For the Italians, the main provider of social protection and care services has traditionally been the work of women inside the family. This model has been defined “Mediterranean model of welfare state” (Trifiletti 1999, Naldini 2003, Bettio and Plantenga, 2008). As a consequence of this, participation of women in the labour market, the development of private and public services for the care of children as well as of disabled and elderly people has faced a slow development. The development of the service sector could have created new jobs for all and for women in particular. As a consequence, Italy has both a low total fertility rate (1.43 in 2012 with the EU-28 average at 1.58) and a low activity rate (52.6 per cent for the 3rd quarter of 2013 with the corresponding EU-28 average at 66.1 per cent). A recent survey has shown that 46 per cent of women who are inactive left work because of reconciliation problems (ISFOL 2010, p. 53). INPS data show that 25 per cent of women who gave birth in 2009 were not back to work 4 years later (Mundo 2012).
To address this situation, policy-makers have tried in recent years to focus on the provision of childcare services, extending parental leaves, and by timidly encouraging some flexible work arrangements. However, all measures have always been underfunded and seriously hit by last budget cuts.
Maternity leave, and paternity and parental leave
In Italy, parental leave is extended to both parents. Each parent is individually entitled to a parental leave for a maximum of 6 months and 10 months for the couple. This is possible because the existence of the “Law on reconciliation of work and family life”. There is also a compulsory maternity leave of 5 months for all employees and self-employed women with a social security membership (that is, 73% of the mothers in 2011).
If the father takes up at least 3 months, an extra bonus of one month is granted to the couple. In the public sector, the father is entitled to 100 per cent of the salary for up to 30 days. After that, in general, the salary is reduced by 70 per cent for a maximum of 6 months and to zero for the remaining period. Very few fathers take up extended parental leaves. Some regions and some collective contracts have more generous provisions.
Fornero Reform (Law 92/2012) has then introduced a pilot compulsory paternity leave of one day at full salary, plus two optional extra days subtracted from the mother’s mandatory leave. This in order to increase the involvement of fathers. This law is a small step into the direction of a greater involvement of men in the family. Data show that on average, each mother takes up 18 weeks of parental leave in the first three years of the child (Mundo 2012) and that 88 per cent of the time of parental leaves is taken up by women.
To conclude, it is clear that Italy has still much work to do toward gender equality. Clearly, the present situation – financial crisis and austerity policies- has threaten some of women’s recent achievements in terms of income, employment for highly educated women and social infrastructure. However, a greater change is more and more asked and needed.