• Saturday, November 22, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    ITALY: It’s a Lot Worse Than Sex Parties

    By Sabina Zaccaro
    ROME, Feb 14 (IPS) The demonstration by an estimated million women across
    Italy Sunday points to
    a continuing denial of fair opportunities for women at work.

    The protest demonstrations, in 280 cities in Italy and 28 cities abroad,
    were
    called to demand action against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over the
    latest scandals. The turnout was some measure of the determination among
    women to take the political and public debate in Italy to the real
    problems of
    women.

    The protest followed weeks of intense debate over allegations that
    Berlusconi
    paid for sexual intercourse with a number of young women, including a 17-
    year-old undocumented girl from Morocco. In Italy the age of consent is
    14,
    but prostitution below 18 is illegal.

    According to prosecutors the young Moroccan girl is among a group of young
    prostitutes Berlusconi habitually engaged. The PM is also accused of abuse
    of
    power, having personally ordered police to release the girl who had been
    charged with theft.

    Berlusconi denies the charges. A judge is expected to rule early this week
    on a
    possible trial in the coming months.

    Women are now joining forces, not just to demand action against the PM,
    but
    to press for fundamental rights. "If a woman loses her job,
    it’s a loss for every
    one of us," Pina Nuzzo, president of the Italian Union of Women told
    IPS.
    "While politicians and the media are so obsessed by the news of the
    day,
    women workers in this country are left alone and thus more liable to be
    blackmailed."

    Nuzzo says female employment is seen as something minor. "The common
    thought is that, towards the economic crisis, dismissing a woman is less
    grave. For young women – those who don’t take the path of sexual
    shortcuts
    - it is still hard to get a job, because they are potential mothers (and
    so less
    attractive for employers). In this sense insecure employment is equal to
    sterility."

    The fact that television – and particularly the largest broadcasting
    network
    owned by Berlusconi – gives space to the worst female stereotypes, and
    contributes to the representation of women as exchange goods, on TV as
    well
    as in politics, Nuzzo says.

    The protesting women issued a petition that denounces "the indecent,
    repetitive representation of women as a naked object of sexual exchange in
    newspapers, on television and in advertising."

    "The image of women in the media is at the worst ever," Silvia
    Costa, member
    of the European Parliament told IPS. "This attitude – which we
    identify as
    ‘berlusconism’ – can even survive Berlusconi if we don’t
    challenge the fact
    that real problems of Italian women are simply left out of the public
    debate.

    "Do you know which are the issues under discussion at the moment at
    the
    European Parliament? Pensions, employment conditions for women, the
    impact of the (economic) crisis over female work, policies for family
    support,
    etc.," Costa said. "None of these issues are on the political or
    media agenda in
    Italy. Here in Italy the real women, and their problems, are
    censored."

    According to women’s advocacy groups, the message from the latest
    scandal
    is that the simplest way for a woman to succeed in Italy is to sell her
    body to
    rich and powerful men.

    One of the girls involved in the investigation, Sara Tommasi, spoke in a
    recent interview of her studies in a renowned Italian university as
    "a loss of
    time". "A woman does not need a degree to have success; my body
    is my
    business," she said.

    "In a country where one in two women does not work, and economic
    disparity
    with men is still so huge, the body is seen as a viable shortcut,"
    Loredana
    Lipperini, journalist and author tells IPS.

    "This is not about good girls against bad girls," Lipperini
    said. "I am not
    censoring these behaviours; we have been struggling for sexual freedom.
    But
    freedom of choice is possible when you can chose among various
    possibilities, when you have alternatives."

    Berlusconi has often crossed the line between showbiz and politics by
    selecting women from TV shows as candidates for the Italian and European
    parliaments. Several members of the parliament now openly oppose this.

    "People demonstrating are not moralists condemning the private
    behaviour of
    the PM, or that of women he frequents," said Giulia Buongiorno,
    lawyer and
    president of the lower house justice commission. "It is not about the
    hardcore
    parties; the real issue is that a party is not the right place to select
    the leading
    class."

    Men joined women in the protests. Massimo Canino, 54, told IPS he was
    protesting against "the idea that everything and everybody can be
    bought. I
    feel uneasy with this kind of culture, and I think more men should find
    the
    courage to say they disagree, without feeling less virile for that. We all
    feel
    humiliated by this attitude, women and men."

    According to the national statistics institute (ISTAT), only 46 percent of
    Italian
    women are employed, compared with an average of 59 percent in the other
    European countries.

    The 2010 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index ranks Italy 74th out of
    134 countries – followed only by Hungary, Malta and Cyprus in the EU. Less
    than 10 percent of children have access to pre-school nurseries, and 27
    percent of women quit work after having one child due to a lack of
    nurseries,
    family helpers and part-time jobs.

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