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Italy, Women

If not now, when? On Italy’s thriving feminist movement

A year after the huge demonstration against the Berlusconi government, Italy’s women’s movement is thriving.

On February 13 last year 1.5 million women flooded the streets and squares of 230 cities across Italy to demand respect by the political elite and above all by billionaire premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The mobilisation was a first. It had been organised in just three weeks, without the traditional mobilisers of the masses – parties and unions. It took many, many phone calls, emails, text messages and above all harnessing the power of the web.

Women workers, in secure and precarious employment, non-believers and catholics, young and old, left and right, artists, academics, intellectuals and a few men made it happen. And it turned into a huge protest against sexism and backwardness, and a celebration of the revival, in a new form, of Italian feminism.

The urgency of women standing up for themselves in the country of TV bimbos and a prime minister facing charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute was clear. And this was captured by the movement’s adopted name, Se Non Ora Quando ( If Not Now When), taken from the famous book by Italian author and concentration camp survivor, Primo Levi.

Today there are hundreds of women’s committees throughout the peninsula.

Fresh initiatives

Supplementing numerous local initiatives and the occasional flash mop, two major events have been organised over the past 12 months – a national conference in July in Siena and a second demonstration in Rome on 11 December. The latter sent a message to the freshly anointed prime minister Mario Monti that ‘women are a resource for the country,’ that they are ‘needed to get it out of the crisis’ and that ‘without women nobody’s going anywhere.’

With roots in communities across the country, Se Non Ora Quando is now an independent political force that plans to campaign, lobby and discuss with the body politic directly on women’s issues.

Top of the list is work-life balance, public services and welfare reform – and above all the demand that women are not made to bear the burden of paying for the crisis. Urgent meetings have been set up with the House of Deputies speaker, Gianfranco Fini, Italian Minister of Welfare Elsa Fornero and CGIL leader Susanna Camusso, who unlike the other two has a track record going back to the 1970s on fighting the feminist corner.

What women want

The movement’s key demands and campaign priorities are:

  • Genuine parity in democratic institutions and wherever ‘decisions are made’ including a 50:50 man:woman ratio within political parties, in government and on company boards
  • The low female employment rate, among the lowest in the EU at 47%
  • The misrepresentation of women in the public sphere, particularly in the media
  • Violence against women – involving a campaign of awareness in schools and universities, and in the wider world of arts/culture, to tackle a roots causes, the mentality that ‘women belong to men’
  • Opening up the ‘men’s question’ – ‘It is time, boyfriends, fathers, friends, male colleagues started to reflect on their own behaviour in the way that women have done for years…If not now when – it applies to men too!’


More in this blog on Italy’s women’s movement    

More in this blog on discrimination of women in the workplace

How women in the South are paying the price of the bankers’ crisis

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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