The #MeToo movement—also known in Italy as #quellavoltache (that time that)—was a central focus of this year’s Women’s Marches in Rome, Milan and Florence.
In Rome, entertainer, director and activist Asia Argento spoke to a crowd of hundreds in Piazza dei Santi Apostoli about the criticism she faced in Italy when she spoke out against Harvey Weinstein. She invited the Women’s March attendees gathered there on January 20 to raise their hands if they recognized that they had experienced abuse, sexual abuse and abuse of power precisely because they are women. “If we don’t raise our voices,” she told them, “no one will listen to us.”
Many women raised their voices that day. Loretta Bondi, Managing Board Member of Casa Internazionale delle Donne (International Women’s House), celebrated the sisterhood that emerged after last year’s Women’s Marches—“in sharp contrast to the Donalds and other self-proclaimed geniuses of the world”—and praised how the #MeToo movement held powerful abusers accountable, highlighting both the “systematic, pervasive and unrelenting” nature of violence against women and the attacks on spaces in Rome that provide protection and resources for women facing sexual violence and exploitation. Dinsio Walo-Wright, a refugee rights’ activist from Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre, asked that we “open not only our arms but our minds and truly listen to those that are calling for help.” Lella Palladino of Donne in Rete contro Violenza (Network of Women Against Violence) called on attendees to imagine a better cultural script—one where Italian institutions “stop using women’s bodies as goods, stop exploiting women inside and outside the workplace.”
Women’s March Rome organizer Elizabeth Farren is excited about the momentum feminists can capture there moving forward. “Who knows what the results of this year’s activism will be,” she said to Ms. “I hope, for the sake of my own country, that many more women will be elected into office, as this would be a very welcome step in the direction of progress.”
In Florence, stories of sexual abuse and assault also served as a centerpiece at the Women’s March on January 21, when Americans, Italians and expats from other countries came together in Piazza San Lorenzo. Leaflets distributed in Italian and English about topics including gender equality, accessible education and healthcare for all spread through the crowd.
“I march because I believe in the continued, open discourse about the issue and the need to include men in the conversation so that there is a greater understanding of what feminism actually means,” Christina Nikolakopoulos, one of the Florence Women’s March organizers, told Ms. “We have come a long way but we have a long way to go.”
On the same day in Milan, young people at the Women’s March in Piazza della Scala were invited to speak and share their stories. The themes were recurrent: to be considered equal to men, to be respected and listened to, to be able to go out and feel safe, to no longer have to defend themselves against sexual harassment and to no longer be judged on the basis of their race, gender or sexual orientation. “Women are still seen and treated as inferior in so many ways,” Peter Luntz, another of the Women’s March Milan organizers, told Ms. “I’ve realized how interlinked our lives are through my faith, and as a gay man I see that it’s only together as communities that we can move forward in the quest for equality for all.”
“I didn’t expect so many people. I didn’t expect so many young people talking about their experiences and telling their stories and the reasons why they were marching,”Asia Musicco, one of the core members of the Women’s March Milan movement, told Ms. “I think people have now understood that we’re not only a march, but a group that’s part of a movement. The fact that they felt comfortable telling all these different stories shows that they’ve understood that this is a completely inclusive and intersectional reality.”
Women’s Marches in Italy and around the world have served as launching pads for international and local events over the past year, and supported feminist organizations across the country. The Women’s March movement abroad works on two levels: as a global movement and as a local effort. In both ways, they serve as invaluable lightning rods for advancing women’s rights—and dialogue around tough issues like sexual abuse.
“Whether you’re in the U.S. or Italy, we all face similar problems,” Musicco said. “Women’s March, and in particular Women’s March global, is about human rights for everyone.”