercio — What’s Wrong

Per navigare in un mare di informazioni🌎 Info:


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

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.

Why Italy has a problem with Tampon Tax

Since the average age of 12 girls from all over the world start experiencing the same symptoms once a month: cramps, headache, backache. They get their periods. And they buy tampons.

In Italy a box of 14 pads costs approximately 4 euros. You can easily do the math: women buy an average of two packet per month, for twelve months a year, for about 40 years, and you will calculate the frightful amount of 3.840 euros at the very least. What terrifies me the most is that 22% of that sum goes directly in the government’s coffers since menstrual products are considered — and taxed — as a “luxury goods” just like bags, make-up and cars.

Italy’s tax system divides goods and services into three possible levels of sales taxation: 4% for primary goods, 10% for some categories of food and services like restaurants and hotel, and 22% for all the other cases. In this latter category fall sanitary products such as tampons, diapers and hygienic paper. But is it ethically (and practically) correct to exclude tampons from the group of primary goods? Of course no.

Women do not choose to have periods and they can not avoid it. Sanitary napkins allow them to keep living a normal social life without being exposed to episodes of shame or discomfort. This may seem obvious to many of us, but period poverty still represents an issue that needs to be addressed. The expression refers to a situation in which women do not have access to sanitary products and related services (toilets, clean water, pain killers) during their period due to economic constraints.

Even though the United Nations put menstrual hygiene among its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights Watch recognized it as a human right, it is estimated that across the world 2.5 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation and many of them are women. A series of reports published by WaterAid and Unicef found out that in India 42% of girls do not use any hygienic protection during menstruations and 70% of mothers consider menstruation “dirty,” further perpetuating taboos. Several studies report that many girls in South Asia do not change pads in school and that more girls would attend classes if better facilities existed. In Afghanistan, only 12% of girls use sanitary pads.

Gisèle Thiombiano, Head of Terre des Hommes delegation in Burkina Faso, told me that many times Burkinabé women end up using old pieces of cloth which are then secretly washed and dried out under mattresses.

The problem is not limited to disadvantaged or developing areas. According to a study by Plan International UK, in 2017 one in ten of women and girls aged 14 to 21 have been unable to afford sanitary products in the United Kingdom, problem which caused more than 37.700 girls to miss school.

Datas about the scale of the phenomenon in Italy are not available, a further evidence of the widespread indifference toward menstrual hygiene.

Many countries already fought and won the battle for a reduction of taxes on tampons and related goods.

Kenya was the first country to completely eliminate VAT on period-related products in 2004 and got even further in 2015, getting rid of the import duties as well. Even though this helped low-income women, according to this report today kenyan girls still face monthly challenges, with 65% of them unable to afford sanitary pads.

Canada set the VAT on tampons at 0% in 2015, followed by Ireland in 2016, India in 2018 — after months of campaigning by activists — and Australia, where the complete elimination of the tampon tax will go into effect on January 1st, 2019.

In the United States 14 states out of 50 do not tax menstrual products: five of them do not have any sales tax at all, while the remaining seven specifically exempted feminine hygiene products.

Things are moving in Europe as well. In 2015 France reduced the VAT on tampons from an original 20% to 5.5% as a consequence of a tide of protests by several women’s associations. This aligns France with the United Kingdom, where menstrual products are taxed at 5%, currently the lowest rate possible under the EU’s VAT rules.

More recently, Spanish Finance Ministry María Jesús Montero of the Socialist Party (PSOE) said that taxes on feminine hygiene products will soon be cut from 10% to 4% since they are in all respects “basic-need products”.

Scotland took a step further becoming the first country to provide free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities. This program will cost the government 5.2 million pounds and Alison Evison, COSLA President said: «While the primary aim is to ensure no young person misses out on their education through lack of access to sanitary products, it will also contribute to a more open conversation and reducing the unnecessary stigma associated with periods.»

In this global scenario, Italy seems to go against the flow. The Normal VAT — or IVA ordinaria, as Italians call it — grew constantly from 12% in 1973 reaching eventually the amount of 22% in 2013. Nothing has changed since that moment.

The issue of tampon tax has been addressed by two different political forces at different times, but up until now both attempts ended with no tangible results. In 2016 the left-wing party Possibile came up with a concrete legislative proposal to cut tampon tax to 4%, changing therefore the classification of female hygiene products from “luxury” to “primary” goods. «The law remained at the draft stage — said Beatrice Brignone, current Secretary of the party — but I’m not going to give up.» Every year Ms. Brignone presents the VAT reduction as a possible amendment to the Italian Budget law, but it never gets approved due to alleged lack of financial security. «Actually, what is really lacking is firm political will to do something serious about the problem» said the Secretary. Furthermore, Italian public opinion mocked the proposal with questionable jokes which only «pointed out how much work remains to be done in this country, both on the political and cultural level» Brignone affirmed.

The second political force to merely mention the words “tampon tax” in the legislative environment was the Five Star Movement, currently one of the two main forces in the Italian government. On September 16th President of Senate Hygiene and Health Committee Pierpaolo Silieri published a first draft of legislative proposal aimed to reduce VAT at 5% on feminine hygiene products. The text will be open to public discussion on Rousseau, the online platform of the Movement, for 60 days. After that, it will be discussed by the political groups and eventually brought to the attention of the Parliament. I tried to reach Mr. Silieri but got no answer.

Considering menstrual products as luxury goods should not be allowed. Italy has to deal with this and face the growing gap with the international standards.

Italy’s deficit: a new recipe for the same old story

Originally published at on October 12, 2018.

The Italian government approved a new budget plan last month that shocked the stock market and started a heated debate among its citizens.

The plan sets the deficit target at 2.4 percent of the GDP, almost three times the goal of the previous administration. This makes Italy’s situation even worse considering that, in the first quarter of 2018, the country already occupied the second to last place in EU’s debt ranking.

Italy is governed by a two-party coalition formed by the Five Star Movement, a populist group created by a comedian in 2009 now lead by Luigi di Maio, and the League, Matteo Salvini’s far-right party. After winning the elections in March 2018, each insisted on their right to become Prime Minister. Months of negotiations eventually led to the appointment of Giuseppe Conte, an independent candidate, as PM, while Di Maio and Salvini settled as Deputy PM and Minister of Labour and of the Interior, respectively.

The budget plan is one of several promises made by both Di Maio and Salvini during the electoral campaign; Di Maio said that the extra deficit would enable the government to “erase poverty.” However, critics have quickly pointed at its flaws and possible negative outcomes.

One of the plan’s most controversial proposals is that of a universal basic income: a sort of unemployment monthly allowance of 780 euros for unemployed adults. To receive the monthly payment, unemployed adults must register at a job centre and accept one of the first three jobs offered by the centre. Therefore, eligible people would receive the allowance only for a limited period of time during which they are supposed to be actively looking for a job.

The guaranteed basic income was Di Maio’s warhorse during the elections, and it secured him thousands of votes. But its opponents claim that it will incentivize unemployment or encourage irregular work, because people could declare themselves jobless while working illegally.

Another innovation is pension reform. Italian citizens currently retire at the average age of 67. The new law states that, in order to retire, the sum of your current age and the years you have spent in the workforce must amount to 100. This will allow people to retire earlier, forcing the government to pay more pension checks.

Critics of the reform say that the burden of the increased national debt will fall on the younger generations. Alberto Magnani, an economic journalist for the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, said that “those that today are 10 years old will have to pay the state a higher amount than their parents did.”

Opponents also questioned whether the funds raised with the increased deficit would be enough to comply with all the promised reforms. Magnani said that the government hasn’t been clear about its financial plans so far, but that a quick analysis shows that the numbers don’t add up: “The only quantified measure is the basic income, for which the planned expenditure is 10 billions euro,” he said. “But actually, it appears that to implement the initiative the needed sum would amount to 60 billions euro.”

The budget plan is also contentious at a European level. The Italian government knew that the new deficit target would clash with the European Commission’s expectations of a planned deficit of no more than two percent of GDP. The Commission will analyze the budgetary plans from October 15 to November 21 and get back to the national governments. It is unlikely that it will approve Italy’s proposals.

Foreseeing this reaction, Salvini and Di Maio already declared that they would not surrender to international and financial pressures. However, following the EU’s severe comments, the Italian Prime Minister held a summit with his deputies and the Minister of Economic Affairs Giovanni Tria. They jointly declared that the deficit will represent 2.4 percent of GDP only for 2019, then gradually decrease to 2.2 percent, and eventually 2 percent during the subsequent years.

The question remains if this will be enough to please the Commission. “This is a step ahead,” said Magnani. “The deficit is not a factor that could determine a collapse in Italy’s financial accounts, and what matters is the final result. The first reactions were strong, but now we need to think straight and clearly”. The stock market, for example, had “a catastrophic first reaction to Italy’s plan presentation, so the immediate impulse was to doubt of Italy’s decisions and fear for a new Greek case. After the initial shock the values rearranged to their normal(ish) levels.”

Originally published at on October 12, 2018.