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‘Better sex education will help tackle gendered violence in Italy’

Introducing classes on sex education, consent, and gendered violence into the Italian school curriculum is necessary in order to tackle the "wave" of violent crimes against women, a new campaign argues.

'Better sex education will help tackle gendered violence in Italy'
Consent in the classroom: Would better sex education help stop gendered violence? File photo: Allison Meler/Flickr

Italian feminist association FCome is lobbying leading Italian ministers to introduce better sex education in schools, which they believe would “end a culture of gendered violence”.

Last year alone, 128 women were victims of femicide, while thousands more have suffered domestic abuse or are stalked by men, according to figures from women's rights organization Telefono Rosa.

The campaigners believe that teaching children about gender, relationships and consent from a young age would help to combat the problem – but currently, sex education is totally lacking from the Italian school curriculum.

Although a 2015 bill introduced a commitment to raising awareness of gender-based discrimination and violence, Alessandra De Luca, FCome's deputy editor, told The Local that these recommendations are “extremely vague”.

De Luca said the bill lacks “any objectives, timeframes or procedures for putting reforms into practice”.

'Sex is a dialogue'

In an open letter published on their website, campaigners called upon President of the House of Representatives Laura Boldrini, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and fellow cabinet ministers to introduce urgent reforms to improve sex education.

The initiative has received support from over 100 public sector workers, including academics, psychotherapists, teachers and social workers.

So what exactly would the courses look like?

FCome explains that schools should teach children from a young age about varying gender identities, informed consent, and violence.

“What if we made sure girls and boys knew that sex is always a dialogue, and they should not feel embarrassed to take control in asserting what feels good, or asking a partner to do things differently?” she asks. “That would be truly wonderful.”

The campaign also calls for young people to be taught early on how recognize different forms of abuse, including emotional, cyber-bullying, and physical or sexual abuse.

Violence is deep-rooted and taboo

“It is urgent to promote change in our own country, where gendered violence is a serious and deep-rooted phenomenon,” said FCome chair Lilia Giugni, who referred to a “wave” of femicides (defined as murder of a woman based on her gender) and rapes being committed in Italy in recent years.

When The Local reported on femicide earlier this year, numerous organizations shared the view that schools needed to introduce more comprehensive sex education, as well as educating children on how to behave within a relationship.

These comments came from a centre offering therapy to abusive men and Zero Violenza, an organization which has created its own training courses for teachers and parents, teaching them how to discuss gender and relationships with children.

Meanwhile, three university students told us the topic was “taboo”, with one saying the only time gendered violence had ever been discussed at her school was during a PE lesson in which the girls were educated in self-defence.

The majority of femicides and rapes in Italy are carried out by partners or – most often – ex-partners, according to figures from Istat released in 2015, which also showed that while the overall number of incidents has declined slightly, acts of violence are becoming more serious, with more women fearing for their lives. 

Disturbingly, a 2015 study by non-profit organization We World found that one in four young Italians believed violence against women could be justified by “love”, or exasperation at the woman or her clothing. 

READ MORE: How can Italy tackle violence against women?

Why Italy must change after young woman’s brutal murder

A tribute to Sara Di Pietrantonio, who was burned alive by her ex-boyfriend. Photo: In Ricordo di Sara Pietrantonio/Facebook

Fcome argues that Italy's lack of sex education contrasts with “broader European trends”, which have seen compulsory classes on consent included in some curricula, and workshops on healthy relationships introduced at university level.

Ellen Davis-Walker, the Anglo-Italian editor for FCome, says the workshops set a “great precedent” and have improved safety for students – though they have also faced backlash from some male students, who argued that they felt patronized or insulted by the courses.

And in Italy, campaigners face further opposition from numerous Catholic and socially conservative groups who are against introducing sex and gender education to Italian schools.

However, Davis-Walker hopes that the campaign will “tackle prejudices” and “demonstrate how everyone, women, men, non-binary people and the society as a whole, can benefit from better education about consent”.

“The concept of consent, something almost completely absent from the Italian debate, is crucial. Young people should be taught to understand their bodies and emotions in order to be able to consent (or not) to any experience with true awareness.”

The Italian government has yet not made an official response to the campaign, although one MEP from the Democratic Party led by Renzi, Alessia Mosca, has supported the initiative by sharing the open letter on her social media accounts.

Sex education in Italy: The debate

While there are no concrete guidelines for sex education on a national level, individual schools and regions have made some efforts to tackle the problem.

In northern Turin, schools introduced classes on healthy relationships and consent in late 2013. Schoolboys are taught how to treat women with respect through texts and role playing, while girls are shown how to stand their ground.

All children are shown reports of femicide and abuse cases, in order to raise awareness of the extent of the problem.

And last year, Italian porn actor Rocco Siffredi began a petition calling for better sex education in Italy's schools, offering to teach classes himself.

That petition, addressed to Education Minister Stefania Giannini, gathered tens of thousands of supporters.

“Pornography should be entertainment, but due to lacking alternatives, it has become a means to learn, especially for young people,” Siffredi said.

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SCHOOLS

Schools update: Italy makes a U-turn on Covid distance learning rules

In under 24 hours, the Italian authorities have changed the rules on distance learning again, scrapping the revised plans to return an entire class to distance learning if just one infection is recorded.

Schools update: Italy makes a U-turn on Covid distance learning rules
Italy has tightened the Covid health restrictions in schools amid rising case numbers. Photo: Marco Bertorello /AFP

The rules on when distance learning – or ‘DAD‘ (‘didattica a distanza’) as it’s known in Italy – is triggered in schools have changed again: the whole class will automatically go into quarantine only if there are three positives cases detected.

Just one day after announcing tighter restrictions to keep the spread of coronavirus in check within schools, Italian authorities have now promised better support for tracking of cases to avoid activating remote learning.

“There will be no return to DAD in the case of the presence of a single infected pupil,” government sources told news agency Ansa.

The revised rules “will intensify testing activities in schools, in order to strengthen the tracking”, because “ensuring attendance in presence and the conduct of lessons at school in absolute safety is a priority of the government,” they added.

After studying the health situation in schools along with the Scientific and Technical Committee (CTS), Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner, Francesco Figliuolo, backed the move and guaranteed support for improved tracing.

The decision comes less than a day after the authorities announced that quarantine would apply immediately for the whole class – and distance learning would replace the physical classroom – if a single pupil was found to test positive for Covid-19.

The new regulation was confirmed in a circular on Tuesday and signed by the Ministry of Health’s director of prevention, Giovanni Rezza, according to reports.

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Authorities had given the green light to the move based on concern over the sudden increase in school-age infections, as well as worries over the rising cases of the Omicron variant, while the regions had requested to tighten up the rules on the management of quarantines at school.

READ ALSO: ‘Get vaccinated’: Italian virologists urge caution over Omicron Covid variant

The increasing weekly incidence of the number of new infections in schoolchildren was cited as a cause for concern, amounting to 125 per 100,000 in the period November 19th – 25th, according to official data from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

These figures are “a far cry from the optimal value of 50 per 100,000,” which allows for better tracking of cases, according to the details of the circular.

The latest rules on distance learning

The rules as they now stand (again), therefore, dictate that distance learning will be triggered – or rather will continue to be triggered – with just one positive in class for children up to the age of six, where it is more difficult to maintain distance and since masks are not compulsory for this age group.

Quarantine is enforced for classes with two positive cases among pupils aged 6 to 12 – a group currently not eligible for vaccination.

From the age of 12 onwards, a class will go to DAD if there are at least three positive cases, as before.

Speaking on the short-lived decision to change the school rules on quarantine, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said, “We considered it prudent, with a choice shared with the regions, to return to the initial plans.”

He also referred to the headteachers, who had complained about implementing the rules and that it was difficult to track cases.

The President of the Association of Headteachers, Antonello Giannelli, said that the decision to enforce DAD following one positive case was exactly what school leaders had warned about and that they hadn’t been heard.

He said they were ‘Cassandras‘; an Italian term used to refer to people who predict disastrous events without being believed.

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

“The schools, despite a thousand difficulties and with an immense workload on the shoulders of managers and staff, have held up,” he said .

“The same cannot be said of the prevention departments, which have not been able to guarantee the timing of testing from the outset, and in many cases have not applied the tracking procedures,” he added.

EXPLAINED: What parents should know about the new Covid rules in Italian schools

Since the beginning of the school year and until now, the rules stipulated that three positive cases in a class would trigger remote learning.

However, many local health authorities struggled to quickly carry out the swabs needed in classes with one or two positive cases. So much so, that some head teachers refused to apply the protocol, according to Italian media reports – a problem the authorities have now pledged to assist with.

In recent weeks, as the number of infections and the number of quarantined classes have increased, regional authorities have begun to push for a return to the more restrictive model previously in place.

Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi spoke on Tuesday of the decision being “an absolutely prudential measure”, taken because “we want to keep schools absolutely safe” – even if the ministry’s priority is to keep “teaching in presence”.

The decision on Tuesday came as a cause of concern for the trade unions, who expressed worries about implementing the new rules.

“We have urgently requested a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Health because the circular has alarmed all school staff and produced new problems for managers who will have to review the procedures for tracking again,” stated Maddalena Gissi of the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (CISL).

The U-turn on strategy is intended to prevent exactly this eventuality and to maintain school attendance – Italy’s education minister Patrizio Bianchi said at the beginning of the school year that, “We will never return to DAD”.

The government implemented steps to ensure that pupils could learn in person, after constantly changing Covid restrictions kept them in and out of classrooms since February 2020.

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