'Violence against women is a cultural problem'

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Photo for the anti-femicide 'Ferma il bastardo' ('Stop the Bastard') campaign showing a woman with a black eye. Screenshot: Facebook
12:20 CEST+02:00
A new law will tackle head-on the issue of violence against women, according to the Italian government. But as the number of victims continues to rise, is Italy really doing enough? The Local spoke to some Italian campaigners to find out.

Two days ago, Antonella Russo – a mother of three – was shot dead by her estranged husband at her mother’s home in Siracusa, Sicily. On the same day, a lawyer was arrested in Verona, northern Italy, after the body of his ex-girlfriend was discovered in the boot of his car.

These attacks are just the latest in a wave of so-called ‘femicide attacks’ in Italy, or the killing of women by males.

In June, Italy’s biggest trade union, the CGIL, recorded 81 victims in 2013 alone. And in 2012, the number of victims stood at 124, according to Italy’s national statistics agency ISTAT.

Last Thursday, the Italian government passed a new anti-femicide law, which it trumpeted as a “radical change” in the “relentless fight against the sad phenomenon of femicide".

Measures include the obligatory arrest of those caught in the act of stalking, or physically abusing victims, and obligatory police investigations once complaints have been lodged.

Women will now be kept informed about any legal processes involving their attackers, and violent partners will be evicted from family homes.

'Prevention and education'

But for Luca Cardin, editor of Zero Violenza Donne, a website that aims to raise awareness about gender violence, the new law is nowhere near radical enough.

While he acknowledges it helps protect victims of violent crimes, he claims that it is also ‘repressive’ and simply doesn’t go far enough.

For Cardin, the fact that the government decided to issue the decree in August is extremely telling.

“In August, people are on holiday and not paying much attention to the news, so there is less debate. Even my editorial team are on holiday, so there is less chance to react,” he told The Local.

“The law is positive in terms of the protection it offers to victims, but it doesn’t mention anything about the culture of violence against women, or about education in schools.

“Not enough is being done in terms of prevention. In the new law, there is no mention of the financing of new centres, which are vital in terms of prevention and education.

“Children also need to be taught more about gender equality and sexuality in school. Other countries do this a lot more,” he added, pointing out that, in 2012, the World Economic Forum ranked Italy 80th in its gender gap ratings.

Above all, he said, there are still widespread myths about gender violence that need to be dispelled.

“In most cases, it’s a boyfriend, a husband or someone who lives under the same roof as the woman. Only in a minority [of cases] are the attackers unknown,” he said. “While cases reported in the press tend to concentrate on foreign attackers, they are in fact predominantly Italian.”

Anti-violence centres

As well as sex education classes, Cardin and his colleagues would also like to see more investment in “centri di antiviolenza” (anti-violence centres), where women who are victims of violence can seek help and take shelter.

“These [centres] are important because as well as offering support to women who have suffered from violence, they can also help them to identify warning signs that can lead to dangerous situations and to offer them psychological support in their daily lives.

“Physical violence is just one aspect – although it may be the most appalling – of abuse, which can also be financial or psychological.”

The creation of anti-violence centres, as well as a new programme for anti-violence education in schools, would be more in line with what Josefa Idem, the former Minister for Equal Opportunities and Laura Boldrini, President of the Chamber of Deputies had in mind, he claims.

Reporting violence

Meanwhile, an Italian underwear company is tackling the problem from a different angle.

Last month, Yamayay launched ‘Ferma il bastardo’ (‘Stop the Bastard’), a social media and press campaign that encourages femicide victims to report their attackers.

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“We want to get straight to the heart and to the eye: to shake up, upset, start a reaction and create a movement against violence against women,” says the campaign literature.

“To break the vicious circle of violence, it takes enormous strength and great courage. We want to … give strength to all women and encourage them to report the violence they experience.”

One month on, the campaign’s Facebook page already has more than 32,300 ‘likes’ and a total reach of 7 million, Yamayay claims.

“We’ve had a really positive response on Facebook, with lots of people talking about the issue,” a spokesman told The Local.

The new law, said the spokesman, is an “extremely positive step” in the fight against femicide.

And the campaign won’t stop there. The campaigners have also organized a flash mob in Florence on September 12th, and in Milan on the 17th, to spread their message. You can see a video of their campaign below:

What do you think? Is Italy doing enough to stop violence against women?

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