The MP fighting to stop violence against women

Laura Boldrini was one of seven women elected to Italy's new government last year. But she has been the victim of a number of verbal attacks, simply for being a woman. The Local finds out why she was in the news this week.

The MP fighting to stop violence against women
Laura Boldrini has been president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies since March last year. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Who is Laura Boldrini and why is she in the news?

Laura Boldrini was one of seven women elected to be part of Enrico Letta’s new government, and has been president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies since March last year.

It was a brave attempt by Letta to break the mould of male dominance in Italian politics, but it has also revealed that deep-rooted gender issues still plague the government.

Which is precisely why Boldrini, previously a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), made the news this week.

Instead of debating party policies, bloggers on the website of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) earlier this week asked themselves: “What would you do if you had Boldrini in a car?” A flurry of sexist abuse then ensued against the politician, including calls for her to be raped.

She wasted no time in hitting back with a terse response. "Those who take part in the blog do not want to debate, but to offend and humiliate on a sexual level. They are almost potential rapists," she said. 

But that didn’t go down well with M5S supporters, who days later sent her a letter with a bullet inside and a note threatening to throw acid in her face.

Had she done anything to rattle the cages of the M5S?

Well, the attacks came in the wake of a fall-out between the party and Boldrini over a controversial measure aimed at shoring up Italy's public accounts.

Boldrini had used her so-called "guillotine" powers to cut short a filibuster by M5S deputies attempting to block the adoption of the decree, which passes part of the cost of scrapping a housing tax onto Italy's banks.

It would seem the only ammunition M5S supporters could rely on for revenge was good old-fashioned gender-slamming and threats of violence, as opposed to coming up with a strong political retort.

Has Boldrini faced such attacks before?

Yes. In an interview with La Repubblica last May, she revealed that she’d been the victim of a slew of online threats that wished her “dead, sodomized, defecated upon and lynched”.

Is she doing anything to try and change attitudes towards women in Italy?

She is an outspoken critic of women's submissive role in Italian society, and shortly after being elected she called for a new law to defend Italian women against violent acts. "I am not afraid to open a battle front,” she said at the time.

Boldrini has certainly not been shy either in defending herself or any of her colleagues. Cecile Kyenge has faced sexist and racist abuse since becoming integration minister. In response to racist attacks against her last May, Boldrini said: “It is indecent that in a civil society there can be a series of insults — on websites but not only there — that are being hurled against the new minister Cecile Kyenge.”

What are her other aims as a politician?

She comes across as being a “no nonsense” type of politician, preferring to focus on meeting the needs of Italian people in an era of severe economic strife rather than engaging in slanging matches.

In a column in the Huffington Post last year, she talked about the atmosphere in the majestic Palazzo Montecitorio, or seat of the Chamber of Deputies, in Rome. Amid the political wrangling and chatter, she wrote: "Let us do our work," I think to myself. "Peoples' pressing needs need to be answered." 

And what did Boldrini do before she entered politics?

After graduating with a degree in law from Rome’s Sapienza University in 1985, she became a journalist and worked for RAI television and radio. She later went on to work at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In her more recent role as spokesperson for the UNHCR, she dealt with the influx of refugees to Italy and also took part in missions to crisis-spots including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq and Pakistan.

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Anti-vaxxers not welcome here, says gelateria owner

The owner of a gelateria in the North of Italy has sparked heated debate after he displayed a sign outside his ice cream parlour telling anti-vaccination campaigners they are not welcome there.

Anti-vaxxers not welcome here, says gelateria owner
Photo: ezoom100/Depositphotos

“Free-vax, no-vax, you are a danger to the community you live in,” reads the sign outside Cremeria Spinola in the town of Chiavari in Genova, the text of which was also posted to the shop’s Facebook page.

“Your innocent children should be kept out of the schools where, in addition to their own lives, they will put at risk the lives of almost 10,000 immunosuppressed children who can’t get vaccinated.”

“I don’t want your homicidal laws in my country and I don’t need your money. You're not welcome in my ice cream parlour” the notice concludes.

The gelateria's owner, Matteo Spinola, 43, told La Repubblica that he does not have children of his own but that he shares the concerns of his friends who do have children and felt that he could not keep silent after Italy's mandatory vaccination law was overturned this week.

The Milleproroghe decree, approved by the Italian Senate on Monday, weakens the Lorenzin decree of July 2017, which made it compulsory for children under 16 to be vaccinated against ten common diseases before they were allowed to enroll in school.

For the coming school year Italian children will be able to attend school without their parents providing proof of vaccination.

Vaccination has become a divisive issue in Italy in recent months, with several key figures in the country's populist Five Star Movement-League coalition government expressing scepticism about its value.

Davide Barillari, a Five Star Movement councillor for the region of Lazio, came under fire for writing a Facebook post on Monday in which he posed the question “When was it decided that science was more important than politics?”, and declared “Politics comes before science.”

Italy’s Five Star Movement Health Minister Giulia Grillo raised eyebrows for telling Corriere della Sera in an interview yesterday that deaths from measles was something Italy would have to accept, saying, “You can not delude people that nobody will die. We must be realistic.”