Foreign Policy Blogs

Ciao, Bella: Death in Italian

Domestic Violence cartoon strip

When the moon hits your eye like’a big pizza pie…that’s amore. Substitute “moon” for “man” and “that’s amore” for a significant proportion of Italian women. Exact figures on domestic violence are unknown for obvious reasons, but the more troubling occurrence of women being murdered is also not noted in official statistics. At least 127 women were murdered in 2012 “by men they loved…thrown off balconies, strangled with appliance power cords, and stabbed with their own stiletto heels.” The most recent death to have made international headlines was that of Fabianna Luzzi, a teenager burnt alive by her jealous boyfriend, after he had stabbed her repeatedly.

Lawyer Barbara Spinelli noted that in Italy, “the most unsafe place is in the home.” Building on this, the U.N. Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo’s 2012 report on the situation of women in the country makes for dispiriting reading, such as this sample extract:

Gender stereotypes, which predetermine the roles of men and women in society, are deeply rooted. Women carry a heavy burden in terms of household care, while the contribution of men thereto is amongst the lowest in the world. With regards to their representation in the media, in 2006, 53 percent of women appearing on television did not speak; while 46 percent were associated with issues such as sex, fashion and beauty and only two percent issues of social commitment and professionalism.

Perhaps even more shocking is the finding that of those women subjected to domestic violence, only 18.2 percent considered it a crime. Contrast this with a Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2010, which reported that for the EU as a whole, 84 percent of respondents considered domestic violence unacceptable and always punishable by law. This deeply ingrained cultural acceptance of the dominant male-subservient female dichotomy is slowly being challenged – but not fast enough for the women who continue to experience abuse.

In a speech at the U.N. in March 2013, Italian Labor Minister Professor Elsa Fornero stated that violence against women “has sadly become increasingly visible, attracting global attention.” Her words can be interpreted in more ways than one: that there has been a notable increase in the number of women reporting violence and/or the horrific acts being committed (cf., Fabiana Luzzi) have garnered international interest; yet I would argue that is it in fact visibility that is (sadly) necessary in order to spur society into condemning the bullies, cowards and trolls who somehow believe that violence against women is ok, and right. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood took this to heart (though depending on how cynical you are, ‘took advantage of the chance for a publicity stunt’ may sit better with your sensibilities) for a campaign in her shop window in Milan — making the private public. When abuse takes place in secret, behind closed doors, when people turn a blind eye — it’s easy for perpetrators to get away with murder – literally. Visibility is necessary for a culture to then confront itself and see the ugly reflection of “tradition” on reality.

So, progress? In June, the Italian parliament ratified the Istanbul Convention, and earlier this month, new legislation was signed aimed at improving anti-domestic violence structures. As the Daily Beast states, it’s now safer to be a woman in Italy: “at least on paper.”

But with shelters and safe-houses closing due to lack of funding, justice is not likely to be swift unless the Italian government puts its money where its mouth is. So, bella, how many more women will suffer and die before that happens?