Italy's Fertility Day campaign slammed as 'racist'

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The government wants couples to make more babies. But a change of tactic may be in order. Photo: Pexels
17:08 CEST+02:00
Just days after the Italian government was forced to scrap its Fertility Day campaign after backlash, its second attempt has also prompted much discussion across social media.

And it's safe to say that it hasn't gone well.

The hashtag '#FertilityDay' was trending in Italy on Wednesday afternoon, but the Health Ministry probably wasn't pleased at the response they received.

The new campaign featured a poster titled 'Proper lifestyle for the prevention of sterility and infertility'. It showed a smiling group of friends, with the slogan 'the good habits to promote', contrasted with another group of hooded smokers, in a sepia tone and captioned: 'the bad 'companions' to leave behind.'

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin ordered changes to the campaign at the start of September after captioned images intended to promote an upcoming Fertility Day were denounced as patronizing, sexist and hectoring.

But it wasn't long before social media photos pointed out that the group promoting 'good habits' all happened to be white, while the second group were a mixed ethnicity group, sporting Afro hairstyles, leading many to label the PR effort as "racist". The promotional material has now been removed from the Ministry of Health's website.

“They've managed to mess up the second campaign for Fertility Day too,” said Giuseppe Civati in response to a Tweet pointing out that the government appeared to be promoting “good, Aryan habits.”

Others called for Lorenzin - who has spearheaded the campaign - to resign - while some social media users wondered if it could be a deliberate act of sabotage against the government.

Some eagle-eyed Tweeters pointed out that the photo used to illustrate 'good habits' appeared to have been taken from a website advertizing dental implants.

One Twitter user said: “What good habits – a group selfie? A smoke with friends is better than that!

“To avoid becoming sterile you should avoid drugs, fine... but also avoid a diverse friendship group?”asked Monica Congiu.

Lorenzin released a statement saying she was launching an internal investigation and had sacked the ministry's communications director.

The campaign is a second attempt, after the images of its first incarnation were widely criticized as sexist, and neglecting to address issues such as economic hardship which may affect people's choice to have children.

The biggest outcry was over an image of a fraught-looking young woman touching her stomach with one hand and holding an egg-timer in the other, with the sand running away.

"Beauty has no age. But fertility does," said the caption, widely criticized for implying women delaying pregnancy had only themselves to blame if they ended up childless.

Men were not treated any more sensitively. A picture of rotting banana skin was deployed to make the point that: "Male fertility is much more vulnerable than you might think.

Events to protest the initiative have been set up in various cities, called Fertility Fake. As part of the official Fertility Day, September 22nd will see scientific conventions on fertility take place in Padua, Bologna and Catania, and Lorenzin will also give an interview on the topic.

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Those behind these events are using the hashtag '#siamoinattesa' (we're waiting) to show the government that the reason they aren't rushing to have children is because they are waiting, whether for a job, a house, affordable childcare or for gay adoption to be fully legalized.

Italy has the lowest birthrate in the European Union and one of the lowest in the world, with only eight babies born for every 1,000 residents in 2015, according to EU figures released in July.

A total of 485,000 babies were born in the country last year, a record low and less than half the level of the 1960s.

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