Italy's poor record in gender equality

Italy's poor record in gender equality

Italy is one of the most backward countries in Europe in almost every indicator of gender equality. This is despite the fact that in terms of advanced degrees and qualifications, women surpass men and, in the last 30 years, have reached positions of power in all sectors of the market and proven that a company improves with a woman at the helm.

The social and economic consequences of this situation are grave. Underemployment of women (only 46.3 per cent have jobs) is a drag on the country’s growth and exposes women to poverty. There are no policies to balance profession and family for women, which makes having children problematic, slows career advancement, and even forces women out of the labour market. Women comprise a very small percentage of political representatives, which is made worse by the media’s tendency to show women in a manner that is chauvinistic, damaging, and dominated by stereotypes, which impedes the formation of cultural models and conditions the aspirations of young people.

Alter agenda

The statistics in Italy are exasperating at every level. Even in those areas of labour in which women predominate, like schools, health care, and public administration, women almost never make it to the top. This is an issue that exists throughout the entire Italian system given that representation is the life blood of democracy. To reform the system so that women could reach the top-level positions would mean opening the floodgates to non-traditional interests and altering the economic and political agenda.

Women’s lack of options and the obstacles they must contend with are well-known; for example, the fact that day-to-day issues frequently take priority over other activities, including work. A larger presence of women in the upper ranks of political and economic circles could make the priorities of daily life a focus of decision-making.

The Committee on Equality and Inequality has made three proposals: First, the creation of a National Authority Against Gender Discrimination that would enforce respect for gender equality and promote the equality of men and women in practice. Second, equalising the retirement age for men and women in the public administration would bring savings of 3.75 billion euros in 10 years, funds that could be used to finance programmes to create a balance between work and family life. Third, the creation of a monitor of the presentation of women on radio and television, which would have both a qualitative and quantitative function.

The new entity would have the authority to intervene not only in traditional cases involving sex crimes or abuse of women but also in employment situations in which advancement to higher positions in politics or business was delayed or blocked. The latter is a subtle form of discrimination that usually occurs without provoking scandal. In the city government of Rome, for example, a board of directors was recently named of all men except for a single councilwoman, without any protest whatsoever.

Though I am not a fan of quotas, it is known that even in Norway, a paradise for women, a law was necessary to bring corporate management by women to 40 per cent in companies listed on the Norwegian stock market. The law worked: afterwards the companies performed better than expected.

In Italy, the presence of women in these sanctuaries of economic power is under five per cent. The extreme gravity of the situation in Italy these days, especially from the perspective of women, could make people wish that sooner or later a major cultural upheaval would take place and that women would cease being represented as victims and see themselves as full participants in economic and social development.

Of course, this lack of interest at present is characteristic of these times. It is also true that after the victories of 30 or 40 years ago all of us, and especially the feminist movement, have been resting on our laurels. The fact that television is pumping out the very worst female stereotypes only makes the situation worse.

The fact that the public seems uninterested in women’s rights might suggest that the problem has been resolved, but the opposite is true. All civil rights must be debated and re-won every day, as is true with democracy itself. The radicals have long denounced what they call ‘the Italian plague’ — the degradation of the rule of law over the last 60 years. Unfortunately, correcting the plight of women in Italy will be very difficult given the complete lack of both awareness of the problem and the will to do anything about it, not only in the ruling class but also among the vast majority of Italians.