New feminists in Urbino vow they will not be discouraged by sexist politics or religion.
URBINO, Italy — On a warm, summer afternoon, five young feminist women were standing with their flyers in the Piazza Della Repubblica, looking for people to read their declarations calling for abortion rights.
They moved to people sitting in the cafes, hoping for support for their struggle, here in a most Catholic city. But while most customers were indifferent, paying more attention to their cappuccinos, a nun in her grey habit crossed the street, curious as to what those who were challenging a tenet of her faith were saying.
Despite feminist movements having won many political rights during the 1970s, abortion remains one of the most crucial problems on Italian women’s agenda. And so it is for the Centro Donna (Women’s Center), founded five years ago by the feminists of Urbino.
The women here have different reasons to join the feminist movement. Unequal pay, verbal and physical violence against women, the lack of social rights, and general sexist attitudes are some of the common problems.
But first of all, they want to break stereotypes about Italian women which were furthered by sexist language in the international and national media, especially during the Berlusconi government.
The leader of the group, Ilaria Puliti, 23, a Chinese language major at the University of Urbino, said she became a feminist in Urbino after leaving a small village in southern Italy where the majority of women got married instead of going to school.
“After my graduation, I didn’t want to get married and have a child,” Puliti said through an interpreter. “Instead, working in my profession seemed my ideal life.”
While trying to raise awareness in society, the members of the Women’s Center became a family as a result of sharing memories and similar problems, many of which focus on Italy’s recent government.
“The church never criticized Berlusconi for his sex scandals, not wanting to take him on,” said Gula Pointi, 22, a film student. “And after Berlusconi, now we come face to face with an economic crisis which will affect women worse.”
As they talked in the piazza, one of their male friends from the university, Giorgio Casara, 24, a Spanish language student, joined their conversation. With his sunglasses, narrow shirt, and shiny necklace, Casara seemed the stereotype of Italian men. And his views did nothing to dispel that image.
Hoping to appear a feminist—though obviously not having straightened out his politics—Casara defined Italian women in five words: “Passionate, beautiful, intelligent, hardworking and difficult.”
Giving him a pass on the “difficult”, members of the group argued back, “We don’t have to be beautiful!”
A 70-year-old man, meticulously dressed, attempted to come to Casara’s defense by praising his wife.
“My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said. “The most beautiful, the most hardworking and the most faithful one. I never beat her in 30 years.”
Yet it is not all light-hearted banter. Since the start of the year, 54 Italian women have been killed by their husbands, fathers or ex-boyfriends, according to Prof. Rafaella Sarti an expert in the women’s movement in Italy at the University of Urbino.
“The violence against women in Italy increased scarily,” Sarti said. “Media reports show violence on the rise, all of them defended by the men as honor killings as a part of love stories.”
Several years ago, Telefono Rosso (Pink Phone), a violence-against-women hotline, was established to help battered women. But feminists agree that new laws and a national women’s commission are necessary to raise social awareness.
“The Pope and Berlusconi are responsible for this. By their politics, they transgress our rights to live,” said Federica Prestigiacomo, 23, a sociology student and a member of the Women’s Center.
And the women are adamant that they will not become discouraged by the Italian power structure.
“If I were to meet them, I would say, ‘Pope, it’s our bodies, it’s our decision,” said Valentina Galli, 22, one of the group. “ ‘And you, Berlusconi, some day you will pay for all those crimes against women. We will fight until you keep your patriarchal and sexist hands off us.’ “