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?
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.