On March 8th, International Women’s Day, women in Italy joined in nationwide marches organized by Italian feminist movement Non Una di Meno.
More than sixty towns and cities took part in what some hail as a resurgence of feminism on a scale that has not been seen since the 1970s. L’otto marzo (March 8th) became lotto marzo (lotto means I fight), and feminism came back into the squares.
I was in Milan where two marches were held. Thousands made their way through the streets in the morning, stopping at the Fatebenefratelli hospital in protest at the high number of conscientious objectors working in the hospital. The national average for gynaecologists working within hospitals and registered as conscientious objectors is 70.7 percent. Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, yet the law contains a clause that enables health professionals to register as conscientious objectors. As a result 40 percent of hospitals are unable to guarantee a service. In the evening, 10,000 people filled the streets again in a musical procession, taking back the streets of Milan and renaming them after significant women.
One-third of Italian, foreign and migrant women living in Italy suffer physical, psychological or sexual violence. In 2014, 152 were killed—of which 117 died in a domestic environment. In 2012, violence in Italy was identified as structural and cultural by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. It is not always reported and is not always perceived as a crime. Economic dependency contributes—working conditions and the profusion of temporary contracts mean it’s often difficult for a woman to achieve economic independence in Italy, further exacerbated by inadequate wraparound childcare. In early March, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Italy because it failed to protect a woman and her son from domestic violence. In spite of various pleas for help, no adequate response was given—which resulted in attempted murder of the woman and murder of her son.
“Italian women have always had to fight for their rights,” Maria Luisa Carta, president of CADOM, a women’s help centre for violence in Monza, said to Ms. “We were one of the last European countries where women had the vote, and we won it because of a solid participation in our resistance. The ruling Catholic culture has always placed us under huge limitations, forcing us to take on the role of housewife and mother.”
Demonstrations blocked traffic and stopped the subway in Rome, and many other cities suffered interruptions.
In Bologna, where in February 2,000 women from the Non Una di Meno movement defined their political platform, women sang: “Happiness! It isn’t Prince Charming that makes you dream! Make space for sexuality!” They danced through the streets to a brass band.
In Parma, where women carried a huge matryoshka—a symbol of the Non Una di Meno movement—through the streets, one banner read: “I’m striking because I’ve had enough of sexist films, adverts and images.”
In Catania, signs read “Proudly not female enough!” and “Proudly not male enough!” Women chanted “I am mine!” in deliberate reference to the dangerous relationship between love, jealousy and possession that still persists.
In Lombardy, where attempts made to introduce gender awareness were blocked, a helpline was set up afterwards to report any cases of gender awareness being carried out in a classroom. One sign read “school and culture against ignorance and sexism.” Another said simply: “If our lives have no value, we will strike.”
Italy’s March 8 events occurred in harmony with events worldwide for what became known as the Day Without A Woman. A global protest echoing the historic women’s marches in January, they brought together communities of women around the world for the unifying cause of women’s equality, economically and otherwise.
“Whether it’s the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the right to marry who you choose in sub-Saharan Africa, the right to equal pay for equal work in Canada, the right for equal representation in leadership in the USA or the right to violent-free relationships in Italy,” Tanya Halkyard, who is originally from California and formed the Rome branch of American Expats for Positive Change, told Ms., “every woman on the planet has something to fight for.”