‘The atmosphere was joyous’: One woman’s experience of Italy’s Women’s Strike

March 8th 2017: International Women’s Day became the International Women’s Strike for the first time. Women in Italy, alongside others in 55 countries worldwide, took to the streets to protest violence against women in its many forms. Writer Rachael Martin explains why she joined them, and what the day meant to her.

'The atmosphere was joyous': One woman's experience of Italy's Women's Strike
Women marching in Rome on Wednesday. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

L’otto marzo (March 8th) became #lottomarzo ('lotto' meaning 'I fight' or 'I struggle'). The message was this: if our lives have no value, we will strike. 

ANALYSIS: 'Violence against women conditions every aspect of our lives'

“There will be a tide of us,” the organizers had said, and so it was.

Several thousand people joined the demonstration staged by students and workers in the morning and there several thousand more in the evening.

I was in Milan, where collectives, students and workers joined together at 9.30am and began the walk towards Palazzo della Lombardia, where the city hall is located.

“School and culture against ignorance and sexism,” “Free roads are made by those who cross them,” “If they touch one of us, they touch all of us,” read some of the banners I saw.

“Keep your mimosa, we want a revolution!” said another, referring to the flower that is traditionally given by men to women in Italy to mark International Women's Day.

“They want us Barbies, they’ll have us as matryoshkas,” yet another sign said, referring to the Russian dolls which were chosen as symbols for Non una di meno, the movement which coordinated Wednesday's strike in Italy.

“We need to fight violence within places of learning,” people cried, as we made our way through the streets of Milan.

Women peacefully entered the Fatebenefratelli hospital in Milan in protest, where all of the gynaecologists are registered as conscientious objectors, restricting women's options in getting an abortion.

READ ALSO: An Italian woman was forced to go to 23 hospitals to have an abortion

The demonstration ended outside the Palazzo della Regione Lombardia, the seat of the regional government where the Presidio of women workers and pro-choice organizations were conducting a survey of why women strike.

The reasons cited included unequal pay and lack of secure contracts, the latter being a great problem faced by women working in Italy.

“I’m going tonight, but I couldn’t miss this morning,” an older woman said to me as students danced in front of the van that had led the procession and others sat and ate sandwiches in the sun.

In the afternoon, Casa delle Donne di Milano organized a huge  mandala to promote communication, relations and harmony at the heart of the Galleria. The mandala was chosen as an artistic force against violence and was created in all shades of fuschia, the colour chosen for the march.

The evening procession started outside the central train station.

Streets and squares were renamed and relabelled after various women to highlight a lack of female presence in public spaces.

The atmosphere was joyous and peaceful as people walked and danced their way through the streets in an expression of solidarity with women all over the world.

In nearby Bergamo, women also took to the streets, with a particular focus on gender equality in certain professions.  

Protesters referred specifically to architects, arguing that they should be allowed to call themselves such in the female form, to be recognized and present within professional bodies which are currently almost exclusively male. 

In the architecture field, women graduate more quickly and with higher marks than men, and make up 40 percent of the profession. However, few are able to maintain membership of the profession due to reasons dictated above all by work-life balance. 

“Yesterday we experienced a feminist event. We are only at the beginning of a journey and while our scope may be ambitious, as we wish to change the society in which we live, we believe in it and we believe we can do it,” Saura Effe of Ri-make Communia and Gramigna, and one of the organizers of the Non Una di Meno movement, told me on Wednesday.

“Tremble, tremble, the witches have returned,” they chanted last night in reference to one of the original chants of the 1970s movements.

If yesterday is anything to go by, there are certainly a lot of young women that are extremely determined that it will happen.   

Rachael Martin is a freelance writer. She came to Italy nineteen years ago and made it her home. She is bilingual and writes in both English and Italian. Contact Rachael on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or follow her blog here.

Want to write a guest blog for The Local Italy? Get in touch at [email protected]



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Strikes in Italy cause public transport misery and flight cancellations

Some 127 Alitalia flights have been cancelled on Monday and public transport has been disrupted across the country amid a 24-hour general strike, Italian media reports.

Arrival and departure boards show delayed and cancelled trains at Rome Termini station on October 11th during a general strike.
Arrival and departure boards show delayed and cancelled trains at Rome Termini station on October 11th during a general strike. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Italian national carrier Alitalia confirmed in a statement that 127 national and international flights had been cancelled on Monday, with a further 11 cancellations on Tuesday due to the strike action.

Alitalia said it would be switching to bigger aircraft and rebooking flights, and advised passengers who were affected “to check on which flight they have been rebooked by logging in to the website and entering their name, surname and booking code in the ‘my flights’ section on the home page.”

READ ALSO: What are my rights in Italy if a flight is cancelled or delayed?

There were no reports of flight cancellations by other airlines, though there may be some delays or disruption on the ground at Italian airports with some staff on strike.

Meanwhile the city centres of Milan and Rome were jammed with traffic as many people opted to use cars amid fears of local public transport disruption.

Milan’s metro is operating on a normal schedule, stated city transport company ATM: “The service is continuing on all underground lines. Traffic could slow down the circulation of surface lines.” 

Rome’s metro system is operating “in fits and starts” on Monday, news agency Ansa reports, with line C closed and lines A and B operating on reduced service.

Trams and other forms of public transport in Milan may face delays due to heavy traffic, the city transport company warns. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Some roads and central squares in Rome are also closed to traffic on Monday because of demonstrations, including Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Madonna di Loret.

Thousands of people are expected to march in Rome, where a heavy police presence was reported following violence on Saturday after a demonstration against vaccines and the green pass system.

Roads have also been blocked due to marches in other cities including Naples and Genova on Monday morning.

Alitalia workers in Rome hold a banner reading “All aboard. No to the ITA plan”. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

The 24-hour general strike, for both public and private sector workers, was called by several of Italy’s national and regional trade unions to protest government labour and economic policies, including those on working hours and pensions, as well as calling for more investment in schools and transport.

Alitalia staff also took to the streets to protest the planned closure of the airline, which is set to end operations on Thursday and be replaced by new national carrier ITA from Friday.

The unions have stated in recent days that this is not a demonstration against the green pass, and sought to distance themselves from the violent protests seen in Rome and Milan this weekend, Ansa reports.

IN PICTURES: Demonstrators and far right clash with police in Rome after green pass protest