The italian path toward gender equality

In this post I will briefly outline the social and political background that has influenced the development of Italian gender equality laws.

In the years after the World War II , politicians and courts were slow in catching on to the cultural changes. In fact, only in 1946 women could vote for the first time. The Italian Constitution established in 1948 granted then the principle of gender equality, precisely in art. 3. Despite that, until the Nineties nothing effective was done to fully grant this principle.

At the governing sector, women in parliament were a tiny minority. Among the two main parties- the Christian-Democratic party and the Communist party- shared was also the idea traditional family was the foundation of social order and the main provider of social protection (Lombardo and De Giorgio 2013).This is why the place for women to be was not the government.

Furthermore, to give a clearer idea of their subordinate position, women were then excluded from courts until 1963.

The turning point was 1968. Starting form this year, strong civil rights and women’s movements start to question the social situation and wanted to change the traditional idea of women position in the society . As a result of this, in 1970 divorce was introduced (Law 898/1970) and in 1974 pro-divorce organizations won nearly 60 per cent of the votes in a referendum to repeal it. This was only the very basic step, since in 1975 Law 151 established a radical reform of the family. Its hierarchical structure, dominated by the man was banned by law as well as all discrimination against children born out of wedlock.

Then, in 1978 the Law 194 established abortion and only in 1981 the law on crimes of honour was repealed.

However, at the end of the seventies, the feminist movement disappeared , surviving only in isolated initiatives. Again a wide gap opened between the changes which continued in society and their translation into laws.

In the ‘80s , the women’s movement faced a deeper crisis because forces advocating traditional roles of women and the family prevailed in the mid ‘90s. Any progress in civil rights came up against strong opposition, as shown by the lack of an anti-homophobia law or any recognition of civil union or gay/lesbian marriage.

All in all, women remained absent from the public and political scene; their representation in top decision-making positions could not be seen as satisfactory.

It was only in the 1990s and 2000s when some steps toward gender equality were undertaken.

On one hand, they were a consequence of the need to conform to EU Directives (such as 97/80/CE on discrimination and 2002/73/CE on equality in employment) and to use of European funds. But, on the other hand, society still experienced gender stereotypes and media- television in particular- represented women exclusively as desirable sexual objects.

2011 was another important year. The fourth Berlusconi government ended. As a consequence of that, a strong wave of reaction against this state of affairs took shape in society. Many and various initiatives against gender discrimination were launched by both old and new women’s organizations . Moreover, campaigns against domestic violence were support of the media. Law 119 against “feminicide” approved in 2013 crowned this new phase of women’s movement. Measures called “pink quotas” granted the participation of women in the decision-making bodies of companies and political leaders committed themselves to a larger involvement of women in their governments.

To conclude, it still remains to be seen whether this change of attitude will lead to measures which effectively decrease gender inequalities or if the situation will now remain at this level, waiting for another wave of women’s movement able to readdress the topic.


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