In the first five months of 2016 alone, 58 women were killed by their (former) partner. Femicide is nothing but the extreme effect of a violent attitude that manifests itself in different shapes and to different degrees. Physical and sexual violence against women, in some cases even their assassination, is only the tip of the iceberg of violence fed by die-hard misogyny rooted in the culture of our Western societies, which often claim the principles of freedom and equal rights.
A report by UNIFEM, United Nations Fund for Women’s Development, says that “violence against women in the world is probably the most pervasive form of violation of human rights known today. It devastates lives, splits communities, and hinders development”. Over two thirds of the global female population have suffered some form of violence in their life and more than one hundred countries around the world lack preventive and protective legislation. According to Istat, an Italian research institute, almost 7 million Italian women between 16 and 70 years of age have suffered physical or sexual violence. Over 62 percent of them were assaulted by their current or former partner. Yet, besides moral and psychological violence, there are also unfair contractual and working conditions, as well as economic disparities; This is “gender” violence too. Action Aid has published a research, which showed that inequality between men and women, with lower wages, precarious jobs, poor education, and growing exploitation, can be quantified in € 17 billion – the equivalent of three financial maneuvers -, compared to less than 6 billion spent in prevention.
“At Women’s Expense” is the name of the interdisciplinary meeting organized by Banca Generali in collaboration with FemeNews – Women in network who share news in Italy and around the world, eDecat Consulting, which took place in Rome, at the Teatro Parioli, on Thursday, June 9 2016. The subtitle of the event was “Violence Kills Us and Stifles the Country’s Economy.” It was “a reflection on violence, whose victims women become in spite of themselves, both at home and outside, at work and in the street, in representation and language, and in the images that tell objectifying their body for commercial purposes,” read the event’s leaflet.
Machism – or anti-feminism – is primarily a vision of our society, as it has been organized even in the West: male-dominated, in which prevail behaviors and choices that traditionally belong to the style of thought and action of men, who pursue power and strength in the first place, both physical and economic. Sixty percent of the poor workers in the world are women. “Thus, there is not only femicide” – continues the poster of 9 June -. “Violence against women has serious economic consequences: especially female unemployment and job instability, whose percentage is still too high compared with Europe.”
So many times, Pope Francis spoke up for the valorization and proper recognition of women’s role and dignity both in society and in the Church. He prayed also on the occasion of the event called ‘‘Stations of the Cross’’, at the Coliseum: “Let us mourn for those men who use women to ease the violence they have inside. Let us mourn for the women enslaved by fear and exploitation.”
In Terris interviewed Linda Laura Sabbadini, former director of the Department for social and environmental statistics of Istat, until April 2016, “pioneer” of the “women-centered” statistical research. Her exclusion from the organization at the hand of President Giorgio Alleva triggered many controversies. Thanks to her studies, we know that about 10 million Italian have suffered some kind of abuse, but only a third of them file a complaint, or the fact that they are better than men at school and work, but have lower wages. She was the author of the research on women’s workload, inside and outside their home. The Head of State Carlo Azeglio Ciampi awarded her with the decoration of Commendatore of the Republic.
Dr. Sabbadini, how has the status of women – and machismo – changed in Italy over the last twenty years?
“It has improved a lot over the past 20 years. Great achievements have been obtained on all fronts, but new goals still need to be reached. In addition to great advances in education, women have grown on the job market and their way of participation has changed significantly. Young people enter the world of work at an older age. Female employment, traditionally low in our country, especially in the South, has experienced a great growth in the aftermath of the crisis of the early 90’s. Since 1995, women’s employment had grown uninterruptedly until 2008, the big crisis, which has affected women more than men. The South has collected the crumbs and remains far behind. Achievements were made through hard work and at a high price also in other dimensions of life: the number of women who quit job after giving birth to a child has increased, the load is always very heavy, both at home and outside. Then, despite the growing presence of women in decision-making roles, it happens with massive slowness and a lag compared to other countries, unless supporting laws intervene, like the law Moscow Gulf. Less than half of women of working age have a paid job. We are at the bottom of the European ranking, and the South continues to be far behind the North. The problem has to do with the social rigidity of our country, still deeply sexist”.
Where does violence against women originate and what are the means to contrast it?
“Violence against women is an expression of men’s desire for control, domination, and possession over women, usually their partner, even when the relationship has ended. Sara was killed because she did not accept to being owned by her partner and acted as a free woman. Compared to the past, many women manage to get out of abusive relationships in time, helped by their friends, anti-violence centers, specialized operators who can still be found in emergency rooms, and even by law enforcement. Not always, however, the victims of violence, especially at the hand of the partner, manage to come out of isolation. Physical and sexual violence go with psychological violence, which destroys them, separating them from thei affections and social life and making women afraid to face the situation. The Istanbul Convention is crucial to implement active prevention policies, consistent and coordinated, to avoid waste of energy and resources. The action of the institutions must be strong at all levels: from the central government to local governments. Besides, we have to raise the awareness and involvement of the public opinion and businesses, using innovative methods, which in other European countries have produced satisfactory results. The problem of violence demands commitment to its solution from all of us. How did Sarah feel when she called for help and was ignored? In the article I wrote for the daily La Stampa, I mentioned deafening silence. It must not happen again. We must all feel personally responsible. Violence against women is not a private matter. It is a cultural problem that concerns relationships. Boys and girls must learn to manage relationships between sexes marked by respect and appreciation for everyone. Schools must commit to this cultural battle”.
Which are the most widespread abuses against women in the world of economics and on the labor market?
“Often, women suffer harassment and sexual harassment to enter the labor market, stay there and pursue a career. Mobbing and demotion phenomena affect both men and women, but in the case of women they are more severe and frequent. Sexual blackmail is particularly effective in times of economic crisis, and men use this weapon. The great difficulty that emerges, for women, is to succeed at the highest levels of the social ladder. And often women are their own enemies because of a rooted machist mentality. Stereotypes feed self-exclusion and represent a strong inner barrier, which prevents women from achieving higher management levels. Here too, we need great cultural battles to promote authentic equality, not only in the laws. We need equal treatment, also from an economic point of view for the same skills, and a treatment that is differentiated in relation to different abilities, so that sex does not become a discriminatory tool.”
Would you describe, please, the hidden economy of women’s “invisible” work?
“There is illegal work, invisible, and there is the unpaid work of women in the household, which has been a pillar of the welfare system for years, and continues to be one. But now women have changed, social organization has changed, they are no longer mostly housewives and can no longer be the only one responsible for taking care of their loved ones, as it was the case in the past. Yet, they are forced to do so, because an adequate service system has not been developed. Women are overloaded with work and do not have the time and resources to fulfill themselves on all levels. The risk is that the time they spend taking care of the others is not replaced by the time and means made available by public structures nor by the men at home. This invisible work is of immense value, in human terms, but also from an economic standpoint. It is often unquantifiable and not quantified. We should find ways to make it socially recognized and valued also in financial terms and from the point of view of provided services”.